We started one-on-one outings with our three children after our then eight-year-old daughter Norah, our middle child, announced that she never got any attention. We were at dinner, and it was a pretty dramatic statement, her arms folded, lips stuck out, head down. It all ended with a “humph!”
I rolled my eyes that night. I rolled them good and hard, because we’d heard that before. So many times. And of course we spent time with her… right? I spent time with all three of my children. Usually all three of them together, yelling at them to finish their homework, or to get in the tub, or to get out of the tub, or to get in the van, or to stop asking me for snacks.
Sure, I spent time with my kids, but usually it was all centered around trying to get them to do this, and then that, so we could, at some reasonable hour, go to bed with a relatively clean house, all the homework finished and packed in their backpacks.
So I blew it off, assuming she was just, once again, in the midst of another frustrating transition into the preteens. My wife, however, took it seriously.
Two days after Norah’s blow out, after the kids were in bed and I was in the kitchen eating a popsicle (my reward for getting them in bed on time without losing my crap), Mel reminded me of what Norah said at the dinner table. “I’m worried that we aren’t giving her enough attention,” she said.
Mel told me about how when she was little, she didn’t get much one-on-one attention from her parents, and how much she longed for it.
“We can’t just give Norah one-on-one attention,” I said. “Our other kids will hate her for that.”
She nodded, and then she presented me with a schedule because schedules are her go-to. Her master plan was this: Each Saturday we’d take one child out for a one-on-one outing of their choosing. Tristan, our son, would be the first Saturday, Norah the second, and Aspen the third, going oldest to youngest. On the fourth Saturday, Mel and would I go out on a date. Each month Mel and I would alternate.
She mentioned that, naturally, there would be some weekends this wouldn’t work because of this or that. But she felt strongly this would give our children some much needed on-on-one time. So we went for it.
We get a $15 budget, so it’s not extravagant. Sometimes we go bowling or to a matinee or ice-skating. With my four-year-old, we just go buy candy, and it’s basically the highlight of her life and, honestly, mine too (I love me some candy).
After doing this for 8 months, I’m pretty thrilled that Mel listened to our daughter because this has become wonderful for our family. I’ve learned that my 11-year-old son wants to go to college, but isn’t sure what to study, and I told him that was normal. “I didn’t know what I wanted to study until I was junior,” I said. We both let out a huge sigh of relief for different reasons. He’s asked me all about dating, and how I met his mother, and who I dated before I met her, and I’ve told him about mistakes and successes. He still refuses to tell me who he has a crush on at school, but I know there’s someone. The way he blushes gives it away.
I found out that my nine-year-old daughter and her friends have started doing random acts of kindness at school, and that made me feel so good. But I also found out that her body image concerns were worse than we realized, and now Mel and I are actively trying to work through it with her. Norah has also stopped announcing that no one spends time with her. She feels seen and heard, so that’s awesome.
As for my 4-year-old daughter, well… I found out that she really likes gummy worms, which wasn’t a surprise, but it’s good to know. She’s also been a little more snuggly with me, which is always appreciated.
Now I know what you are thinking, what about you and your wife? Well, that’s better too. I watch the kids on her months, and she watches them on mine. And then we finish out the month with a cheap taco date at a place down the street from our house. We discuss what we learned from spending time with the kids, or we play “Would You Rather,” or we just stare longingly into each other’s eyes. Nah… that last part was a stretch. But the first two were very accurate.
All in all, I feel closer to my children and my wife after doing this. I also look forward to these moments with my kids. Next Saturday I’m taking Norah to see Mary Poppins, and each day, the moment I walk in from work, she reminds me about it. She giggles, and I give her a hug. And she always asks me this one question, “Are you excited?” and I always say, “Heck yes, I am. I love spending time with you.”