The Busy Parent’s Guide to Finding More Time to Read

The end of the year is very hard for me as a reader: My calendar suddenly gets full, I’m trying to finish up projects I’ve had going for too many months, there’s shopping to do, etc. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, this is the time of year when everyone publishes their “Best Books of the Year” lists. The Millions’ Year in Reading 2011 has been particularly devastating to my TBR list this year, not to mention to my self-confidence as a reader. How did I miss all these great books? What have I been doing with all that time I could have spent reading?
I know I’m not the only one feeling this way, and it’s time to take some action. Let’s take back the book! Who’s with me?! 
I have to warn you that it won’t be easy. I know this sounds antithetical, but making time to read requires some sacrifice. You’re going to have to be disciplined. You’re going to have to enlist the help of your family. But most of all, you’re going to have to give yourself permission.  Here we go…

1. Read more than one book at a time. I generally have four to six books going at once, but not everyone needs that many; you really only need two: one for your purse/briefcase and one for by the bed. The one by the bed should be something light and easy so that you can let your mind relax after a long and tiring day of being a parent. This could be a collection of short stories, or a non-taxing novel. I find Christopher Moore and Alexander McCall Smith to be great bedside authors. Your purse/briefcase book (or books) is whatever you’re focusing on at the moment. This is the book you’ll pull out during lunch, while you’re waiting in line, sitting at the doctor’s office or in the after-school pickup line, etc.
2. Find one chore you can let slide. Certain chores have to get done, I accept this; grocery shopping and meal preparation are not chores I can let slide. But there must be something in there that you can let slide. Not get rid of, just let it slide a bit. I’ve decided to do this with laundry this month and see how it goes. Is anyone really going to die if I do the laundry tomorrow instead of today?
3. Forget about the news. The 24-hour news cycle has been terrible for readers! There’s always something being tweeted, or shared on Facebook, or one internet article leading to another through a series of links. Not only do I have less time to read, but I’m far more discouraged and depressed! My advice is to give yourself one hour of the day when you check in on what’s going on in the world. If anything really important rocks the news world after that, you’re going to hear about it one way or another anyway, so relax and pick up a book.
4. Put books on your coffee table (or any empty surface.) This has multiple benefits: It keeps you motivated, it keeps your books accessible, it makes your kids far more likely to pick up a book and start reading, and it makes your whole family look smart, really. This particular strategy is win-win. Quick, go put some books out right now!
5. Delegate one chore to each of your kids. This one will obviously depend on the ages of your children, but trust me; your kids can do far more than you think they can. I promise I’m not trying to tell you how to raise your kids, but anything you can delegate to someone else is more time you have for reading. (Hey, don’t start to feel guilty on me now! I warned you that this wouldn’t be easy.) Here are some of the chores even a young child can do: empty the dishwasher (or at least the silverware); put away folded clothes and linens; dust bookshelves (of which you probably have many, if you’re anything like me); set the table; clear the table; sort the laundry; pack all or part of their school lunch. The list doesn’t end there, but I’m sure you can come up with the rest on your own.
My 10 year old’s “orange dinner”
6. Pick one day a week when your kids make dinner. Again, this will depend on the ages of your children, but my youngest is seven and has been making dinner two or three times a month for the past year. I’m not recommending you leave them alone to fire up the BBQ and grill burgers or anything, but there are plenty of safe things kids can make while you sit on the couch with your book and supervise. Sure you may end up having macaroni & cheese, sandwiches or cereal on those nights, but it won’t hurt anyone to have sandwiches for dinner once a week, and it WILL do your kids good to see you reading.
7. Liberate yourself from your T.V. This is often the hardest one, but it’s always the most important. Cancel your cable subscription, say goodbye to your satellite, take a break from the TiVo, or best of all just throw your T.V. out the window! Our culture spends so much time watching T.V. when we really could be doing other things. If you don’t want to get rid of your T.V. altogether, I challenge you to at least cut your viewing time by 1/3 for three months. If you’re still going through withdrawals after that then maybe you should resolve to cut your reading time and watch more T.V. instead.
8. Read to your kids at bedtime, regardless of their age. This is another win-win strategy. Your kids will love it, you will get more books read, and you’ll be one of the only parents with a finger on the pulse of youth reading culture. You might be surprised at some of the great Y.A. books on the shelves right now. Many of them are definitely worth reading, even as an adult. (I won’t make a list of Y.A. books here, that’s a topic for another post, but if you’d like some suggestions please leave me a comment.)
9. Set your alarm on weekend mornings. Wait, don’t stop reading yet! I am a BIG supporter of sleeping in on weekends, so I’m not going to urge you to get up at 5am or 6am; I’m merely suggesting that you set your alarm for just a tiny bit earlier than you normally wake on weekends—maybe 30 minutes or so. Then spend that time snuggled in bed enjoying the unhurried morning with your book.
10. One word: Audiobooks. (I have to admit that I am not personally a huge fan of this option; but that’s just my particular reading style. I’m a visual learner rather than an auditory one, so when I listen to books they tend to go in one ear and out the other.)  Many of the members of my Rediscovering the Classics group listen to their books and I’m always amazed not only by their insights and attention to detail during discussions, but also by the sheer volume of books they are able to “read.” Audiobooks can set you free. Now you can read on your commute, while doing data entry, while washing dishes or folding laundry, while gardening, while teaching yoga (okay, maybe not that that last one… Actually, who am I to hold back yoga instructors? Listen away!) 
If you feel I have forgotten anything, or have a strategy you employ and would like to share please comment and let me know! I’m assuming that readers of this article are parents (obviously) and either work full time, run a household, or both; but that is not to say that some of these strategies won’t work for readers in different walks of life. 
Good luck and Happy Reading!

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