Working Night Shift With Kids: How To Maximise Family Time

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Parenting isn’t about how much time you spend together. What’s more important is what you do with the time you spend together. And as a parent who works the night shift, those moments become crucial to your relationship as a family.

How do you maximise family time when working night shift with kids?

Maximizing family time as a night shift working parent takes planning. Begin with designing a weekly routine, including menu planning, incorportating all member’s needs and requests. Then consider time for chores and other household responsibilities, as well as moments spent enjoying life.

Establishing a routine to maximize family time creates teaching moments for you to share your knowledge. It can also provide opportunities for you to learn about being a family from your child. Learning how to work well with others comes from first learning how to live well with our loved ones. So if you feel the current work / life balance is off, take back control by following some of our tips below.

Design Your Routine as a Night Shift Working Parent

First things first, don’t associate the word routine with the definition of boring. Think of a routine more in the sense of a multi-level schedule. It’s a map that will take your family safely through the week of family life. A routine is like a quick-step guide for how to get from Sunday to Saturday and still be all in one piece at the end.

Creating your family’s routine together will ensure that every member’s voice is heard. Each family member will be contributing to the design and layout of the routine. Including every family member in the arrangement and execution of the family’s routine teaches your children about being in a community. They will learn that each person has a role to fulfil in order for everyone’s needs to be met.

Guiding your child on the importance of being a productive member of society happens when they experience community at home. Giving your children responsibilities that impact the family as a whole will help build character. It shows them what happens when everyone does their part as well as what can go wrong if someone fails to come through.

Rad more about giving fair and reasonable chores here.

Building the schedule starts with plotting out everyone’s individual sleep and wake times. As you’re a night shift worker, each person’s morning routine may begin at varying times. Take into consideration the time needed for getting kids to school.

Be sure to factor in extra minutes for the unexpected meltdowns or a misplaced library book.

Mealtimes for parents who work the night shift are another predetermined aspect of the family’s routine. Overlapping work and school schedules may decrease what meal times you will have together and with whom. There will be days you’re eating alone and then there will be favorable circumstances where everyone’s dining together. That’s just a realization when you are working a schedule that is most likely different from everyone else in the family.

Other elements of your family’s weekly routine will have greater flexibility and will provide added variety. For example, what you have to eat at those family meal opportunities can be catered to special occasions. Finding ways to make the most of the limited time together for birthdays or other family celebrations can be as simple as sharing a favorite dish.

Related: The Best Way To Prepare For Night Shifts

Children and Chores

Cooking, cleaning, and other household chores will need to be included in your family’s routine schedule. Children of all ages can be involved in every aspect of the family community. Learning these life skills at a young age promotes self-reliance and develops invaluable and essential qualities that everyone should have. Plus, you’ll need others to help pick up the slack when you’ve got night shift brain or really need a few extra hours zzz’s. (Here is how to fall asleep quickly)

Younger kids can tackle simpler tasks like sorting laundry, measuring ingredients, or setting the table. As children get older, they will be better equipped to handle bigger responsibilities like vacuuming the carpets, sweeping and mopping the floors (just not when you’re sleeping). Washing dishes and doing their own laundry are quick lessons that will have immediate and long-lasting effects.

Work as a Team

Getting everyone involved in taking care of the family responsibilities prevents any one person from having to do it all. This will reduce the risk of exhaustion that comes from trying to manage an entire household alone. Delegating age-appropriate assignments will also eliminate any feelings of resentment that come from working harder than everyone else.

Related: Tactful Tips for Pregnant and Postpartum Night Shift Nurses

Most importantly, include space in your family’s routine for quality time that nurtures individual interests. Making the most of the days and the occasional nights you get to spend together doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be meaningful. It may not even require leaving home, just as long as everyone is actively involved in the moments you do get to share.

Spending quality time with your children whenever you’re able to do so greatly impacts how your children will turn out as adults.

I still have fond memories of those midnight fishing trips with my dad. He would get home around 11:30 and we’d head out to the backyard with flashlights in search of nightcrawlers, big, fat earthworms, perfect for baiting those nocturnal bottom-feeding catfish out of hiding.

During those few late-night excursions, he taught me the science found in the nature around me. I learned to appreciate the hard work it takes to provide a family with food. I grew to understand my father better through long conversations about his childhood and the struggles he overcame in life. You never know how meaningful those little moments are when they happen. You can only do your best as a parent to make them happen as frequently as possible.

