Doing downtime right

5739457336_c0084e5749_mOne of the realities of having small children is that one’s true downtime is fairly limited. It gets better fairly soon — my 5-year-old and 3-year-old would watch TV for hours if allowed — but up until somewhere between about ages 2.25-2.5, if the baby’s awake and in your care, you’re on.

Since that downtime is limited, it’s precious. So on weekends, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make the best use of nap time (roughly 1-3 p.m. for the baby; the older kids get screen time). While planning for downtime sounds crazy, I find that if I don’t plan, the nap disappears into non-relaxing things. Indeed, this is my first rule of happy parenthood:

Don’t do chores during naptime.

Oh, sure, there may be dishes in the sink, but if for some reason you absolutely have to clean them — say, your kitchen is subject to a nightly inspection by the Better Homes and Gardens editorial staff — then it is possible to wash a plate here and there between fetching cups of milk and replenishing the high chair tray with Cheerios. It is not, however, that easy to do several other things while taking care of a small child: lose yourself in a book, sleep, have sex, take a bubble bath, enjoy an uninterrupted cup of coffee (or cocktail), do a workout video, meditate, indulge in a creative hobby, do some strategic thinking. So any of those would make a better choice for naptime.

The problem is that if one doesn’t choose ahead of time, when the baby goes down, the temptation is to start puttering around. Look, there’s a toy out of place. I wonder what’s in my inbox? Did someone sort the mail? Next thing you know, half of naptime is gone and you’re not that relaxed.  

This past Saturday, once the baby went down for her nap, I picked up the novel I was reading, and got to spend 90 minutes enjoying the story. I’d been feeling lately like I don’t have time to read for pleasure, but I do. I just have to do downtime right.

What do you do during downtime on weekends?

Photo courtesy flickr user Alex Bellink

19 thoughts on “Doing downtime right

  1. I feel *SO* much better if I do chores during downtime. Takes away a lot of stress later when I’m wondering why my X is still in the laundry. But then, I don’t find the chores that I do to either be particularly stressful or a waste of time. I also make sure big brother participates.
    Also, our baby does not take 2 hour naps. She does 15-20 min naps. Which is about the amount of time it takes to change the laundry or do part of the dishwasher loading/unloading.
    So I totally disagree. There are many paths to a happy motherhood. And while I do not think you need to do chores during your baby’s naptime, I think I’ll keep during them during mine. It makes me happier than wasting time on the internet would (something I do while baby is eating).

  2. I totally agree with you Laura and have been trying to be more mindful of that precious time. On Sundays it is my time for scrapbooking, and on Saturdays I either indulge in a book or some other project. I do sometimes spend it in my “office” which is a corner of the bedroom, not kid proof, so I do try to do things there when she is otherwise occupied. I try to do the things that need uninterrupted thinking, like working on our monthly spending plan or other big picture think stuff. I agree that chores can wait.

  3. Totally depends on one’s personal situation and preferences. I’m a single mom of two. My 14 month old naps for 40 minutes most weekends. Can’t do much of anything when he’s awake, as there isn’t enough babyproofing in the world to protect him from himself. So while it might be nice to spend those 40 minutes reading, I’d prefer to spend them with my older child or doing some chore I can’t do when the baby’s awake and I don’t want to do at night. Like cook. I’d much rather have “me time”–what little there is–at night, after kids are asleep.

    1. My twins didn’t usually overlap in their naps but like you, when they napped, I interacted with my older child. He got shortchanged enough by my having to nurse twins, use a nebulizer with one twice a day, etc. Unfortunately, that meant dishes got done after the kids went to bed.

  4. I love the idea of reading for pleasure (or playing music, working out, or some other fun activity that is incompatible with watching a mobile baby) during the baby’s weekend naps, but at the risk of sounding dumb, I don’t quite get this. I understand the value of getting as many chores done during the week as possible so they don’t need to be done on the weekend, at least in principle, but things like the dishes or pet care have to be done every day. And no, no magazine is coming Saturday afternoon to inspect my kitchen, but if I want to cook and eat dinner, the dishes from earlier meals can’t still be sitting in the sink, on the counter, and on the table.

