I’m starting to get some great information coming in from volunteers who’ve kept time logs for 168 hours (I learned, for instance, that my little brother has an incredible social life… but that is a different matter).
One finding: working parents of small children often have a reasonable amount of time in the mornings. It may not seem like it, as we rush to get everyone dressed, fed and out the door, but the time logs reveal a different picture. Toddlers can get up at the crack of dawn — easily 6AM. Parents tend not to leave for daycare and work until 8AM or so. If those two hours appeared between, say, 4PM and 6PM, we’d view this as an open spot in the schedule for family time, but we tend not to count the mornings.
There is, though, no reason not to. Families that have trouble coordinating family dinners can have family breakfasts. No need to cook something elaborate — just talk over cereal and coffee. Parents can aim to get up 15 minutes before their children, and so be ready to focus on them, rather than grooming routines and dressing. If it takes you much longer than 15 minutes to get ready, then you need to streamline this process (I usually shower the night before if I need to be somewhere looking nice at a certain time in the AM). In ten minutes on Sunday nights you can pick outfits for the whole week. “Launching pads” for cell phones, backpacks, etc. can lessen time spent hunting around for them. Rather than glancing at the clock, set a watch for 15 minutes before you need to be out the door, and then just relax until it beeps.
It may be harder to do “field-trip” type activities in the early morning (the library and museums are probably closed) but in the summer at least it’s light enough to go to playgrounds, or play in the backyard. You can read stories together, go for a walk or run with the baby jogger (and hence get some exercise, too!) The point is to be intentional about it, rather than focusing on the end result of getting out the door. Time is valuable, no matter where it appears.