Just like I schedule date nights with my husband, we schedule dates with each of our kids.
One on one time with Mama and one on one time with Papa. This allows each of our kids to go their own pace and have our complete attention. It's a time for listening and bonding.
Sometimes we schedule them ahead of time, on a consistent basis (routine is so helpful for us human beings, big or small). Doing this has made for some very smooth weeks and even curtailed some meltdowns... "Mama when are we going on our date? T is frustrating me," E asked me once as I watched him breath and hold back a whack he was considering bestowing upon his brother.
Sometimes we plan them a day ahead of time, or on the spot, when we see they are needed.
We might plan them when we have been experiencing life changes (new or different anything...routine, caregivers, houses...), when one parent has been focused outside the house more than usual, or when our kids ask for one verbally or suggest that they may benefit from one by clinging, whining or "acting out".
Sometimes the kiddo picks what we do, sometimes we give options, sometimes we just do the things that need to be done, while mindfully including them.
Today, T and I went to Home Depot and the feed store. He drove the car cart, loaded items into the cart (some of which I put back on the shelf quietly as he walked on 😁), gave high fives and treats to a super sweet dog named Jumbo, and scanned items at checkout. When we got home T fed mealworms to the chickens (the whole bag. Don't worry, I bought a small bag on purpose, dumping is a skill he's been working on), cleaned their water bowl, put away the cleaning tools, and made us lunch. Serious, he cracked the eggs, stirred them, put the oil in the pan, dumped the eggs in, and stirred them while they cooked...and then talked about it until he fell asleep for his nap..."I break eggs..."
Kids are amazingly capable, and interested in doing the work we do. I just set up my spaces, my time, and my mind, for the tasks. With brother out having his own fun, I was able to watch quietly as T did most of the work. I knew it would be messier and slower than if I did it myself, but doing that would have robbed him of the ability to do and learn for himself, an end goal I think most parents share. Plus it was so fun watching him!
E initiated this date morning. My husband is on break from nursing school for a week and a half. Last night E said, "Papa, may we have a date tomorrow? I haven't gotten to spend much time with you lately." How can you say no to that? We melted a bit. So he and papa headed out early and just returned from the grocery store and Party City, where they bought balloons simply for the joy of them. We find that after these dates we all feel more fulfilled, connected, patient and happy to come back together and enjoy family time. When we first tried kiddo dates I was most convinced of their need by my oldest's response. He had been frustrated with his brother, squeezing and yelling "no" at him. When we left for the date he told me he wanted to play at a park and get a balloon. At the store he picked out a balloon for himself and one for his brother. When we got home he ran the balloon to T and spent the rest of the week acting like they were long lost friends, recently reunited. It was a balm to my mama bear soul.
I think it gets down to this, most of us hardly know ourselves, and when we try to learn about another, our knowledge is always marred by the layers of personal filter we consciously, or not so consciously, have running all the time. And yet, we long to be known, to be seen.
Children are no exception. They want to be seen, and Loved for exactly who they are. When we stop, and make time for only them, we are telling them that we care. We are telling them that they are enough, and worthy of our time and attention. Even if we never learn to peel back our own layers in order to see them more clearly, they still feel our Loving intention, and that is enough.
What do you do to maintain and build connection with each of the members of your family? I'd love to know, and hear about the dates you go on and what you notice after, in the comments below.
In the meantime, know that I am sending Love and wishing you blissful connection. Happy dating!