Don’t Be Afraid to “Date” Your Children

Life in any stage of parenting is hectic, trying, beautiful, and sometimes a ball full of chaos. Staying above water can seem impossible on those days when extracurricular activities, work obligations, home projects and beyond seem endless and ever building. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do it all, let alone leave us with extra time for ourselves or quiet time with our spouse. Books, social media, online articles, and other resources remind us of the importance of quality time with our family, friends, partner, and selves, yet it takes time to carve out that quality time. For my family to have quality time as a whole and in different parent-child combinations, we focus on just that: quality time.  With my former teacher, type-A self, I function well with predictability and solid laid out plans, but also know my kids love same day surprises. So, we prioritize and try to stick to a plan, with a few spontaneous adventures thrown in for good measure.

A wise mentor once told me that it was crucial to “date” my children. Here I was with a newborn baby, and the only date I could dream of was a hot shower and a glass of wine. As that baby grew and another was added to our family, her words began to make sense. Being a stay at home mom to babies and toddlers allows your days to revolve around naps, meals, and occasional library and open gym outings. However, when preschool and elementary-aged kiddos make up half of your family, a shift occurs which means those precious and carefree days are a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong, I am loving this stage of parenting, but struggled in the beginning to find my rhythm with mornings all to myself. My youngest and I still have a few afternoons together where we can be found at the park, library, or engaged in some serious Lego building at home. Those afternoons together afford us the one-on-one time that I was able to give to my oldest before his arrival while he still loved taking two naps a day. The struggle with quality time with my oldest is real and evident on most days. While the weekends make the dividing and conquering a bit easier, I knew we needed something different. Something away from the regular hustle and bustle of life. It just so happened that something came in the form of a Mother/Daughter weekend at a camp just outside of San Antonio and gave us exactly what we didn’t know we needed.

In all honesty, I was dreading this weekend. Not the ‘spending time with my daughter’ part, but the actual “camp” aspect. For those of you that saw and can remember the original Parent Trap movie (NOT the Lindsay Lohan version), the scene where Hayley Mills tells her soon to be stepmother that cracking two sticks together would keep the bears away kept replaying in my mind. Bears, Bugs, and bunk beds, OH MY! I was starting to work myself up into a semi-respectable panic thinking of all the things that freak me out, not to mention the lack of sleep and sharing a bunkhouse with 12 other people. My husband and youngest found great humor in my antics, which included buying all new sheets and pillows in case I needed to burn them afterward, an estimated 17 outfits in case all the natural disasters happen at once, shower shoes that will be thrown away upon departure of the weekend, and many more to list. In fact, I was told that watching me try to get everything together and prepare for the worst of all cases was like watching the behaviors of an ant farm colony, rushing and not really knowing what was to come. Even though I can’t really disagree with him, I have to say that in my defense, I NEVER attended camp as a kid, let alone as a mother in my mid-thirties who has a realistic view of germs and all the “what ifs.” Despite my harried behavior, my daughter knew nothing of my camping fears and focused on the smores, ziplines, and campfires to come.

As dramatic as I made our weekend seem, it wasn’t one hundred percent the disaster I had prepared for. The lack of showers and sleep was canceled out by the amazing food and engaging activities. We shimmied up telephone poles as if we were squirrels to then zipline through the treetops as if we were birds of the rainforest. She witnessed me take a step outside my comfort zone during a ropes course and I encouraged her to engage during breakout sessions that were held periodically throughout the weekend. We indulged ourselves in the spa night amenities provided and drank more hot chocolate and coffee than we probably should have. The bunkhouse atmosphere allowed us to make new friends from all over the state, along with a special mother/daughter duo that lives not too far from us. Perhaps the camp organizers knew what they were doing when they arranged the cabins, for we believe that we would not have gotten to know each other as well as we did had it not been for the bunkhouse experience.

Spending one-on-one time with your child will look different for all families. It doesn’t have to be a full weekend away or some lavish vacation by any means. It can take the form of an afternoon frozen yogurt date where you can focus just on that child and his/her day. Quality time can look like a dad and a son throwing a ball around in the front yard, or a mother and son taking a much-needed afterschool dip in the pool. It isn’t the action that matters, but more the act. It’s taking the rush out of our daily lives so we can listen to their little voices. It’s replacing the “in just a minute” response to “tell me about your day” conversation starters. It’s the nourishment their little souls need and the pause buttons our mama hearts so desire. So even though my weekend alone with my oldest may have only spanned 36 hours, I am hopeful the memories will last a lifetime.

Kathy
I’m a native Pittsburgher through and through, but transplanted to Texas with my superhero cape to teach elementary school. I have a five-and-a-half-year-old girl and a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who keep my days full of laughter, glitter, monster trucks, and stuffed animals. As a stay-at-home mama, I am constantly yearning for new ways to engage their minds, hands, and bodies with the city and community around them, while stealing a run and a cup of coffee or two. I can be found at the local library for storytime; the park for an afternoon swing; and/or the local splash pad to escape the heat. I’m not hard to miss due to my donning of Steelers gear in the fall and Penguins attire in the spring. I welcome and thrive on new conversations, friendships, and methods of rearing littles.

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