Earlier this month, I took my daughter to the cinema to see Ballerina. Just me and her. She’s been taking ballet classes for four years, and was desperate to see the film. She was also desperate to go with just me. “Just the girls,” as she says.
She doesn’t ask for a lot, in fairness. It also struck me that it had been quite some time since I had done something special with just her. We get the odd 10 minutes in the car, if I’m taking her to a birthday party or picking her up from Rainbows or whatever, and we make time to read together just the two of us. But I genuinely couldn’t remember the last time she and I went out and had quality time without the rest of the family. We love doing things as a family and try to make the most of weekends with fun days out as a five – but I think that one-to-one time is so important too.
It’s not easy when you have three children close in age though. Little Miss E is now 7, Little Man O is nearly 5½ and Toddler Boy I will soon be three. Miss E was 21 months when Little Man was born and 4 ¼ when Toddler came along, so I had three pre-schoolers, a husband who worked long hours, and no regular support to give me the time to take one child off on their own. I also exclusively breast-fed all of my children for a year, and neither of the boys would take a bottle, despite us trying everything. So one-to-one time with the eldest two was very rare for quite some time.
Now that Little Man and Miss E are both at full-time school, I get quite a lot of one-to-one time with Toddler. As much as I miss the big two, it’s so lovely hanging out with just him. He spent the first two and a half years of his life trailing around after his big brother and sister, going to their activities and fitting in around their routines and hanging out with their friends. I used to joke that his me time was during the middle of the night feeds. Despite the tiredness, I loved the stillness and quietness of those moments and connecting with him. Now, we regularly get to do things that he likes, and with other children his age too. After the wonderful chaos that is life with three small children, it feels like a treat to get that time with him and to let him discover exactly what he likes, rather than just what the big two do.
But of course it means that my eldest two miss out on one-to-one time. Part of that is because we have three children. Even if one of us parents takes one of them off to do something on their own, the other parent still has the other two. In a two-child household, both children would be getting one-to-one time. I love our little gang, and I love their close bond as siblings, but I do feel guilty that they miss out on one-to-one time.
They all go to bed at the same time which doesn’t help either, but Cardiff Daddy and I make sure that each of us spends a few minutes with each of them in their own room, talking to them individually before we switch the lights out.
Now that we’re well out of the baby stage and Toddler is less dependent on me, I’m making a conscious effort to prioritise one-to-one time with the other two, too.
The cinema was lovely. It was stressful coordinating it though. In the absence of any available weekends, we chose a 6pm week night showing. It was a mad dash to give three kids their tea, drive to Cardiff Daddy’s work in the city centre to hand over the boys so that they could go home with Daddy, and then get to the cinema. Little Man got upset. He didn’t want to miss out. I had to explain to him that this was about his sister, what she had chosen to do. If he wanted to go to the cinema with either just Mummy or Daddy then he could too, but it would be another night. Giving him a little pack of sweets seemed to help. It’s an important lesson for them to accept that they won’t always do the same things, but I hated seeing him upset.
The cinema was lovely. I took Miss E to the shop on her own so that she could choose a treat for the cinema. She wanted to sit on my lap during the film, and held my hand all the way through. She whispered her thoughts to me throughout the film. In the car on the way back, we really talked. With no interruptions. She’s put her cinema ticket in her memory box and made me promise we can do it again soon.
I mentioned some of this on Instagram, asking other parents of more than one child how they manage one-to-one time, especially with children close in age. The general consensus was that it is hard.
One mum of two gets time with her eldest when her husband comes home from work and puts the toddler to bed. “It’s not for long,” she says, “but it’s lovely.”
One grandmother told me that as one of four children, her one-to-one time with her mother was in the kitchen when she was washing up or cooking. “I loved that time,” she says. “Talking is key, even if you are too busy to pause.”
Another mum told me that as the eldest of four she always craved one-to-one time. “I think it’s why now, as an adult, I much prefer smaller groups. It’s so important to spend time with children individually but also incredibly hard too.”
I know some parents plan in “date days” to spend time with their children. This could be a trip to the cinema, swimming, going to the coffee shop – whatever the child chooses.
But, as another mum of three pointed out, “It doesn’t always have to be a special trip. It could be just running errands with one of them while [my partner] stays at home with the other two, as long as I take time to chat and give my full attention they love it just as much.”
One mum of four I know, who also home educates her children, plans in a daily 20-minutes with each of her children individually. She sets the timer and gives that child her undivided attention. They can choose whatever activity they like, a game, reading, maybe just talking. If another child interrupts, they lose that time from their own allowance.
I thought I was just about getting my head around the best ways for me to spend time individually with each of my children. And then I read a comment from one mum of three. She says, “I’m one of four and I remember at my first graduation realising that it was the first time since I was two that I was having a meal out with just my mum and dad.”
Quality time for each child with both parents – that’s a whole new problem for me to worry about!
How do you manage one-to-one time if you have more than one child? Do you struggle? Do you have any solutions? I’d love to know in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
For more of my posts on parenting, see the Family Life section of Cardiff Mummy Says
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