It doesn’t happen often. But every now and then you find yourself in a situation when it’s just you and the kids for an entire 12 hour day, from morning pancakes to bedtime stories. By some impossible twist of fate, there are no birthday parties, no play-dates, no soccer games where you can fraternize with the other dads. It’s just you and the kids. All. Day. Long.
For some men, this is a fate worse than an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s not that you don’t enjoy spending time with the kids. You do! You love those little buggers. But coming up with an endless parade of activities to entertain and engage their short attention spans can bring anyone – moms and dads alike – crumbling to their knees.
Luckily, there are a few tricks and shortcuts you can use to make it through this most difficult, challenging day. So buck up solider. You got this.
Here are 10 tips to help you survive a day alone with your kids.
1. Get’em Out Of The House
It may seem counter-intuitive to wake up and seize the day – after all, you’ve got 12 hours to kill, might as well take it slow. But the truth is, the sooner you can get’em out of the house, the better. Once you get past the initial resistance (both yours and theirs) to motivate, you’ll find that time flies by if you’re away from home. For starters, try taking them to a playground, or the library, or out for a bike-ride or nature hike. Then, if you’re feeling extra-bold, step up your game to Aquarium or Zoo level. Granted, those are advanced, stay-at-home-daddy excursions – but you might be surprised at how capable you are of running the show without your wife. In the end it doesn’t matter. Just get out of the house and out into the world. Time Killed: 1-3 hours.
2. Go Out For Lunch
Assuming you have children who can eat in a public restaurant and behave themselves for more than 15 minutes, going out for lunch kills two birds with one stone. First, you get out of the house, and second, you avoid having to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without the crusts. Sure, it pains you to drop $20-25 on a couple of mouths you could feed frozen chicken nuggets to. But it’s an activity, and if your kids are of the right temperament, it can be a nice bonding experience with good conversation. Time Killed: 1 hour.
3. Pawn Them Off
If your family has been doing a fair share of the work when it comes to playdate hosting, now is the time to cash in some chips. The night before, have your wife see if a neighboring mom would be willing to watch one or all of your kids for a couple hours mid-day. This will give you just the time you need to curl up into a fetal position and cry as you contemplate how you are going to spend the rest of the day with them once they return. Time Killed: 2 hours.
4. Forced Naps
There are two methods you can use to force the nap. One is Benadryl, but last we checked, drugging your kids in order to catch a short break is illegal. A long, relaxing drive however is completely fair game. Here’s how it works: after you’ve hit a playground or done some other physical activity, there’s a good chance they’ll be wiped out afterwards (especially if it’s a hot summer day and you’ve deprived them of essential fluids). On your return trip, why not take the long way home? Crack the windows just a little to get a nice, cool breeze going. Put on some Yanni or Steely Dan. Then slowly watch them in the rearview as they drift off into dreamland. You’d be surprised — this trick has proven to be effective on children as old as 40. Once you’ve knocked them out, pull into the nearest 7-11 or Dunkin’ Donuts, lean back in the driver’s seat, and catch some shuteye yourself. Time Killed: 30 minutes.
5. Shopping Trip
Sure, it’s consumerism at it’s worst, but as your favorite aunt will tell you, shopping is a legitimate activity. Check with your wife to see if the kids have any 5 Below or Target gift-cards lying around from previous birthday parties. If so, great! You’ve got an excuse to go. If not, give the kids 5 bucks each and head to the store for an hour. Sure, you’re buying an activity. But so is going roller skating or bowling, two activities which we definitely do not recommend when alone with the kids. Plus, with shopping, you get the extra bonus of coming home and letting them play with the toy. Time killed: Shopping (1 hour); Playing with new toy (5 minutes).
6. Embrace The Screen
Whether it’s an epic Mario Bros. marathon on the Wii or you show them one of the classic movies from your youth like The Goonies or The Karate Kid, you can cut a huge chunk of time out of the day if you succumb to screen time. Sure, it’s a beautiful day out. Sure you should be out there and engaged with them. But this is war, and you have to use every means at your disposal to get through this day without losing your mind. So go ahead and give them the full 2 hour movie or video game experience… just this once. Time Killed: 1-2 hours.
7. Build A Fort
Forts are awesome. They encourage creativity, they can be built with your supervision or without and they’re an excellent time killer. Like many options on this list, they’re also a 2-for-1 deal: building it, and then playing in it. The only downside of the fort is that you must completely accept the fact that your house is going to get trashed. And also that you might be watching your favorite TV shows on a cushion-less couch if they plead with you not to tear the fort down before morning. Time Killed: 1 hour.
8. Snacks and Treats
Just the phrase, “Do you want a little snack?” is guaranteed to elicit a “sure” from your kid. It’s the natural call and reply of every parent/child relationship. Snack time is the equivalent of the NBA time out – call it when you feel the momentum swinging and your legs giving way. It’s a great twenty minute break from racking your brain trying to come up with the next totally awesome activity. If you start hearing the phrase, “What should we do now?” or “There’s nothing to do!” don’t hesitate. Head to the pantry. Estimated Time Killed: 1 hour (20 minutes per snack x 3 a day).
9. Bathroom Breaks
Save these, because they are like gold. Your office. Your oasis. Your shelter in the storm. Even kids understand the notion that when you gotta go, you gotta go. Tell’em you have to take a dump and they’re on their own for 20-30 minutes. It’s not much, but you can probably pull this off 3-4 times throughout the day without kids questioning whether you need to see a doctor. Estimated Time Killed: 1 hour (based on 4 dumps).
10. Just Surrender
The previous 9 tips are creative ideas for the short-game, getting you by hour to hour. But you have to pay attention to the long-game too. And when it comes to the macro-view of being alone with your kids for the entire day, there is one tip that rules them all: surrender. You must give in. The night before, prepare your mind for what you’re getting into. Because no matter how many tricks you employ, if you don’t resign yourself to your fate, you will suffer a dehabilating tension throughout the day as you think of all the other things you need to be doing, from work, to home repair, to simple alone time that you are missing out on.
Like the saying goes, “Nobody says on their deathbed they wished they’d spent more time at the office.” Take that wisdom to heart. Enjoy the strange circumstances that threw you into an epic babysitting shift, surrender your own desires for the day, and get down on your knees and play.