One of the biggest challenges when we welcomed our third child was the realization that we were outnumbered. In any given moment, there is one more kid than we have the capacity to give individual attention to. As our kids have gotten older, that reality has set in. I think of it on the drive home from school, as I field a question from my 4-year-old while my 9-year-old regales us with a story from her day and the 6-year-old exclaims how hungry he is. Or when I am tucking the boys into bed while their big sister waits on me to dry her hair before it is her turn to be tucked in. And while being outnumbered is certainly a challenge, my husband and I are learning that the math really does work out. We CAN have 1 on 1 time with each of our kids, it just takes a bit of planning.
We’ve found that what works for us is lunch or dinner dates with our kids approximately once every quarter. That 1-2 hour block of time seems to be just enough for them (and for us!) to feel that individual connection. Where we go and what we do differs by season and/or based on the personality of each kid. For example, my 4-year-old is a burgers/fries/tots only kind of guy, so I take him somewhere quick and casual (Dat Dog is a personal favorite of his, and we can walk there from our house, so double bonus!). Our daughter, on the other hand, has a more adventurous palate, so my husband recently took her out for Indian food. One of the benefits of living in New Orleans is that there is likely a restaurant (or coffe shop, bakery or ice cream store) that will strike the fancy of members of every family.
While it isn’t exactly “easy” to pull off, with just a little planning, these 1 on 1 dates with our kids are manageable. We usually pick a one week block of time and plan out which parent is going with which kid on which day. In reality, we prioritize my husband getting individual time with our daughter, and me with our sons, mostly because my girl and I spend a lot of time together organically, and my husband does with my boys, through their various sports and extracurriculars. Once the dates/times are picked, my husband and I pick a place, make a reservation (if needed) and just do it. We don’t do too much planning other than that. During our dates, we let the kids mostly lead the conversation, so we can hear from them what’s really going on in their hearts and minds. We might have a question or two based on something that’s happened recently, but we’ve found that the kids are more open when the conversation feels less structured.
Why is all of this important? I think it is important because it makes our kids feel seen and known. To feel loved and treasured (as they obvioulsy are!). In the busyness of life in a bigger family, we can often go through days without truly looking in each other’s eyes, and we’re even less like to get that deep individual connection with each kid on the regular. But knowing that we are committed to consistently seeking to spend time with them, to know them, and to delight in them is such an encouragement. This is especially true of the quieter kids (like my middle buddy). It has been such a joy over the past couple of years to see him really open up in this 1 on 1 setting in ways that he doesn’t always do over family dinner, or on the car ride home.
I hope 20 years from now, our kids look back on their dates with mom and dad with fondness and joy. I hope that these times are encouraging and fulfilling for them, reminding them that they are important and worthy to be known and pursued. I hope they laugh thinking about the the time it started raining as we waited on the streetcar to get home. But even if not, we’ll remember, their dad and I. And that will be worth it, too.