Words With Kids: Stealing Individual Time

This is the fourth in a series about communication between you and your child. Why focus on communication? Brazilian educator Paulo Freire says it best: "Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning." We talk to our children from birth; we spend countless hours and millions of words communicating with them over a lifetime. It's critical to our success as parents to communicate well. Our conversations and connections give lives meaning for both us as parents and our children. Over the next several months, we will continue to explore ideas of what good communication looks like in different facets of parenthood.

For years, I felt like a mom who never wanted to play. I didn’t love board games. I hated playing pretend. Even though I knew my kids needed individual time with me, especially as our family grew, I wasn’t sure how to make it happen. The truth is, it was hard to find my groove and spend quality, individual time with my kids. I read to them, I baked with them, and since I was a stay-at-home mom, they came everywhere with me. But for some reason, it never felt like I was making the most of my time.

Flipping the Switch

It wasn’t until my third child was born after his older two sisters had already gone off to school, that I felt like I finally hit my stride. I think a couple of things happened to help me flip the switch. First, I finally had a little bit of breathing room with just one child at home. Second, with three kids it became absolutely necessary for me to spend individual time with them. We had lost a lot of margins in our life and I needed to build in more play time or we were all going to sink.

That’s also when I realized I had an expectation management problem. Simply put, I expected way too much from myself and my play time with my kids. So I coined a phrase to take some of the pressure off: “stealing time.” I decided to stop being overly concerned with making time to play with my kids and started stealing time instead. I also realized that it was easier for me to give my kids undivided attention outside of the house. At home, there were too many distractions and work vying for my attention. 

What does stealing time look like in real life?

Learning to Embrace P-L-A-Y

Plan something 

In our best months, my husband and I sit down and look at the calendar and pick out days and times when we can spend time individually with the kids. My favorite is coming to their school for lunch or picking the older ones up for lunch. With my younger kids, it gives me a chance to meet and talk with their friends. With my older kids, it gives them a break from the pressures of the lunch room and we get to chat alone. Maybe your kid time is a movie that both of you have been wanting to see or playing a favorite sport. My son and I had a standing hot chocolate time at Barnes & Noble while my youngest attended preschool.

Laugh Together

What makes your kid laugh? What do you find funny? Laughter and play are a great way to connect with even the grumpiest of kids. Since my husband is typically the fun one in our household, I have to make an effort sometimes to be silly. I try to remember jokes and puns that the kids will like. My main go to is dancing to music in public or while I’m cooking. My teenagers make fun of me and tell me to stop, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to miss this. Surprisingly, they still invite their friends over. Never underestimate the power being silly.

Ask Questions 

You know how they tell you to prep for an interview? Sometimes spending time alone with kids requires preparation. Maybe you have a talker who won’t let you fit a word in otherwise. That makes it easy. But if you have a few introverts like we do in our family, you might be hard-pressed for topics to discuss at times. My husband recently came up with the brilliant idea of looking up questions to ask teenagers. Amazingly, they both responded in a really positive way and we had great lunches with our teens. When it comes to talking to older kids, a little preparation goes a long way. 

Y Means Yes 

This is my favorite. I get more mileage out of this one than any of the others. Being a yes mom means having the freedom to be spontaneous and hijack an unfun day or boring moment. I don’t mean that my kids are never bored or that I’m their cruise director, but I do think that some of our best moments and conversations are unplanned. With four kids and a busy schedule, I spend a lot of time in the car waiting for practices, in between school drop off and pick up, etc. This is where the magic happens. All of those in-between moments are perfect for stealing time. My kids know I can be talked into the Starbucks drive-through or grabbing an ice cream at a moments notice.

Making the Most of Individual Time

I’m never going to be the queen of UNO or the most fun mom in the room, but my kids don’t seem to mind. Instead of feeling guilty about the time we do or don’t spend with our kids, let’s just make the most of it. Playing and having fun is the best way to connect with your kids no matter their age. All we really have to do is pay attention and be present. Even 10 minutes alone with a child can fill up their love tank.

How do you make the most of individual time with kids?