Quarantine Has Given Me Time To Bond With My Tweens

by Rachel Garlinghouse
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Quarantine Has Given Me Time to Bond With My Tweens
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

I never had time. At least, this is what I told myself before quarantine. Like many moms, I’m constantly juggling parenting, working, taking care of my home, and trying to be decent person. I might squeeze in a little self-care here and there.

Once our state issued a shelter-in-place order, I was suddenly helping my four children distance-learn while still working and keeping up with all the household stuff. Despite a very full plate, once dinnertime hit each night, I found myself on the downhill. I’d shower, put on some pjs, and have time. We’d get our younger two kids to bed while our tweens were giddy to stay up late each night. They’d then offer up a tween version of “Will you play with us?” Normally, I’d be rushing them to bed, knowing the alarm clock would be going off bright and early the next morning. However, that’s no longer the case.

I found myself wondering: How do I “play” with tweens? They’re in this awkward life phase between playing with dolls and action figures and only wanting a smart phone. What I found is that I didn’t have to come up with anything. Unlike teenagers, they’re still willing to speak to me, and they told me what they wanted. Ultimately, it comes down to us doing something together, where they have my undivided attention, engaging in an activity they are interested in.

I admit, I hesitated at first. Days in social isolation are long and sometimes rocky. I wanted to curl up in my bed, watch Netflix, and eat chips and salsa. Parenting for another second made me cringe. But it turns out, I’ve been reminded that tweens are much more self-sufficient and fun than I originally gave them credit for. Unlike the days when I was washing bottles, changing diapers, and rocking babies to sleep, my tweens were up for engaging conversations. I gave it a whirl.

Soon enough, we were finding ways to bond on a daily basis — and not only am I participating, but I’m doing so willingly and happily.

We’re having LEGO-building competitions.

All of my children have built up a large LEGO stash, mostly thanks to cool grandparents, aunts, and uncles. One night, my oldest asked me to come build with them, and I obliged. LEGO was one of my favorite toys as a kiddo, so I was down for some healthy competition. We sat on her bedroom floor, top-40 music pouring from the radio, while we each leisurely created a LEGO structure of our choosing. After my husband got the younger two kids to bed, he came in to be the judge. We were hooked, and we’ve been competing every other night for a few weeks now.

We’re sharing books.

I’m that mean-mommy who has instituted a daily half-hour reading session. Luckily, my kids usually enjoy reading, so they’ve (mostly) complied. Since we can’t visit the library right now, and I normally don’t buy books for myself, I was trying to find something to read. One day, I grabbed my oldest’s copy of Brown Girl Dreaming from her room. From that day on, every time I was finished with one tween’s book, they’d fetch me another one. I’ve read seven—yes, seven—books so far. We talk about our most memorable parts, funny characters, and favorite dialogue. In return, I’ve shown them some of my favorite movies, including Sister Act.

We stay up late and talk.

I’m normally very strict about my kids’ bedtimes, for the sake of my own sanity. Plus, before quarantine, we had early mornings, frantically getting out the door to school. Now that we don’t have to set an alarm clock for the foreseeable future, I’m allowing them to stay up a few hours past their normal bedtime. We’ve had time to hangout in their rooms and chat about whatever they want. I’m learning to talk less and listen more. I’ve also prompted them to ask me questions. We’ve discussed everything from romantic relationships, consent, adoption, future goals, school, and my own favorite childhood memories. Some of these conversations are downright hysterical, while others are raw.

We’re going on walks.

The other day, I took my oldest two girls on a short walk to some flowering trees in a common area near our home. We didn’t have to worry about the younger kids trailing along and interrupting our conversation. We took some pictures of the trees, chatted, and enjoyed leisurely walking. Our experience only took about fifteen minutes, but it was memorable and a nice break during a long day of distance learning, chores, and working. Sunshine and fresh air is magical.

We’re exercising together.

One of my tweens is interested in fitness, so I had the idea to teach her how to properly lift weights. I’m certainly no gym rat, but I used to take weight lifting classes. We talked about proper form, control, and protecting our bodies, plus the importance of stretching. They had fun blasting music while I demonstrated various arm muscle-building moves. We’ve also done yoga videos together, which is good for the body and mind.

We’re trying out recipes.

My other tween enjoys baking, and we finally have time to pull out saved recipes and give them a whirl. Plus, she loves presenting what she’s made and serving it to the family after dinner. It doesn’t matter how messy or complex the directions are. We can work side-by-side to pull it off. We’ve also made and had coffee together, which for a kid is some sort of magic.

It’s been a joy to get to know my daughters again, to look into their eyes, to hear their laughs, and to engage in their questions. As much as I loathe the global pandemic and all the noise and tragedy surrounding it, it has given me the gift of time with my tweens that I never had before.

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