Talking about creating special memories, I recommend trying

Routine Factors to Consider

Does your work schedule change from week to week or remain constant?If you have a fluctuating schedule or if you work swing shifts, you will have to create a family routine for each work schedule scenario
Do your children attend a school or do you homeschool?How do both parents’ schedules aid or hinder getting kids to and from schools they attend?
What extracurricular activities do your children participate in that require transportation or parental attendance?How do both parents’ schedules aid or hinder getting kids to and from activities they attend?
How does your family’s routine shift to adjust for the weekdays that the children are not in school?What is the contingency routine for scheduled days off from school such as holidays and in-service days?

How do you handle the unexpected school absences as a result of childhood illness?
What chores are appropriate for each age group of children?How much time should it take for each job to be completed by the child assigned to the task?

Will the chore require adult supervision or can it be accomplished solo?
What is the family’s household budget for food and other life essentials?Does the family have the assets to hire outside help for childcare, cooking, cleaning, or other errands?
Have you included both self-care time and one-to-one time with each child in the weekly routine?Are there ways to combine self-care with one-to-one quality time with your children? (ex: yoga or exercise routine)

Meal Time Management

Working the night shift typically means you’re eating meals at unusual times compared to the average family. But who wants to be average anyway?

Mealtime with the family can be done in any fashion that works best for you. What you consume and when you dine will fit into the routine wherever you put it.

Maximizing your family time in the kitchen is best achieved through weekly meal planning. First, determine what day of the week has everyone at home together. Some families may not have all members at home simultaneously so whichever day allows for the most time with the most people will do. This day in your weekly family routine will be food preparation and cooking day.

For anyone new to meal planning what you do is create one week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each member of the family. By properly portioning and pre-making an entire weeks worth of food you and your family will:

  • Eat healthier home-prepared dishes which create long-lasting healthy eating habits
  • Reduce food waste and save money through savvy shopping habits
  • Gain an essential life skill that could blossom into a passion or future career
  • Build stronger family relationships by cooking and eating together
  • Expand your family’s palates as you acquire confidence and creativity in the kitchen

Meal planning involves using the same ingredients in different ways to create as many meals as possible. By cooking everything ahead of time and storing the premade meals, you will only spend one day a week destroying the kitchen. And likewise, cleaning up in the kitchen will only be awful that one day.

Use Your Freezer Wisely

This style of weekly meal planning will require that your family has adequate freezer space. You will need room to accommodate both the bulk purchasing of protein and the pre-portioned meals you make each week. A small deep freezer is a family investment that will pay back in its usefulness. (Here are 10 Easy Shift Work Meals with Recipes)

Buying food in bulk saves you time by reducing the number of trips you have to take to the grocery store. To save the most money will require a bit of research. You will discover that certain items are cheaper in one store compared to others. While it may require visiting a few locations to get all the best deals, the time and money saved will be worth the extra work. (Here are savvy some tax-deductible tips for shift workers)

In addition to freezer space, you will need enough food storage containers to hold each person’s weekly meals. High-quality food storage containers (glass is our favorite) are important for maintaining the flavor and consistency of the food. Poorly made containers tend to cause damage to the taste of the food. Freezer burn is the number one flavor destroyer resulting in thrown-out food and empty bellies.

You will also need to create a system for labeling the prepared meals that will be stored in the freezer. This serves two purposes:

  1. Frozen prepared meals can be more difficult to identify after it’s been in the freezer for a few days. In addition, some containers are opaque making it impossible to see what’s inside without removing the lid.
  2. Labeling the meals with what day of the week to eat it and whose meals are whose will prevent any mixups or mishaps during the week’s menu. Using colored stickers to devise an identification system removes all the guesswork when grabbing from the stockpile of dining options.

Related: Uncontrollable Sleepiness After Eating: Ditch the ZZZ’s

Magic of Menus

Creating a family-approved menu for the entire week may sound impossible. Especially if you’re like most parents and have at least one picky eater in the bunch. Relax, you can do this if you take baby steps, plan it together, and have fun with food. There are going to be some instances of trial and error, but life will always be a game of win or lose. Just don’t throw in the towel too soon.

Begin plotting out your family’s menu by making a table with each day of the week at the top of the columns. Start your week on whichever day your family’s routine has set for cooking. For this illustration, I have put Sunday at the beginning.


