One of my favorite perks of deployment (yes, there are a few small perks!) is that I get to spend more quality time with my kids. I spend a LOT of time with the kids every day, but let’s be honest–it’s not all kid quality time. Sometimes I’m on the computer, or they are on the computer. Sometimes they are playing outside while I am inside doing chores. Sometimes I am stressed and yelling, or they are sent to their rooms for punishment. So I am not suggesting that every moment is all sweetness and light at our house.
But I DO have a favorite time of the day for kid quality time, and I call it the Golden Hour. It’s that magical time in between the post school/snack period and dinner preparation time. Their homework is done, my chores for the day are usually done, I don’t have to start dinner quite yet, and we are all FREE. Sometimes the baby is sleeping, so I can focus on the older ones and play some games or read books with them. Sometimes all 4 kids are awake, so we can go for a walk or to the park. Either way, I try to make this an enjoyable time for all of us, a time to spend together and to fill with warmth and fun and good memories. Sometimes I spend the Golden Hour on our big trampoline with them. Sometimes I teach them a new card game. Sometimes I spend it at the park, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, and thinking that my love is ‘over there’ somewhere.
The reason the Golden Hour is so important to me is that we only really experience it when Dad isn’t here. If he is home on his regular work schedule, I usually cook a new meal each night, and try to have it all prepared by 5:30 (even if he isn’t always home by then to share it with us.) So I need to start all the chopping and prep around 4:30… which is about the same time that they are finishing homework, naps and snacks. If I’m in the kitchen, they are either playing outside or watching TV. Or fighting. But when there is no spouse to prepare dinner for, expectations are different. I can serve food a little later, and send them right to baths after dinner. I can serve something with less prep time, like leftovers or a crockpot meal. I can make something quick from the freezer. I can throw together some pasta. I still make a nice, healthy meal with some chopping and prep work at least once a week, so we don’t get a Golden Hour every day. But when we do, I try to enjoy it and treasure it, and remind myself that this is a little silver lining of deployment life.
Want to get more Kid Quality Time?
Make sure everyone has been fed, including you. This is the time of day I have to kick everyone out of the kitchen, and say ‘no more snacks!’ As long as they each had a snack after school, they should have plenty of energy to last them until dinner. But I also know that if I am too tired or hungry, I will be short on patience and really cranky during this time. So I sometimes have my afternoon caffeine (for me, either Diet Coke or an energy powder) right before the Golden Hour, so I can be a more pleasant person until dinner.
Don’t do chores, or give the kids chores. This isn’t the time to get the house straightened up or do dishes. It’s just going to be messy at the end of the night anyway, so it can wait until then! This is kid quality time for you all to relax and enjoy something together. Try to ignore the house and the laundry, and just focus on them.
Turn off the distractions– TV, computer, phone. As the kids get older, screen time is becoming a bigger battle, especially since the older 2 have homework to do on the computer. But by this time of day, they should have already had a chance to do it, so it’s time to turn those screens off. This goes for me, too! I’ve had all day to be online or check my phone. (And my deployed spouse is usually sleeping then, so I don’t have to be alert for him to call). So I want to put it away and focus on the people right in front of me. Sometimes I take my phone away and charge it then, so I won’t be tethered to it.
Go outside. Whenever possible, I try to spend the Golden Hour outside. If the weather is good, you can enjoy some fresh air and a sunset! My kids have plenty of energy to burn off, so we may go on the trampoline together, or to the local playground, or just play baseball in the backyard. Dad isn’t around to play catch with them, so I do my best to expose each of them to several sports. Let them ride bikes, play ball, draw with sidewalk chalk, blow bubbles, etc. This is childhood quality time at its best.
Sit down and play a game together. Sometimes the weather or the baby’s nap forces us to stay inside. That’s ok–we have tons of kids’ board games to play. They love learning new games from the ‘parents’ game shelf, like Rummikub, Battleship, Cathedral, even Stratego and Chess. We have card games too, like War, Go Fish, Old Maid, Skip-Bo, Uno, etc. Family games were a big part of my childhood, and they can’t learn new ones without my help, so I try to give them my patience and attention. And they love learning something new!
It doesn’t have to be a group activity. Maybe focus on 1 kid. Sometimes 2 kids are still napping late. Or a kid wants to go play at a friend’s house. I don’t mind that! It gives me more direct kid quality time with whoever is left! Let the child choose an activity to do with you. Would they like to play a game? Read a book? Do an art project? Cook something? Play ball? I have learned that my kids have different preferred quality time activities, so I do different things, depending who I am with. Since having 3 siblings and only 1 parent can get a little loud for my kids, it’s nice to focus on 1 at a time, and give them quiet moments to talk or snuggle. Then I take turns and let a different child go to a friend’s house later in the week.
Take a picture. I know I told you to put away your phone, but sometimes you are having such a good time, that you want to take a picture and save this warm golden moment. Go ahead and take it. (Just don’t get distracted by the phone afterwards!) I promise you will treasure it fondly.
I know deployments are long and tiring, and don’t seem to have many golden opportunities. But if you look hard enough, you will find something to treasure. Deployments have come and gone for our family, but the memories of these happy evening moments I have spent outside with the kids will stay with us for a long time. I hope you will drop everything this evening and try it! Make some golden memories of your own!