    So when *do* the dishes etc. get done? I’m asking this not to be snarky, but because I’m looking for ideas! I just have one baby, so if you’re managing this with multiple young children, I know I can learn things from you.

    1. @Jennifer – perhaps we have vastly different ideas of what a meal entails. If my kids have cereal for breakfast, that’s two bowls and two spoons (they tend to drink out of the same water bottle, or one cup rinsed out between meals). Add me and that’s a third. The baby eats directly on the high chair. Lunch can be sandwiches and maybe someone heats up soup, and fruit doesn’t really generate dishes so that’s just plates, bowls and one pot. None of this absolutely has to be washed for dinner to happen later. And in fact, most of it just goes straight in the dishwasher. Cleaning up is a less than 5 minute process for every meal. Even dinner is pretty simple so it doesn’t get too much messy. Fajitas on Saturday was one pot, two knives and a cutting board (plus plates going directly in dishwasher). Elaborate meals are great…if I’m eating in a restaurant. I’ve timed emptying the dishwasher and it takes 5-7 minutes max. As for pets…this is one reason we only have a fish. I’m not willing to take on the extra work right now and since my kids are so young I know I’d wind up doing it.

      1. Somehow even sandwiches and soup (from a can) do manage to generate enough dishes and kitchen mess for us. Same with fruit – knife, cutting board, etc. And if we don’t clean up before dinner, there’s no room in the dishwasher for the dinner dishes so we’ve got two loads to manage after the baby’s in bed. I’ll just hope things get better once the baby’s meals are a) more of the same thing we’re eating and b) not winding up all over the floor, the high chair, etc.! (And when I’m not pumping milk and creating a whole other stream of things to be washed. Soon….)

        I agree with you on the pets (sadly). If we could have found another home for the dog when my mother-in-law went into a nursing home, a lot of little things would be simpler.

    2. So i don’t want to answer for Laura and she probably has a way better answer, but for instance with dishes, I do the chore while I’m with my child while he is awake. Not every single second I spend with my son can be high quality play time. Sometimes my child will see me doing mundane things (which as a side note, I think is good for him. Dishes don’t get magically done at night by the dish fairy; you have to actually do the dishes.). When he was younger, I’d strap him in the bjorn or in his bouncy seat and put away dishes, vacuum, swiffer, etc. Now that he’s older, I have him “help” me put away the dishes by putting away the silverware (granted, we sometimes have forks in the spoon drawer). With vacuuming, he has his own little play dirt devil that he uses. I have him help me clean up the toys at the end of the day before he goes to bed. Granted, I put away 5 toys for every 1 he gets in the box, but it’s a communal effort that gets it done while he’s awake. Then it leaves me that time after he’s asleep or when he’s napping that I can use for fun me time.
      The only exception to this no-chores during naptime rule is I enjoy folding laundry while my son is sleeping because I use that time to watch tv that wouldn’t be appropriate for my child to watch while I fold clothes.

      And I’ve also definitely accepted a lower standard of cleanliness. Yes, dishes need to get done so you can cook again. But I don’t need to wipe down the counters after every single meal (although it would probably only take a measly minute).

      1. I do miss the days she would happily stay in a seat, carrier, etc. for more than ten minutes while the adult(s) at home took care of chores! This is probably just a rough phase where she’s too old and too mobile to be contained and too young to be reliably distracted by another activity, and things will get better. I agree that not all the time with the baby should be play time, but at this age it seems like she really needs to be either contained or closely supervised.

        1. @Jennifer – yeah, people talk about the newborn phase being tough, which I see, but they can’t move and they sleep a lot. The 12-24 month range has a fairly exhausting set of issues — the kid is mobile, can’t talk but has opinions so still screams a lot, and is too young to be distracted by solo play, other kids, TV, etc. for more than about 60 seconds.

