Good news! It’s your weekend with the kids!

Bad news. You also just paid all the bills, and you’re a Good Parent who keeps up on your support. (Right?)

So, there you are. You’ve got the loves of your life there, and they are wanting to feel engaged, like their parent that they don’t see as often anymore still cares about them, and they are worthy of spending time with.

The issue here, of course, is that unfortunately, a vast number of the events that people these days consider “family activities” cost money, and in some cases, an assload of it at that. So here’s the conundrum: being with the kids, spending quality time with them, but… you’re broke. And you’re not the type to just fast food them, and sit them in front of the TV. That would be douchey at best.

What are you to do?

Here are a few easy suggestions:

Take Them To A Park. Yes, it seems like a cop-out, but it doesn’t just have to be to the local playground. Find a public park, that’s not only large, but has more to do than just swings and a basketball hoop. Finding one with a nice sized forest is good not only for going on a nice healthy hike, but it can also spur on their young imaginations. Think of how many children’s/young adult books involve dense dark woods, or some variation thereof? You may not just stimulate their physical health, but their creative health as well.

Cook for Them. This is another seemingly obvious one, but at the same time, it really isn’t. Cooking can be time-consuming, between buying the groceries, preparing, and cooking. But overall, it is far more cost-effective than running out for dinner, on average. There’s another plus to actually making a meal for the kids – you can actually get them involved in the process. Even just a little bit. Mixing ingredients in a bowl, putting a pan in the oven, stirring the pot a little, all of these can make your kids like they were involved in making their meal. It’s a good teaching moment, and again, it’s a lot more cost effective than running out somewhere. And a lot healthier in the long run, too.

Play Games with Them. This can apply to card games, board games, even certain video games within reason. And we’ve all heard the marketing cliché, “Family Game Night,” right? I believe there was even a TV show called that at one point. It sounds chintzy, kitschy and corny, but here’s the secret behind that particular marketing campaign: the point really isn’t to buy certain games because they’re better for families (though, to be sure, the companies certainly hope you buy their latest games!). The point is, sitting everyone around the same table, playing the same thing, brings everyone together even for just a little while. It’s something not even the smartest smartphones have managed to figure out how to do yet – get the entire family involved. But it doesn’t even require you running out and buying the latest Monopoly edition, or even the latest gaming console for those “party games” they sell. You can play hide and seek with them. Pictionary doesn’t necessarily require the board, dice or pieces – just you and the kids drawing images to see if everyone can guess them. You can even play a game along the lines of Uno with a plain deck of playing cards. Whatever it takes, for you and the kids to be together, and be active and involved with them…

Go For A Walk. Just a walk around the neighborhood for some fresh air might do them a world of good. It can be a good thing to get out and see other people. They might even get to meet kids from the neighborhood they can maybe play with if the ennui sets in during a visitation. It doesn’t have to just be that. Go outside and throw a ball around, play fetch with the dog (if you have one), or ride bicycles. Something where you and the kids are doing the same thing at the same time is key, and they are not only enjoying themselves, but the fact you are involved, with them. When they don’t see you for days or weeks at a time, that is critical.

There are many more activities that can be done for little to no money spent when times are tight, sure. This is only the tip of the iceberg. But it’s a good start, at a time when you’re being told you need to spend money on the people you love to show you really care. All you really need to spend is the time and involvement to be there for them, and with them.

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