Spending one-on-one time (focus time) with our children is important, but how do you find time to do it with a large family?
1 to 3 children:
Focus time for us has changed a lot along the way. When I only had a couple of children I had it planned as a set timeslot every day with each child. It’s especially important for the toddler of the family that they have some attention early in the day before popping them into playpen time or other independent play. We would read a story or play with the dolls house, toy cars, Lego or whatever toy was a favourite of the child at the time. This daily filling of their love tank early in the schedule set them up for success with room time and other alone times later in the day while my focus was on other children or tasks. Later in the day I would spend some time with the older children.
4 & 5 children:
Once we had our twins it became too cumbersome to fit one-on-one time into every day so we moved to having an “hour of power” one afternoon a week. Whenever the children asked me to do something with them that I could not accomodate then and there, I would tell them that that was a wonderful idea for our hour of power. We would add it to a running list that we kept so that we didn’t get to the special hour and have no ideas. The kids were happy that it was a delayed “yes” rather than a no and I was able to do it at a time that was suitable for me. The toddlers still had some focus time early in the day on a daily basis.
As the older children were getting to an age where playing with toys at home was no longer suitable for focus time, we changed to fortnightly dates with Mummy or Daddy. The babies and toddlers in the family still had their focus time built into the daily routine early in the day and the older 5 were on a rotating schedule to go out on a Saturday for a couple of hours – 1 child per fortnight. Of course there were still plenty of incidental times along the way when we spent time with the children other than these special dates.
Some of the issues that we found with this was that 10 weeks was a long time to wait for the next special date and having these set times seemed to bring with it a sense of ungratefulness and entitlement rather than thankfulness that we were taking the time to do it with them. A lot of talk went into how long it was until the next date, with almost a depression after their turn as they realised how long it would be before they went again. It put a lot of pressure onto us to keep it up and not skip a turn and life tended to get in the way. The dates also needed to be something bigger which often came at a cost financially. We decided that as a long-term strategy it wasn’t working for us or the kids.
The next method we call date cramming. We would take a couple of days and take every child out on a date with either Mummy or Daddy all one after the other. We liked this because everyone got a turn very quickly and the children did not know when we planned to do it – we would just announce it unexpectedly and they were very excited and thankful that it was happening. We took the younger children first and then the older children as they had a better grasp of time and were able to understand that their turn was coming soon. All done and dusted in 2 or 3 days with no drawn-out waiting. We still do this as we find it works well for us – family holidays are a great time to fit it in.
7 children later we have settled into a very informal system. Except for the toddler, we don’t have it written into our routines (no expectations, no crummy attitudes) but are mindful that it is important to proactively build relationships. It’s different for every child and age. The holiday date cramming is still happening a couple of times a year, with the rest of the alone times balancing out informally in a a whole variety of different ways.
- Our nearly 2 year old comes into our bedroom as soon as she wakes in the morning for some snuggle and tickle time with Mum and Dad before we start showers.
- Homeschooling starts after breakfast and provides opportunities for the 4-year-old and our 6-year-old twins to have some individual attention as they have their turn to sit on my lap and do some reading or maths or other subjects I save for this time.
- Our 8 and 11-year old girls are involved in a church dance group and the 11 year old in a girl’s choir. The trips to and from these events, plus occasional extra rehearsals etc. provide some one-on-one time connected with something that is special to them.
- Our 13 year old is up later than every other child and naturally gets lots of informal time with Mum and Dad as we chat while doing dishes, play board games, look something up on the computer or whatever comes up as a topic of interest. He will often accompany one of us if we head out to the shops in the evening or just sit about and chat.
- Whenever my husband or I run an errand over the weekend we make a point of taking along just one child for some special time – usually the 4 or 6 year olds as they do not have as many other opportunities that naturally crop up without planning.
- We have started some traditions connected to birthdays such as going camping alone with a parent when they turn 7 or horse-riding when they turn 9.
- We occasionally have girls/guys day out – when I take all the girls to a special event or Daddy takes all the boys. Our next event will be a winter showcase concert that the girls are looking forward to seeing. While this is not strictly alone, it still gives us opportunities to focus on individuals within the group.
- Daddy has been hiking with the older 3 children a couple of times in the last year which involves long walks (plenty of time to chat to individual children) and overnight camp-outs before hiking back.
- Coming up to holiday periods I will sometimes get the children to make a list of all the things they want to do with me alone while we don’t have school work to get through. If something needs to be done like purchasing new sneakers for someone then we will turn that into a date opportunity and the occasional birthday invitation or other special event involving only one child also gives us some time alone. I frequently have a helper work in the kitchen with me to prepare a family meals and there are other times when we sit and simply read a story or work on a project with a child.
Keeping love languages in mind is very important when thinking through focus time. The older children wanted help making Jedi capes to use for their home movies so this was a good opportunity to tackle a small project together – acts of service children all happy! A quick trip to the local shopping centre for some new socks has the “gift” child showing the world and overflowing with joy. Piggy backing my “physical touch” boy to bed and taking 5 minutes to tickle and cuddle before lights out each night fills his love talk. The “quality time” kids need just that – time and lots of it. They are the hardest to fit it and the ones we have to most proactively work to accomodate.
So yes, our children are not going on amazing Princess date with Daddy every weekend or heading out to expensive all day experiences with Mummy every other week, but they are well loved. I think we need to take a step back from the pressure to heap money and experiences on our children and ask ourselves what they need. Perhaps you just need to go and play a game of Monopoly or fix the toy you’ve been promising to get to. Filling their love tanks and letting them know they are special and loved is what its all about for us.