Each row of the table will be filled in with breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals. You can customize your family’s menu with additional rows for snacks (Interested in Thanksgiving snacks? Here are some delicious suggestions). Some families even break the day up more with 5-6 smaller meals for each day.

The great thing about meal planning is that every aspect can be customized to fit your family’s needs. If anyone has dietary restrictions or someone is looking to lose weight, proper menus and healthy portions cover all the bases. (That’s why Em and I drink this green juice). Too many of us have come to rely on the convenient foods available and our health pays the biggest price for it.

Here are some tasty vegan snacks – which are so delicious even if you’re not vegan.

Don’t get overwhelmed by how many boxes you have to fill in your family’s menu. Bulk cooking can help fill in multiple meal slots fast without feeling repetitive. For example, you can cook a large quantity of ground meat like beef or turkey to make five nights’ worth of dinners. One bulk-size family pack of ground meat or meat substitute can become:

  • Sunday night spaghetti and meat sauce
  • Monday night loose-meat sandwiches
  • Tuesday night tacos
  • Wednesday night sloppy joes
  • Thursday night burritos

Meal planning has the secret bonus of helping your family save money by creating a concise grocery list. No more wandering up and down the aisles tossing random boxes and cans in the cart. You’re on a mission to provide your family with wholesome quality food. And by following an economical method of shopping, you will save money that can be put towards that dream vacation or other big purchases which promote a happy family environment.

[VIDEO] – Best Meal Prep Tips for Night Shift Workers (Saving Time & Money)

Working Night Shift With Kids But Running Out of Time

Busy families with hectic schedules may find that they don’t have enough hours in the day to get it all done. Between school, sports, music lessons, and all the driving to and fro, it’s a miracle anyone has clean clothes to wear. And when you only have 20 minutes to get back out the door and on to the next event after school, dinner ends up being a rush or skipped altogether.

For those extra assiduous families, there are options to alleviate the burdens of managing the household. Companies like, provide a pool of entrepreneurs who bring their skills to your home. Childcare and petcare are their top advertising markets. However, they employ people who cook, clean, and run errands like shopping or picking up dry cleaning.

Families who don’t know how to cook or don’t enjoy cooking may want to consider signing up for one of the bounteous meal kit programs available online. These services provide you with a selection of healthy meals to choose from for your weekly menu. Fresh ingredients are shipped directly to your home and come with easy-to-follow instructions.

Meal kits will give your family more quality time together as you prepare wholesome entrees for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Some downsides to this option include a limited selection of choices available and the cost per serving typically starts around $7 – which we understand not everyone who works nights can afford the added expense.

Maximizing family time as a night shift parent takes work and a bit of planning. In whatever way you are able to spend time together, make sure you are all living in the moment. Put away the distractions and build a stronger connection by talking and sharing in one another’s individual lives.

You may only have a fifteen-minute window during breakfast before they have to run off to catch the bus so make them count. Those few ticks of the clock are an opportunity for you to hear about what’s going on at school or how rehearsals are going for this year’s musical. After they’re on their way, then you can scan through the sports scores or check the latest headlines before you have to be wherever it is you’re going next – most likely bed!

Other helpful meal prep tips:

Quality-Time Activities we an do as a Family

One of the best things about families is that everyone has their own interests. This will help you to work together at creating a long list of want-to-dos you can all enjoy together.

If you’re struggling for some ideas that invoke togetherness and quality time, here are some suggestions to get you started – the suggestions are wide and varied;

  • Games and puzzles
  • Sporting events
  • Get adventurous
  • Try beach yoga
  • Hikes at your local state parks.
  • Learn something new together (art classes or visiting a museum).

Avoid relying too much on activities that don’t promote interaction. Watching television and movies can be great for relaxation, but it does little to start conversation and build connections, reducing the quality of the time spent together. Which we all know is going to be less than the average household due to time differences.

Keep Reading:

In summary, there are a number of reasons why people work night shift. Some by choice, but for others it’s out of necessity – they can’t put food on the table without it. However, work / life balance is so important and as your time on earth is short, every moment with those who are closest should be maximised.

We hope you were able to find some strategies that can help you enhance the relationship you have with your partner and kids, with night shift no longer being a hinderance to your everyday life.

Thanks for reading.



Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Daniel Smith

Managing a global sales team I've experienced the challenges of working at all hours of the day and night. Being a shift worker I know how tough it can be balancing everyday life when you feel like you haven't slept in weeks! Providing advice and tips on how to manage your schedule, whilst still staying healthy is where I can help.

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