The Fundamental Need to Spend Time with Your Kids Individually
Today we’re exploring the fundamental need to spend time with your kids individually – in other words, dating your kids one-on-one.
Despite our uniqueness, our family is also similar to millions of other families out there: we’re busy working parents with loads of things on the go, after-school activities and sports, homework, living in a house that constantly needs work. In trying to “create a village” for our kids, we deliberately set aside ample time to spend with family and close friends. We’re often together as a family. Driving, eating, daily routine stuff that comes with living together.
Yet somehow, despite all this active filling-up of their love tanks, our two pre- and school-aged kids regularly complain that the attention given to the other child is “unfair”, that they “never get to do anything special”, we “always say no” and so on. Talk about parental pressure! We give non-stop and it’s never enough! Mama’s not happy when this happens.
Sound vaguely familiar?
If you’re sensing that you just can’t seem to get enough quality time with your kids (or if they complain they “never get to see you”), this solution might work for you too.
Why Dating Your Kids is Awesome
I came across and was intrigued by the idea of dating our kids individually. It’s not a new idea per se… But it was new to me!
How does one do this effectively? How often? How do you decide what to do on your date? And of special interest to me… How do you make sure it feels “special”, and not just one more thing that gets taken for granted?
Read on to learn about how we decided to do this in our own family, and some easy ideas of how to get started in yours!
I’m not a child psychologist but can say from personal experience that setting up individual, recurring date nights has done 3 important things for us:
1. Boosted my kids’ self-esteem
Our kids are growing up in a super-fast, busy and distracted world. It seems that the more connected we become, the more disconnected we become. So, anything powerful enough to get us to stop doing / thinking about everything else and focus 100% of our attention on is worthy indeed… and if they are what’s being focused on, they learn they’re worthy of attention. Feeling important and feeling heard begins at home, and I definitely see it in action when we do this.
2. Improved my kids’ mood
They excitedly look forward to our dates for days beforehand, and afterward we can ride that high of cooperation, camaraderie and playfulness for several days.
3. Has brought us closer & created new, shared memories
At bedtime, we count down the days till the date (it’s very sweet). We’ve got inside jokes, photos to add to our family yearbook, and stubs of things (like movie tickets) to add to a memory jar that we take out and enjoy all over again at the end of the year.
Further to that, Rob Bell, the spiritual writer whose book on happiness is called How to Be Here, says that a parent’s first job is not to raise their kids — but to enjoy them.
How to Get Started Dating Your Kids: 4 Key Things to Consider
1. Quality Not Quantity
The idea, for us, isn’t to spend a lot of money or do elaborate things. It’s about focused attention. It’s saying, right now, you’re the most important person in my whole world.
Our son and I shared (and still talk about) one of our favorite dates ever – he was 3 and we went for a bike ride (with him in the wagon saying “weeeeee!” the whole time).
We rode down to the water’s edge and we skipped rocks at sunset.
We talked about things, and hung out.
It was simple, and it was perfect.
2. Know Your Life Season
We get that having young kids is a season of life, and we’re trying to take advantage of this time as best we can. Someday the idea of hanging out with their parents on a Friday night will likely repulse our kids, and that’s okay. That’ll be a season too.
We’re doing things that are age-appropriate and interest them now (like building a blanket fort and watching a movie — although I’d wager it’s just the chance to eat popcorn that gets them out of bed in the morning). Their interests will change with time. This effort will evolve with time.
Thinking back on it, I can still remember clearly — in my early teenage years — my Dad taking me to the deli for lunch, just the two of us. He would casually ask me about boys, about school, about my friends.
My Dad was a really busy guy. At the time, I just thought it was a nice, good-daughterly way to spend an hour. I now realize he was not only taking an interest in my private inner world, but also taking a read of my trouble areas, taking mental notes of what to check on later, offering sage advice when needed. He would always grab at the chance to reinforce his core message to me: no matter what happens, you’ll always land on your feet.
At the time I probably thought, I know, I know. You keep saying that! But over the years, it really shapes a person. See, it was never about we did for lunch. It was the connection. It was that feeling of importance. It was shared laughs.
Looking back, I wouldn’t trade those lunches for anything.
