Parenting takes time.
And parenting is about giving quantities of time, not just 'quality' time.
I believe that, believe it strongly. We've made lifestyle decisions that have kept our kids alongside us for big blocks of time, giving us access to their experiences and education. I just knew I wasn't going to be able to do all the things I hoped to do with them in just a few short hours a week.
I craved more time.
In my early parenting days, those longer hours with my oldest and my second yielded afternoon-long read aloud sessions and craft projects of epic proportions. When my third came along, I found it a bit more difficult to juggle the age range with the same kind of attention and time, but we managed pretty well. Then came 4 of 8. And the 5 of 8. And then 6 of 8. And then 7 and 8 of 8.
And although I was spending lots and lots and lots of time parenting and cleaning and serving and nurturing and correcting, I began to feel like I wasn't getting enough time with my kids.
Even though just about all I was doing was spending time with my kids.
But here was the rub~~I wasn't getting as much individualized, focused time with each child. And in that reality, I felt like they each weren't getting time with me. Even though corporately, they had most of my time.
My initial thoughts were to schedule long individual days with each of them, but that was quickly jettisoned. It just couldn't work. I was still nursing the twins. 4 of 8 was still deep in Auditory Verbal Therapy for her hearing loss. There just weren't long blocks of time to take.
But I can be an idealist. Which sometimes means the same thing as an un-realist.
Quality quantity time. That was the ideal.
But the calendar and the clock made me change my definition. One of the frequent questions we are asked about our large family is how we make sure each child is getting the attention and love they need. I think we've arrived at something of a treaty.
1. Even just five to ten minutes of positive individualized time can give fantastic dividends.
Sometimes I'll shoo all the other kids out of the bathroom to spend a little quiet time with one of the girls, giving her a special hair-do for the day, taking a little time for her to choose one of my perfumes to wear. It's a short little interlude, but it makes her feel special and pampered.
2. Sometimes you have to ditch efficiency models to focus on one.
Even though it is most efficient to read aloud to my population of younger kids as a group, I do sometimes have them each get one book a piece and then I read that one book to the bearer of the books, siblings banned.
3. Never underestimate the power of a one-on-one trip to the grocery store.
While I have often looked to my grocery shopping days as my 'alone time-mental spa' spot in the week, I've started ditching that for taking one of the kids with me. For the younger ones, to see all the lights and action of Costco seems pretty Vegas. And for the older ones, the chance to make a quick run through Starbucks and then stroll the hallowed aisles of Sam's has often proven a recipe for deep conversation. Really.
4. Don't forget to play.
A few weeks ago, we enjoyed time at our friends' ranch. We loved playing on the lake on the ranch, floating and playing on the jet skis. Mike and our oldest son, 3 of 8, hopped on the back of a huge innertube and let our friend drag them all over the water. Their time on the innertube turned into a wrestle mania fest, each of them trying to throw the other off. It was a hilarious moment of play between dad and teen. And it doesn't take jet skis and innertubes to achieve. Mike will often choose a kid to chase through the house, grab for a tickle fight, tag for a wrestling match. We've had some epic water fights, pillow fights, Pictionary battles and drywall damaging rounds of chase. Those play sessions typically generate tremendous amounts of fun and memories.
5. Work alongside.
I will often choose one of the kids to work alongside me in the kitchen or work on a project in the yard or house. Sometimes there is a little grumbling at the start, but it usually very quickly morphs into a really precious time of conversation and accomplishment.
6. Make it a movie night for three.
In addition to trying to carve out individual time, Mike and I will often try to create times where we are both focused on the same child. Sometimes we will have that one child join us to watch a documentary while their sibs are sent upstairs.
7. Start a birthday tradition.
I can't really remember when we started this annual event with each of the kids, but Mike and I take out the birthday kid for a special lunch on the day of their birthday. We later have a big family party, but we try to have time on each kid's birthday to celebrate with just the three of us. The one situation we haven't quite worked out is for the twins. Because twins are born on the same day. And thus celebrate their birthday on the same day. Duh. For which we haven't quite figured out an individualized lunch plan for. I'll keep you updated.
8. Pay attention.
I am amazed, simply amazed, at how a whiney, difficult, complaining child can have their whole demeanor turned around if I will just give them some positive, focused time. Time spent on discipline doesn't count. Don't let times of discipline and correction 'count' as individualized time with your child...that can potentially reinforce poor behavior as a kid can begin to see that kind of attention as the only kind he can get from you. If I will disconnect my frustration from a particular behavior of one of the kids and ask myself the question, "Do they simply need a little focused time from me?", I will often see pretty remarkable results.
How do you make each of your children feel special? What tips do you have for making sure your parenting extends beyond the practical and urgent to the focused and playful?