Sense I’m not a writing and most of what I say is rambling nonsense, I asked Dean to write up this little article on how we do one-on-one time with the kids. Enjoy…
It’s hard to over-estimate the importance of one-on-one time between
parents and children. Ask any child development expert, child, parent,
or even a random guy off the street and they’re all likely to agree
that one-on-one time with your kids foundational to a healthy
upbringing. However, if you ask them each how to pull it off, well
that’s where the agreement comes to a screeching halt.
We’ve seen the importance of one-on-one time with our kids. Whether
they’re struggling with an issue or just not acting like themselves,
just knowing someone is there who understands and will love them
through the mess is enough to help pull them through. One-on-one time
accomplishes that beautifully. But how in the world does a parent make
that kind of time? Especially with nine kids.
We have tried many different things over the years. So many, in fact,
I can’t even recall all the date nights, art projects, or long talks
we’ve attempted. No matter what we attempted, or with which kid we
tried it, the result was the same: greedy kids and exhausted parents.
Each time we’d spend time with one of the kids, the next kid would
expect (dare I say, demand) something more. If the first kid went on a
walk, the next would expect a walk and a bag of Skittles. The third
would expect to walk someplace more exciting and pick out their own
treat. Number four in line would expect to get to drive to Dairy
Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but it wasn’t far off the mark
either. It became a competition. When their ever-increasing
expectations weren’t met, they were left disappointed, we were left
disenfranchised, and the whole thing fell apart.
Somehow, someway, we knew we had to figure out a way to make
one-on-one time work. For EVERYone. Preferably without losing our
sanity in the process.
Movie Night with Mom
I wish I could say our latest decision to start focused one-on-one
time with the kids (you know, the one that finally stuck) was the
result of careful consideration. But our story, like so many other
great stories throughout history, began with a dare.
Whoever could eat the most birthday cake would win a movie night with
mom. It was meant to be a silly, fun little party game. We never
expected to see a room full of kids eat themselves stupid for the
chance to spend a couple hours with Elizabeth. Nor was I expecting the
looks of disappointment in so many eyes when they had to admit defeat.
At that moment we realized movie night wasn’t a luxury. It was a
necessity. So Elizabeth told them they would all get a turn staying up
late and watching a movie with her. The gloomy faces turned bright
again. It was a startling turn around.
That began in March. After they all cycled through their turn (2
months later!), nobody wanted it to stop, and it hasn’t. In fact, it’s
Why Did It Work This Time?
I think the main thing that kept this version of one on time from
turning into chaotic selfish fits is the way everyone gets the exact
same thing. They each get a movie. They each get the same small treat.
They know what’s coming, what the other kids get, and they all get
along. They even get excited for each other from time to time. It’s
everything we hoped for one-on-one time. Well, almost.
Beyond the Movies
Movie Nights with Mom have been such a hit that we not only recently
started Movie Nights with Dad, but came up with a system for weekly
one-on-one time with mom, and one-on-one time with dad. Try to picture
In a ziplock bag sits eight smaller bags (nine when the youngest gets
a bit older), each labeled with one of the kid’s names. Inside that
named bag are two envelopes, one marked “Mom” and one marked, “Dad”.
In each envelope are identical bits of paper with identical activities
on them. These activities range from “playing Would You Rather?” or
“jumping on the trampoline” to “yoga” or “eating junk food”. It’s a
long list(activities enough to not be recycled for THREE YEARS!). It’s
an odd mix of activities, too, with some of the kid’s favorite
activities and others that nobody ordinarily looks forward to.
On a child’s day for one-on-one time, they pick randomly from the
appropriate envelope (from their “Dad” envelope when it’s their turn
for one-on-one daddy time) and that is the activity that we’ll do that
day. No excuses, no complaining, just a parent and child enjoying each
other’s company. The activity is secondary.
What makes this so brilliant is that there are activities we know they
won’t like. Heck, there are some we won’t care for. Some might not
even be possible (Honestly, how do you do yoga with a two year old
anyway?). But that’s not the point. The activity isn’t supposed to be
the feature. That’s secondary. That’s background. It’s the PERSON
that’s the focus, and by using activities that aren’t on the top of
their list, that truth shines through all the brighter.
On the practical side of this, Elizabeth and I each do a movie night
with one each week, and one-on-one time with another each week, both
on a rotating schedule. It’s hard to get excited or to build any real
connection if you know you have to wait two months until it’s your
turn again. So we’ve worked it out that nobody has longer than a two
week wait between one-on-one time/movie night with dad/mom.
So far, this has worked out beautifully. We haven’t seen the jealousy,
greed, or just plain nastiness that our previous attempts have
resulted in. I think that’s because going into it the kids know what
they’re getting. They know they’re not getting cheated. They also know
we’re not raising the stakes. At least, not for the next three years.
How do you manage one-on-one time with your kids in your busy world? What hasn’t worked for you, and what has?