Being the mom of two young kids, plus working full-time, plus writing on the side, leaves me with plenty of time to work out and stay in shape. Just kidding! It leaves me with almost no time to myself and an endless supply of cheese and crackers to eat off abandoned toddler plates. Desperate to find a way to get some gym time into my life, I stumbled upon high-intensity internal training (HIIT) and it was a big hit.
HIIT workouts are perfect for a busy parents. The sessions are short (15 – 30 min), require no equipment, and can be done basically anywhere. The idea is to go as hard as you can doing lunges, squats, push-ups, planks, mountain climbers, burpees and other exercises, followed by rest, to burn more fat in less time. It’s really fun and it really works. My body has changed in just one month.
HIIT worked so well, in fact, it got me thinking how well the concept might work when it comes to playing with my kids. Right now our “playtime” is a hot mess of part playing, part trying to clean, part trying to jot ideas down in a notebook, part crying in a corner because I’m so tired. What if instead, I committed to 15 to 30 minutes of intense, focused playtime and then “rested” to clean up or do some self-care or… you know… go to the bathroom by myself?
There were three scenarios where I saw HIIT working well: 1) Post-car rides when they had extra energy to burn, 2) weekend afternoons when I wanted to clean and they wanted to play, and 3) post-work pre-dinner dead-time. I decided to try it out for one week just to see what happened.
The results were pretty interesting.
After A Long Car Ride
Due to a pile-on of errands and bad weather, my brood was stuck in the car for a few too many hours this weekend, and it was starting to get to the kids. On Sunday, after we drove 30 miles to view a house we could never afford, my husband and I knew the kids deserved a break. We found a little pond with a beach and a playground for them to run around on and let them out of the car to go explore.
My first instinct was to slump and stare at real estate listing on my phone, but instead I tried to match their energy and join them in their physical play. First, we all raced up and down the play structure at top speed (I was the Queen of the climbing wall.) Then, we collected armfuls of pinecones for throwing-into-the-pond-purposes. When that got boring we all took turns drawing in the wet sand with sticks. Finally we raced over to look at cool fort someone had built out of branches.
The kids loved that I was playing so hard with them and, dang it, I was having fun too. After about 30 min I felt burnt out, but luckily a little girl from a nearby house wandered up and took over as my kids playmate, leaving me to rest and stare at real estate listings on my phone. Thanks Colleen, wherever you are!
Splitting Time Between Chores And Play
Active is how my kids like it, even when we're inside. This is wonderful, but can be a huge challenge when the house is a disaster of laundry, toys, dishes and books. Usually I half-clean, half-play, but today I tried something new. I told them I would wrestle for 15 minutes and when the alarm went off, we'd all clean for 15 minutes. After that, I’d read them books for 15 min, then do the dishes for 15 min.
While I will say that this system technically worked, the alarms going off caused me more stress than relief and the kids seemed more disappointed when I had to disengage, even though I was giving them my full attention for intervals. They also did not join me in cleaning, potentially out of spite. Bit of a fail all around.
Post-Work, Pre-Dinner Dead-Time
The hardest part of my day starts the moment I walk in the house after work. The kids want me, I want the kids, but I’m also exhausted and need to decompress. This time, I made a bargain upfront. If they let me go get changed and sit for five minutes by myself, I’d play any game they wanted before dinnertime in about 30 minutes. (Shout out to the dinner-maker, my husband.) I think this offer only worked because they were both engaged in creating a marker masterpiece when I walked in, but in any case, I got my five minutes.
After that they wanted to play a game called “chopping broccoli” where I chase them around the center section of our house shouting lines from the Dana Carvey song and pretending to stab them with my hands. (We’re a kooky family — sue me.) After only about 10 minutes of this high impact fun we ALL needed a rest, so we cuddled on the couch and read picture books until dinner. I’d call that a success.
All in all, this new type of playing has a lot of potential. As a pro-schedule, Excel-spreadsheet-loving person, the time limits are hugely appealing in theory — although crunchier in practice. But I did find that the more I played in these short, intense bursts, the less exhausted I started to feel after the play sessions.
The truth is that my two kids will always want more than I have to give, but giving them my total attention even for 10 minutes seemed to make the transitions easier. And I noticed that committing to the play instead of looking for ways to sneak away and fold laundry for a second was waaaaaay more fun for me. And more fun is better, even if it comes in 15-minute intervals.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.