If you enter my apartment around 5 p.m., tread with care. You will likely find a city of blocks hiding under seemingly cushy piles of fairy tutus. The stroller will have turned into a puppet show theater with toddler chairs gathered around, unicorns and Shopkins having a tea party off to the side. You’ll wade through a sea of 8 ½ x 11” paper in more forms than you knew existed: crumpled, scribbled, doodled, chopped, painted, folded, taped, stapled, rolled, but thankfully not stuffed back into the printer. Those mystery globs on the carpet? Either marker tips my 1-yr-old chewed off, hardened playdough, or partially digested puzzle pieces—your guess is as good as mine.

Sometimes I wish I could wave my daughter’s princess wand to restore order to my home after the kid tornado hits. On good days, I rally the troops: the kids and I all pitch in to put away the forts, board games, books, stickers, snack containers, and train tracks that we trip over on our way to the bath. When I was pregnant, my mom suggested I use a rake for this job rather than bend over 100 times. (Hey, not a bad idea!) Most days, however, my hero of a husband does a super-speedy clean-up when he gets home from work as I’m feeding the kids dinner. Fast-forward from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and the apartment transforms from chaos back into sanity.

As a family of six living in a 2-bedroom apartment, everything has its designated space. “Legos don’t live on the dining room table,” I tell my son. “I can’t wait to see what train track you build tomorrow,” I say as we dismantle the bridges and turntables on the coffee table. Even though I know it will all come back out in the morning, I want as much “tot-litter” as possible out of my sight when the kids go to bed.

Sometimes I think of my on-duty shift as 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., making post-bedtime my “me time”. As a stay-at-home-mom, that serves as my separation between “work” (taking care of my kids while they’re awake) and the three, precious kid-free hours in the evening before I head to bed.

“What do you do for 180 minutes?” wonders my numbers-obsessed son. I share about how I love to cook, relax with Daddy, read, watch movies, shower, or hang out with friends—all without tripping over toys.

Daily recovering our apartment to protect my evening hours from the whirlwind of the day is one of the healthy rhythms I try to model for my children. It is crucial to demonstrate positive behaviors for our kids because they are watching and imitating. Some ideas:

1.      Read a book or magazine (Pick something in print to avoid kids asking for screen time.)

2.      Eat healthy food in a relaxed setting (If they see you snacking at the fridge or counter in response to stress, boredom, or lack of time, they will adopt that behavior.)

3.      Speak kindly (Say please and thank-you—to your kids too—and try not to yell or raise your voice when it’s not merited.)

4.      Set aside quiet time each day to recharge (For me, this looks like a daily devotional with prayer and Bible reading. Try stretching, meditating, drawing, or napping.)

5.      Invest in friendships (Call a friend, host a playdate with other mom friends, or plan a mom’s night out.)

6.      Love on your husband (Greet your hubby with a kiss when he comes home from work; go on a date without kids; and when you have a conflict, use civil language with a goal of reconciliation.)

So, what do healthy rhythms looks like in the lives of my 5-, 3-, and 1-year-olds? I aim for a balance of the following to nurture their minds, bodies, and souls:

1.      Unstructured, kid-directed play time

2.      Structured school day or playgroups with adult-directed time

3.      Time spent participating in the tasks of the day (school drop-offs & pick-ups, errands, grocery shopping, unpacking and repacking lunch boxes, opening mail and packages, dinner prep)

4.      Quiet, alone time to nap or veg out

5.      Time spent doing something just for them (reading or playing together, playground time, playdates)

6.      Predictable bedtime routine (bath, dinner, brush teeth, books, potty, prayer, lullaby, bed)

Kids need to balance their school-day structure with time in the afternoon to create, explore, pretend, snuggle, sing, draw, build, climb, laugh, and just be together. Similarly, I need to balance my mom-duty daytime with a kid-free evening to recharge and regroup for that 7 a.m. wake-up call.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Kristin Van de Water