11 Hacks to Help Parents Actually Find Time to Read
Whether the last book you read was The Scarlet Letter in your senior lit class or you’re one of the many who read voraciously before having kids and now can’t find the time, most people want to have more reading in their lives. In fact, a recent study found reading boosts happiness and can also help us connect with each other and improve our relationships. But with so much on your endless to-do list, it’s hard to find time—let alone quiet time—when your hands are free to peruse a few pages. I get it, and I’m here to help. Here are 11 practical tips to help you dive back into books.
Can we stop using the phrase “guilty pleasure” when it comes to reading? Parents have enough guilt in their lives. Whether you’re reading War and Peace or Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (one of my personal faves), it’s reading. You should read what you want, not what you think you should. Life is too short to begrudgingly wade through a book you’re not loving, so consider this my blanket permission to stop reading a book if you don’t love it. Need help finding a real page-turner? Check out Amazon’s Best Books feature or The Bump Book Club picks, or drop by your local bookstore to see their staff picks.
Listening to a great story being read aloud isn’t just for kids! With audio books you can listen while you fold laundry, sanitize bottles, cut crusts off of PB&Js—you get the picture. An Audible membership is only $15 a month and includes one book and two Audible Originals. So now instead of listening to “Baby Shark” or the Frozen soundtrack yet again, you can use your cleaning or commute time to listen to an audiobook. And yes, it’s still reading even if you’re listening!
Whenever someone tells me they don’t have time to read, I ask them what they do before they go to sleep. I get some strange looks, but mostly the answer is the same: “I look at my phone.” Put down your phone (which has been scientifically proven to prevent deep sleep) and pick up either a print book or a Kindle, which isn’t backlit and won’t strain your eyes. After all, we set calming bedtime routines for our kids, so isn’t it time to rethink our own? Even if you manage one page before you pass out from sheer parental exhaustion, that’s still one page you wouldn’t have read otherwise.
Speaking of not having time to read, let’s think about all the lost time in your day: waiting on hold to speak to your pediatrician during flu season, lining up at the grocery store on Sunday afternoon or simply sitting in the car while your toddler finishes up an on-the-go nap. I downloaded the Kindle app on my phone and have turned these in-between moments into reading time. With the app, your book is on your phone; plus, your reading place will automatically sync between your phone and your Kindle, so you can dive right back into your book and get those lost moments back.
My first son has never been a good sleeper, and when he was a baby I lost hours every day trapped underneath him while he napped in my arms. I hardly ever had my book or Kindle with me before he fell asleep on me, but I usually had my phone tucked into some pocket. To prevent waking him in the dark, I’d switch the font color on my Kindle app from black with a white background to white with a black background. The phone won’t emit the same glow that it does with a white background, and you can see the words clearly in a darkened room. Never be held hostage by your baby again!
If you’re like me, you need some accountability in your life. The Goodreads Reading Challenge lets you set a personal reading goal for the year. I’ve done the Goodreads Reading Challenge the last two years, and I don’t think I’ve ever read more, even pre-kids! Bonus: You have a place where your sleep-deprived self can look up the books you’ve read when someone asks you if you’ve read anything good lately.
On my last maternity leave, I listened to Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and it was one of the best things I did for myself and my baby. FLOTUS reads the audiobook in her beautiful voice, and I spent so many postpartum walks lost (in the best way) in her words and wisdom. Chances are, you’re going to take your baby on walks. Use this time to exercise both your mind and body. I love listening to non-fiction or humor books read by the writer, and these kept me feeling sane during a winter maternity leave.
After I had kids, I felt like I should be reading parenting books, and they all followed a theme: breastfeeding made simple, sleep training made simple, toddler discipline made simple. Guess what? If it takes 300 pages to explain it, it’s probably not simple. I learned the hard way that reading books about sleep training when you’re exhausted is a particular kind of torture. Try some of the great blogs with parenting tips instead (you’re on The Bump right now, so you’re clearly ahead of the game!). Talk to your friends with kids. Call your pediatrician. But don’t feel like you’re not a great parent if you don’t spend your free time reading all about your children’s minds and bodies. Listen to Elsa and let it go. That way you’ll have more time to read what you love.
I’ve always been a reader, so it’s no surprise that my favorite “subject” in school was SSR. Remember SSR–Sustained Silent Reading? (It’s when you do some quiet, independent reading for a set period of time.) Try incorporating this at home with your kids, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. You get all the educational and social benefits of having your children read, plus you’re modeling good behavior for them when you pick up a book of your own. Win-win. (Oh, and you get to read. Win-win-win.) Bonus points if you can fit in some snuggles.
For those of you not pumping, feel free to skip this one. For those of you who are, I feel you and the struggle is real. When I first started pumping at work, I was determined not to use the time to catch up on work or email. Instead, I looked at baby pictures and watched adorable videos of him. That lasted for about a week, and every pumping session since then has been me on a conference call or sending emails or ticking through a to-do list I scribbled on a Post-It during a meeting. Real talk: You’re tethered to a machine doing something great for your baby, and you deserve a moment to relax. It’s okay to take a couple minutes to get some reading in. (This is when the Kindle app or Audible app becomes especially useful.) Your milk supply will thank you for taking a deep breath and stepping away from the email.
The average sitcom and one-hour show run 22 minutes and 42 minutes, respectively. Sure, kicking back and watching The Good Place with a glass of wine is relaxing, but those 22 minutes will last a lot longer when you’re spending time with a good book. One of my favorite Kindle features is the “time to read” function—you can look at a chapter (or the whole book) and see how much time you have left to finish it. When you turn 22 minutes into four chapters, you’re suddenly well into a book you’ll be glad you picked up instead of the TV remote.
Sarah Gelman is the editorial director for Books at Amazon. Prior to working at Amazon, she worked for a New York publishing house. Sarah lives in Seattle with her husband, two boys, two cats and one dog.
Published August 2019