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You just got home from work. What's next?

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Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor/File

(Read caption) Residents walk home along Commonwealth Avenue after work in Boston.

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Each weekday, my children arrive home about two hours before my wife does, giving me two hours where it’s just dad and the kids.

Most days, they’re pretty happy to do whatever I suggest, but if I don’t happen to have an idea for them, they’ll go out in the back yard and play or, if the weather is poor, down to the family room and watch a television show.

While I don’t mind playing in the back yard so much, it’s very important to me that they establish good habits for the end of their school day. I want them to be involved in something active and productive, not something passive.

I witnessed the dangers of coming home and being passive in my own life. For my entire educational career and the first few years of my professional career, I would come home from work and just kick back with a book or a television show. 

That routine damaged my finances, as I found myself accepting a huge cable bill and buying lots of books. It damaged my connections to other people, as I was spending time alone. Most of all, it was gobbling down time that I could have used for other things.

It was that time that enabled me to launch The Simple Dollar. It was that time that enabled me to write multiple books. And, now, it is that time that I can use to set the course for whether I’m a successful parent or whether I’m not a successful one.

I’ve set a positive pattern with the use of that first hour or two after my work is done, and it’s one I want to pass on to my children.

So, when they come home, I make sure to greet them with a healthy snack of some kind – usually fruit. I talk to them about their day while they eat their snack. Then, I try to engage them in some sort of worthwhile activity after that. We might play a thoughtful board game, read books together, or play together in the back yard. Sometimes, we’ll do science experiments, like looking for bugs or flowers or doing some basic kitchen chemistry. Last year, in October and November, we worked on homemade Christmas gifts.The point is to fill that time with something positive, not something sedentary or negative.

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