A study in March 2015 showed that parents are spending more time with their children now than ever before. In fact, the amount of time we’re spending with our kids keeps increasing. But, if you talk to most parents they don’t feel like they are actually spending enough time with their kids. I’d guess that’s because the research is looking at quantity of time more than quality of time.
It’s a struggle that my family faces. Both of our kids are in school now. With a third grader and kindergartener, we are careful of monitoring their after-school activities so we don’t get too busy. Each of them are allowed to pick one extracurricular activity that goes for the entire school year. We recently agreed to let them both participate in a school play knowing that it would increase their activities for a couple of months, especially for our daughter who, as a third grader, has a larger part than her kindergarten brother.
Once you add in things like homework, making dinner, making lunches and cleaning up from everything, our evenings are pretty full even when the kids don’t have any activities. We are together and have family dinner almost every night. We chat around the dinner table, which is something my husband and I set as a priority when we first became parents. But when it comes to actually having one-on-one time with our children, we have to be more intentional.
One-on-one time is so important for our kiddos. I can literally see the difference in my children’s attitudes and mannerisms when they learn that they get one-on-one time. They perk up. It doesn’t take a long time or something complicated to make a difference. It just takes a bit of planning and undivided attention (no cell phone!).
1. Share a meal.
I can almost bond over food with anyone. I love food! But, this is true with my kiddos. I love getting a chance to eat with just one kiddo at a time. We’ve done this both as one-on-one time with each other individually and also as one-on-two time with both my husband and me but only one kiddo.
Right now in being busier, we actually are able to accomplish this one more. One night this week, for example, my daughter had play practice until 6 and had to be at gymnastics at 7. My son had to be at his Ninja Zone class at 6:30. My husband and I divided and conquered. He took my daughter and had dinner at Subway in between activities. I had my son who wanted frozen pizza at home before his class. It was a great opportunity to connect with our kids individually.
Another way I’ve found this works well is going into have lunch with them at school. My kids’ school is open to having parents come in for lunch whenever they’d like to as long as we sign in. My son’s lunch ends right as my daughter’s is beginning. And there are special tables just outside the cafeteria we can sit at, which really does give us a chance to connect one-on-one. I also really enjoy seeing them in their element at school and interacting with their friends. I also keep it simple and usually just have them eat their lunch that I packed for them.
For the one-on-two dates, we have even left one kiddo with a babysitter and gone out. A babysitter for us means grandparents because we are fortunate to have both my parents and my in-laws living within 10 minutes of us. But, even with grandparent time, our kids still make us promise that they’ll each get a turn to go out with us one-on-two. They enjoy having our undivided attention.
2. Take advantage of time in the car.
That scenario above where the kids have classes within a half hour of each other happens every week. My son’s Ninja Zone class is 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and my daughter’s gymnastics class is 7 to 8 p.m. Both classes are in different buildings about 10 minutes away from each other. So my husband and I split up to take them. We alternate who goes with whom so we have a chance to see each of them do their thing.
I’ve had some great conversations with both of them on the way to and from classes. Sometimes they share more about what’s going on with them at school. Sometimes they tell me something they’ve been worried about. And sometimes, especially with my son, they tell me about all the plans they’re making. (I call my 6-year-old son “my little man with a plan,” because has a plan and explanation for everything, even if he’s taking creative license with it!)
3. Go on dates.
We get to have dates every so often around here with our kiddos. For the past two years, a local community organization hosts a daddy/daughter dance in the fall. My husband takes my daughter and they always have a great time together. My son and I plan our own date during that time. In fact, I wrote about our most recent back in October. We don’t have to do something extravagant. My son really just wanted to go to the playground and out for ice-cream. But we have fun and get to connect in a different way. We get to chat about what’s going on with them and we try to make sure that we are doing something they are interested in and want to do, which is also incredibly important.
4. Take turns playing.
Our kiddos love for my husband and I to play with them. Now that they are both in school and have more going on, we don’t get to play nearly as often as we once did back when they were itty-bitties. But something we started back then has continued until now and is still one of their favorite things: one-on-one play time. We set a timer and spend time with each kid playing whatever they want to play and then switch.
My kids love this so much that it was their only requested activity over winter break when I asked them what they wanted to do during their time off from school. Even just a half hour each is enough and they love it. My husband and I do, too.
5. Go shopping together.
You don’t have to love shopping for this one to work, because I certainly don’t love shopping! I’ve enjoyed numerous shopping trips with one kiddo at a time picking out presents for the other or even just shopping for clothes. There’s something special about being out with just one kiddo at a time for both them and me. A couple of weeks ago, my son and I went to Target to have him try on jeans. It was sort of laborious and shouldn’t have been fun, yet we had a good time together anyway.