      2. @EB – lower standards are a good idea. There’s been some interesting studies looking at the amount of time women devote to housework. It was a lot more in the 1950s and 1960s than it is now. It fell for women who are both in the workforce and not in the workforce. When standards go down, they go down for everyone. Women who are not employed spend more time on housework than women who are employed, but I found at least one study cite that people could not actually tell the difference in level of messiness between houses based on the employment status of the woman of the house.

      3. I completely agree with this!! I don’t understand why parents (particularly mothers) feel like they can’t do any regular life chores when they are with small children. I mean, I understand that sometimes it’s not physically possible during the toddler phase when they are mobile but not responsible, but I am referring to “psychologically impossible.” Just yesterday, one of my good friends who just went back to work was telling me that she was worried b/c her nanny was folding laundry while the baby (10 months old) was playing on the floor nearby. (She saw this as she was working from home…) What’s the big deal??? If she were a stay at home mom, wouldn’t she be doing that too?!? Yes, quality time is great, but kids need to see that things have to get done in a house, learn to help and also have some alone time to develop their imagination and independence. Personally, if I had tried to spend all day with my babies (when I was on mat leave) with 100% “quality” time, I would have shot myself…But maybe that’s just me…

  5. A thousand times “yes” to this! “No chores during naptime” has got to be one of the most effective–and least followed–sanity-saving rules ever.

    During weekend naptime (for the baby)/”rest time” (for everybody else), I love to read, do some work, or sit down with my husband and have a cup of coffee together. No chores!

    1. @Anne- glad to hear you subscribe to this philosophy. Life has a way of crowding out pleasurable activities, so this is a way to prioritize them.

  6. I’m an ESTJ on Myers Briggs and have fully accepted that I’m most happy when I’m being productive.

    I have, over the last 3 – 4 years though, put items on my to-do list like “read my book for 2 hours” or “work on my photos for 2 hours” so that I get some fun things in while being productive. It works really well for me.

    Typically, on a weekend, I’ll have a to-do list of about 10 items, about 3 of those are out of the house things (church, gym and a social), about 2 – 3 are fun (reading, photos and something with my twins) and the rest are chore-type things (cooking meals for the week, organising a section of the house, decluttering kids’ toys/ clothes, etc).

    So during nap (which I”m fighting to keep at 1.5 hours), I’ll do something quickly (clean the kitchen and start food prep) and then go do fun for just over an hour.

    1. @Marcia- that sounds like a good split if there are chores that absolutely have to get done. A few minutes for them, then me-time for the rest.

  7. I usually read for 30 min and then nap for 1-1/2 hours during my children’s naptimes! I used to “try” to be productive, but it just made me mad and in a bad mood. If I’m not happy, then neither are my girls.

  8. ITA re: no chores during naptime, or in my most favorite precious time – when the girls are asleep for the night.

    I really need to get out of the Internet time suck, though. (have been sitting at the computer for 2 hours instead of doing something more fun…)

  9. I recently came down with the nasty flu that’s been going around, which resulted in a bad flare-up of my asthma and caused me to be out of commission for quite some time. I went to see a specialist last week and basically had a nervous breakdown in her office b/c I was so stressed about all the things I was falling behind on -work, chores, life, etc. She said to me, “Sometimes, as women, we forget to live for ourselves too…Nobody is telling you to love your family less or quit your job, but maybe you have to realize that, at certain points, there are differing priorities. And you have to be one of those priorities for yourself.”
    Although this isn’t exactly on piont with what you’ve written, it reminded me of what she had said. So often, I find myself trying to cram in as much efficiency as possible. But, you know what, sometimes you just have to catch up on that book you love, even if it means “squandering” the nap time. (Or, in my case, as I had to miss tons of work and was basically on bed rest, I watched Season 2 of Homeland – addicted!!!) Realizing that you are more important than how clean your kitchen is (can’t you just use paper if worse comes to worst?) is not always a natural step for many of us to take…Anyway, that’s just my two cents worth…

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