I have three children ages ten, seven and four. Besides school and an occasional activity, my kids spend a lot of time together. They often have friends over, and most days our front lawn is littered with bikes, helmets, backpacks and shoes. My kids love to invite their friends here and I welcome it. I love having an open door and large quantities of snacks at the ready. On any given day, there are eight or nine children and a dog or two laughing, playing, arguing, creating messes and eating (Why are they always eating?!). These kids are building their own tribe and I am honored to watch it all unfold and to create the backdrop in which it happens.
This all sounds magical…right? It often is. But there is a flip side. All this togetherness can become too much at times; especially as the children are learning to define who they are as individuals. This is where alone dates come in.
Our family’s definition of an alone date is a time where one child is solo with one or both parents, without the chance of another child interrupting or appearing. An alone date can mean something special like an event or trip, but it usually means running errands alone with mom. It can mean that mom picks you up from school instead of taking the bus home. It can mean coming with Dad to take the car to the car wash or to walk the dog. The central theme here is that you have the uninterrupted ears of a parent. In a family that consists of three VERY chatty children, this alone date is invaluable.
As far as timing, an alone date can be a fifteen minutes or an entire day. It can be a special trip to the city or a dinner date, but those “event” alone dates are few and far between. They are valuable. But, I believe, the ordinary alone dates are more valuable. There is no pressure on either end. The child can talk about everything or nothing. They just know they are being heard.
As parents, we tend to wait for the perfect timing to “plan” an alone date. In the waiting, we are missing out on a chance to show our child that we value their individuality. We are all so busy in our lives; jobs, laundry, homework, bills, etc. I get it, trust me, I do. There are one thousand reasons why we put these things off. But it is important. Don’t wait until you can afford a babysitter to care for the other children while you take one out alone. Don’t wait for a milestone or a birthday. Do not wait for feasible timing. Just tag them along alone and squeeze it in.
What if you are always with your kids, making alone an impossibility?
I used to work for an amazing educator in my years as a nursery school teacher. I remember her giving this advice to a harried mom of three small children, one of whom was a newborn. She said to this tired, overwhelmed mom, “Get a kitchen timer. Set it for two minutes or ten minutes. The timing doesn’t matter. Tell your child, ‘I am going to be with YOU right now. Just you. Even if the baby cries, and even if the laundry needs changing, even if my phone rings, I am only going to listen to (or play with) you until the timer tells us our turn is over.’ Follow through.” Those few moments can be so life-changing for you and for your child. When my children were small, I held onto this sage advice.
Carve out these few minutes for each child and see what happens. Let me know! It fills me with joy when you reach out to me in the comments or tag me in your Instagram Stories showing me ways in which these things have helped. I also love when you reach out with questions. It helps me form new blog posts and it helps me to serve other moms better.
As always, thank you for reading and following along on my motherhood journey.
First, thank you for the DMs and the private messages on my Facebook and Instagram. I really appreciate it when you take the time to connect with me. I spend a lot of time creating content to share with all of you and sometimes it feels like I am shooting it into a great black hole! Questions and feedback are always appreciated. Getting to know you guys is a special experience that I value.
Do you homeschool?
I do not homeschool my kids. I have so much respect for the parents and caregivers who are able to do this. I am not one of them. To be completely honest, I value the time that my children are off at school! I use that time to work, take care of our home and family responsibilities, volunteer and get the occasional haircut or pedicure!
What kind of school do your children attend?
My youngest is in nursery school at a wonderful reggio-inspired co-op. It is a one-room schoolhouse in the center of a beautiful park. My big kids went there too and it is a second home to all of us.
My middle daughter attends second grade in our local public school in an inclusion classroom. While she is typically developing, I believe in the inclusion model and I always request to have my children placed within in that setting.
My oldest child is in fifth grade at public school. Next year he’s off to middle school, eeek!
The big two are in public school and the little one will be there next year. I value their school experience in a myriad of ways. Are there things I would change if I could? Of course. Do I agree with everything there? No way.
When my oldest was entering Kindergarten, I really struggled. I was still a new parent and it was hard for me to send him off into the unknown. He was learning in a way that wasn’t mom-approved and his world became much less child-centered than he (I) was used to. My husband believed strongly in sending the children to public school with their neighborhood friends. Plus, there was no way we could afford private school. So, off he went to public Kindergarten. At the time, it was hard for me, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20 and I am SO happy we decided to send the children off to school with their friends. They (and I) have become flexible, made many friends and we all have learned a ton along the way. I am so grateful to the teachers, speciality staff, administration and support staff that work their butts off every day to give my children a safe, happy school experience.
What do their afternoons look like?
I attempt to unschedule our afternoons to the best of my ability. Unstructured playtime is a core family value. Ideally, I want my children to come home from school and chill. We love to explore in the woods, play at home, make and create, and ride bikes. Reality, however, is another story.
Nate (10) loves unstructured time to ride his bike. It is his passion and he would do it all day if he could. He's never bored and has always been really good at occupying himself either alone or with friends. He insists on keeping his afternoons clear and I support it! He has religious school one afternoon per week. He aslo plays the piano and takes a lesson in our home one 45 minute period per week.
Ruby (age 7) plays soccer at an elementary level. I was not enthused when she asked to play. We’ve never really been a sporty family and the thought of lugging children to and from practices multiple times a week did not appeal to me. I envisioned fighting with her to get ready and then watching her be unenthusiastic in the game…Boy was I wrong! She LOVES soccer, is eager to head to practice, and we are in a carpool which frees me up from the constant driving. My heart swells to watch her play. She is strong and confident and willing to take risks. Above all, she is a gracious and kind teammate.
Sloane (age 4) goes to nursery school five mornings per week. She does not participate in any scheduled after school activities. She has an occasional playdate, but mostly it's just independent play time while she eagerly awaits her siblings arrival home. Sloane receives speech and language therapy one hour per week in our home.
We lean towards early bedtimes and we eat dinner around 5:30 most evenings. I am an early to bed, early to rise person and my children have always been quite similar to me in that regard.
Do you do activities in the afternoon with your children?
Yes and no.... let me explain. We have an open-ended art cabinet and plenty of open-ended toys to work with. Because we spend a lot of time playing, my kids are good at it. They don’t need me to carve out an activity for them. They have learned to be industrious, self-starters.
On the flip side, making and creating with my children is my passion. It is my joy to set up an invitation to create and watch them go to it. Creating together as a family is joyful. So, yes, I do set up activities a few times a week.
That's it! That is what our school and after school looks like. Did I answer your questions? Do you have more? What do you hope to see more of here and on my Instagram? It is an honor for me to use this platform to help other moms and families in their journeys of figuring out what works for their tribe. Please reach out to me in the comments. I love to hear from you.
Thanks for following along,