3. You Can Use your Dates as a Reward
Originally, when the kids were younger, we encouraged better behavior (and better eaters) by awarding stickers after a meal that was a) successfully eaten and b) without complaint. We put the stickers on our big family calendar.
The idea was that after a week of good mealtime behavior and full sticker collection they would be rewarded with a special date night on Friday night. (If the sticker wasn’t enough motivation to eat peacefully, then the threat of cancelling our date helped… But only sometimes! Besides, if we took the activity away we also took away the chance for that connection time, so that defeats the purpose.)
UPDATE: We have since cooled it on the stickers as the kids are getting older and meal times are less of an issue. But perhaps this method could help encourage some other desired behavior in your home?
4. Logistics of What and When
We chose Friday nights – it can, of course, be whenever. It also felt like a key component was making it a regular, recurring thing. To keep things fair and easier to plan ahead in our calendar, we rotated between 4 kinds of dates in a month: Mommy-with-kid-1 & Daddy-with-kid-2; then the reverse. We also wanted to do Family Date nights for all of us to spend unhurried time together. So we decided on one night in, and one night out.
This probably sounds more complicated than it is; here’s an example of our Friday Nights:
Week 1: Mommy + Daughter (the girls date), Daddy + Son (the boys date)
Week 2: Family date at home
Week 3: Mommy + Son, Daddy + Daughter
Week 4: Family Outing
Ideas of What to Do Together
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I scoured Pinterest and kids’ activity books for ideas that could fit the bill. There is no shortage of ideas out there, and I don’t pretend to own any of them. I just picked what seemed interesting to us, right now. Sometimes I miss the mark and have to try again. Just use whatever works for you in your situation, and suits your interests.
I believed that the element of surprise would make things more exciting, so I went one step further and put a bunch of ideas into envelopes we could draw from on the day. We chose a mix of things to do at home (or near home) for free (or had a nominal charge, like going for ice cream), and a few larger outing ideas that would inevitably cost something (like bouncing at the local trampoline center).
The thinking here is that the kids would be just as excited by staying in or going out, just grateful to have that quality time together.
Fair warning: this often doesn’t happen and there have been more than a few tears.
Mama: Tonight’s date idea is to look through old photo albums and learn about Mama’s childhood!
Kid (unconvinced): Why??
Mama: Because it’ll be nice, and you could see what I was like when I was your age!
Kid (pondering for a moment): UGHH!!! That’s so boring!!!
FUN FACT! One can usually hear me screaming things like, THIS IS MEANT TO BE A MAGICAL MOMENT!! Or, THIS IS GONNA BE FUN DAMMIT!!
Yeah. There’s a bit of a learning curve. All part of the journey, right?
Honestly, there is no right or wrong way to do this. If you’re feeling crafty and want to get the scissors out, then great – if you’re not into it, that works too. Just aim to spend unhurried, focused time just having fun.
Here are some date ideas to get you started!
The goal is to create a time to connect and converse – not about planning a perfect, flawless activity. Even better if you can avoid screens and electronics altogether!!
Let your kids take the lead and decide what to do on your date, they love that role-reversal and it builds lots of confidence.
(Sidenote on that: I draw the line at going to Walmart to buy toys — this somehow always tops the list of things they think makes for a good date night! That said, going on the $5 “shopping spree” at the dollar store is always a hit. They seem to get drunk on buying-power and watching their decision-making process is always interesting and rife with teachable moments!)
Hopefully this post has given you some inspiration to get going with some form of focused, unhurried hang time with your ‘Lils. With minimal effort to get organized, the beneficial results were quite immediate for us, as I’m sure they could be for you too.
Over time, our kids are becoming more vocal about expressing what they like to spend time doing, which is useful in planning future dates together.
Hop to it! If you’re looking for more meaningful connections long-term it would be great to open up those lines of communication when they’re young. But it’s never too late to start.
What could this look like for you? A trip to the library on Sunday afternoons? An after-dinner stroll around the neighborhood? Whatever it is, you won’t regret shutting out all distractions and getting better acquainted with the fascinatingly complex, curious, silly and surprisingly insightful young people in your life.
Over to you!
Do you date your kids?
If yes, please share your ups and downs in this area! Feel free to share your insights with our readers.
If you have not yet purposefully dated your child, did anything in this post strike a chord for you? How would you like to start?