When you’re first getting to know someone who may become a love interest, you try to spend time with them in a variety of circumstances. You go out for coffee, dinner, movies, concerts, maybe some dancing — activities that put you together in different scenarios so you can get to know one another and see how your personalities work together. At first, you date people so you can learn about who they are. As you grow closer, you date to build memories and deepen your bond.
My husband and I “date” our children for the same reasons. Obviously, not in a romantic sense (ew), but in a getting-to-know-each-other-better way. We both work from home, so we spend a lot of time with our kids already. But we realized at some point that despite all the time our family spends together, we had very little quality time with each child. We were missing out on an opportunity to get to know our kids outside of our family unit, outside of our normal routine, and outside of sibling dynamics.
So we started scheduling “dates” with each kid once a month. Here’s how we do it:
We switch off months.
Mom gets a date with each kid in July, Dad gets a date with each kid in August, Mom in September, Dad in October, etc. We tried both having dates each month, but that proved unsustainable. We are extremely busy people, and not in a bad way. We have a lot of friends and activities, and so do our kids. We were actually surprised at how tricky it was to schedule one-on-one time, so switching off months works well.
We keep it simple.
And by simple, I mean cheap. Usually, our dates are a trip to the ice cream shop or our local bubble tea place. Sometimes my teen asks to go to Michael’s or JoAnn’s to look for craft supplies. We’ve also gone to the thrift stores and coffee shops. Occasionally we go out for dinner if our recent dates have been inexpensive. I try to keep the whole date to $10 or less to keep it within our family budget.
Our kids have asked to go to movies for our dates, but we decided to keep movies as a family activity and to use other options for our date activities that allow us to chat. The whole point of this purposeful time is to get to know our kids better and to give them a chance to ask us things they might not want to talk about in front of the rest of the family, so I try to make sure we’re actually doing that.
We don’t put pressure on ourselves to make it amazing.
While our one-on-one time is important, that doesn’t always mean it’s going to be incredible. Some dates have been wonderful bonding experiences, and some have been sort of meh. It’s the act of doing it that is most meaningful. Our kids look forward to our dates and remind us of them all the time. They love having a parent to themselves, and it means a lot that we carve out that special time, even if it’s just to share a bowl of ice cream.
We make sure they know we love our dates, too.
When we’re on our dates, my kids talk to me in ways they normally don’t have a chance to (or don’t think to). My husband has said the same thing about his dates with our kids. Those intimate conversations are a treasure, as is seeing each child for who they are as an individual. We can do that at home, of course, but there’s something unique about getting away from our norm. That dedicated hour focusing on that unique relationship really does nurture our bond and help us get closer.
That close relationship serves as the foundation for everything from discipline to trust to helping around the house. I always tell my kids how much fun it is to spend time together. Kids want to be helpful and respectful when they feel connected to you in a real way. I’m confident that the investment now will be doubly valuable in the future.
It may sound weird to say that we “date” our children, but that really is what we do. We set up special time together away from our daily routine and away from the rest of the family. We deliberately spend that time getting to know one another better and strengthening our bond. We learn things we didn’t know, we tell stories and laugh, and we enjoy being together. We basically fall more and more in love, which is the best outcome anyone can hope for from a date.