One-on-one time with our kids: why we must and how we can

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It was hard to believe this morning as I was racing to the high school with my oldest daughter and giving her a “talking to” about getting in bed earlier so she wouldn’t miss her bus in the mornings that this time last week we were having the time of our lives together on a surprise out-of-town trip my husband and I planned for her 16th birthday.

Why did we do that? Because when we looked at the big Clock of Life, it said she will be grown and gone in just a few short years, and it occurred to us that this might be our one and only chance to have some extended, uninterrupted, quality one-on-one time together. Extravagant? Maybe. But to us it was worth every penny and minute. It wasn’t so much about the trip as it was the alone time with our daughter.

Making one-on-one time for our kids feels more crucial than ever in this fast-paced world, and as hard as it is to do, the benefits for both the parents and children are huge. Why is it so important? What are the benefits? How do you actually make it happen? I’ll give you three of my ideas for each of these questions, and then I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Why is one-on-one time with our children so important?

  1. Because our children are individuals. The whole point of one-on-one time is to interact on a personal level. No one likes to be treated as one of the masses, which is what often happens at school, on athletic teams, in orchestras, and, yes, in a family with multiple children. (Everybody sit down and eat. Everybody get in the car. Everybody be quiet.) As nice as it is to be part of a group or a big happy family, it’s also nice to be recognized as an individual. Feeling understood and accepted for who we really are is a universal need, and we are uniquely qualified as mothers (and fathers) to do that for our children in these one-on-one settings. 
  2. Because life moves fast, especially as kids get older. It’s easy to talk about slowing down and keeping life simple when kids are young, but there are realities for teenagers living in the year 2013. Lots of homework, extracurriculars, part-time jobs (not to mention activities with family and friends) — these are all things that go with the territory, and they all eat up a huge amount of time. One-on-one time with our children is precious, especially in today’s crazy world.
  3. Because that’s when we discover what’s really going on. Let’s face it, the older our kids get, the less time we have with them and the less direct influence we have on their lives. We’re not always sure what’s going on with them, but when we spend quality one-on-one time we’re more likely to have interactions and conversations that let us in on their world. This is both how and when we bond with our children, develop mutual trust and respect, and perceive and prevent potential problems. (Additionally, if your child is a quiet introvert like my daughter, this may be the only time he or she opens up.)

What are the benefits of one-on-one time? 

  1. You can be with them on their level. Our daughter is a deep thinker who is into anime, art, music, and good food, but when we go out together as a family (we have four children and the youngest is almost 6), we don’t exactly eat at nice restaurants, have adult-ish conversation and linger longer at art museums. However, last weekend we were able to do all of those things with her. When you plan special one-on-one dates with your child, you can cater to their specific age, needs and interests without the competing ages, needs and interests of the other children. Not to sound trite, but it makes them feel special and loved.
  2. You can have uninterrupted conversations. This one is huge for me. Our youngest daughter has no volume control and is still young enough to want to be the center of attention at all times. When we’re together as a family, it’s frequently the youngest children who make the most noise and do most of the talking, so our oldest daughter often tunes out. When we’re alone, however, it’s easy to have lots of great, uninterrupted conversations about the things that matter most to her. I love it! Maybe in your family the reverse is true (the older kids do all the talking and attention getting). Either way, getting to talk to your child individually without interruption is a gift for both of you.
  3. You can enjoy the kind of moments that made you sign up for motherhood in the first place. None of us relishes the moments like the one I had in the car this morning chastising my daughter, but it comes with being a parent. Even the best of children need direction/correction/discipline from time to time, and we all spend more than enough time there. If you think about your favorite moments as a mother, what comes to mind? Cleaning, disciplining and prodding your children to finish their homework? Of course not! It’s those special one-on-one moments. And making time for that is making time to realize your own motherhood dreams. What better reason do you need?

How do you make one-on-one time happen?

  1. Take a child on an errand with you. This is the cheapest and easiest way to get a little one-on-one time with your child. All of us have to go to the grocery store, return things or wash the car, so when possible, take just one child along with you and  plan to get a special treat or do something together after you’ve finished. Similarly, if your child has their own bedroom, you can probably get a few minutes of “pillow talk” in every night before bed.
  2. Put a monthly date on the calendar. In my dream world (and on my dream schedule), either my husband or I takes one of our four children to breakfast each Saturday morning. We’ve also tried alternating “date nights” once a month. Unfortunately, the real world schedule doesn’t allow this to happen as often as we would like, but knowing it’s on the calendar makes it much more likely to happen.
  3. Give one-on-one dates as gifts. I did this last year for Valentine’s Day because we have enough cheap little toys and the kids get enough candy at their school parties. We let our kids choose (within reason) where they wanted to go on their special dates, so my then 8-year-old daughter and I ended up at one of those awful game centers followed by dinner at (wait for it . . .) Chuck-O-Rama. Horrible as that sounds, it was one of my favorite days with her. She was so excited to be alone with me on this special date that I couldn’t help but love every minute with her.

And, yes, you could also plan an awesome weekend getaway for a 16th birthday, but I know that sounds cost prohibitive to many people. However, with enough time and creative planning, I would suggest that most people could pull off that kind of thing. My husband once took that same daughter alone on a camping trip when she was just 10. Very cheap, but something she still talks about and will always remember. (They’ve had a special bond ever since.) Again, it’s not about the place/money/things you do as much as it is the time spent alone together.

Of course, you will need to adapt your plan according to how many children are in your family and their ages (my youngest daughter is alone with me for half of every weekday, so she gets more than enough “mommy time”), but in my mind, making your children feel especially loved by a parent through these one-on-one experiences is one of the best ways to develop mutual trust and respect, perceive and prevent a variety of problems, and create a bond that will last a lifetime.

QUESTION: How do you create one-on-one time for your children? What are some of your best experiences? Why do you think it’s important? What do you think are the benefits?

CHALLENGE: Start planning your next “date night” today!