If there is anything I know, it is the lack of time in a single day you have when you have children. Working while the kids have school is the calm of the day, but after school and work comes the battle for time. I quickly rush home and grab the kids from the bus stop, then throw something together for dinner while politely reminding them to get their shoes on and get ready for practice. It feels like a never-ending, crazy Groundhog Day type of scenario that us parents go through daily. I am here to tell you, however, that there is time within those crazy days to squeeze in some actual quality moments with your children.
One way I include them is to make sure they all pile into the family car and travel with me to drop off one of their siblings at sports practice. This seems crazy if they are of age to stay home alone or watch the younger siblings, but it has lent way to some of the absolute best conversations and stories. We drop one off at practice then head over to Starbucks or Sam’s Club to do some shopping together. I attend graduate school online, so we often go to a place that offers free WIFI like Starbucks, Jason’s Deli or Panera. Elaborate dishes are not purchased while there, but we get some drinks, squeeze into a booth and break out the books. We discuss what we are doing at random times, and honestly, it has helped not only the communication between all of us but has held each of us accountable for our schoolwork. If you don’t have any work, grab a book and read together. At times, ask how your child’s day was or what they are doing for homework; it helps build that rapport with you as well as with each other.
Another kind of off-the-wall thing I do with my kids is have them take turns setting out lunch for the next day. Somehow it turns into another conversation, just one-on-one between me and the assigned child. It is only a short 15 minutes or so, but it is quality talk time and it prepares them for the next day. With four children, alone time is a commodity and these short moments become golden opportunities for us both. According to NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) having a “connect” time with your child daily in situations that make sense, provides support and reassurance for your child. It is not always those planned experiences that leave a mark, but the unplanned, spur-of-the moment things that just happen that make the child open up.
I also strongly suggest that you turn off the television and join your child in their space, yes, the dreaded bedroom. I promise you that they will allow you in if you approach it on their terms. I like to wait until around my own bedtime (because my teen goes to bed later than me) and have the entire group of siblings join me in the eldest’s room. We all sit on the bed or on the floor and talk and laugh for a few minutes; those are fun moments right before we all go off to our own rooms for the night. Literally five minutes, but we are together for those few minutes and hugs ensue. Best five minutes of my day!
If you can’t gather all the kids together or they just won’t let you into their world, that is okay. Play the music they like, I can guarantee they will follow it! It will open an amazing dialogue about their likes and dislikes; play one of your favorite songs, then one of theirs and continue. I have found that the other children will join you in this fun round of
musical entertainment and include everyone’s interests. This not only opens a dialogue, but it gives insight often, they explain the song to you and their interpretation may surprise you. We do this on long road trips as well and I have found that the more you include them with your own likes, the more prone they are to share their likes.
It may seem like yet another chore to make time with your children (especially teens), but it really is just including them in your world and you in theirs. None of us want a “Cats in the Cradle” situation, but we also don’t want to be those weird helicopter parents hovering over their child’s every moment. There is a balance and it takes time to create unbreakable bonds and maintain relationships, so take your child with you to the store and just talk. Talk about anything and everything that little person wants to talk about, and it may not make sense to you, but it surely makes sense in their mind. Opening that line of communication while they are young, leads to trust and communication as they get older. According to child development expert, Gail Fernandez, MD, the time you spend with your child can follow the child into their own journey as a parent, and they will model your parenting. So, for the sake of your grandchildren, take them to the park, take a walk, join them in their room and play their music. Talk to them and for goodness sake listen to them; they will be some of best conversations you will ever have!