My husband and I have three kids, ages two, seven, and nine—all girls—and we love it.
My girls are as apt to catch frogs and muddy their feet as any kid I know. Their interests vary and include—but aren’t limited to—Roblox, Dog Man books, and “Jessie” reruns on Disney+. Usually content with what they have, they’re very sweet by no fault of their dad’s or mine. (Yes, I am biased.)
In my mothering journey so far, I have found that different ages and interests my kids have make way for a natural ebb and flow of difficulty and ease with finding connection.
My two-year-old likes for us to color together, to have the privilege of controlling the water hose while I direct her to different parts of the flowerbed outside, and she lets me roll balls of Play-doh for her to use as she wishes. Joining in on her play is not hard for me. She lets me lead, and I enjoy it too.
My “big” kids deserve just as much age-appropriate connection, though knowing how comes less naturally. So it does take more intentional thought, and I am always up for an idea from someone else on how I can use our time together well.
Here’s my connection story:
All summer long I anticipated a trip to the mall with my eldest. We don’t go to the mall often, and since the year 2020, online shopping has had a big appeal.
This was going to be a day of time together, just us. So at the ripe ages of nine (her) and 32 (me), and when funds were sufficient and school clothes brought practicality to the dream, the time was right.
We went on a weekday and got there as soon as the mall opened. We went to my favorite mall since high school—that’s right, “Big Boots” itself—North Star Mall.
I loved taking my kid to the mall and here’s why: We got to spend the whole day together. Just her and me.
We got to have important conversations I’d been planning on having with just her, ones we needed to have.
She got to ask me questions and guide conversations without interruption or the influence of siblings or household normalcies.
I got to see her style and enjoyed suggesting outfits that fit her preferences.
Selfishly, I have always loved my times at North Star. There’s some nostalgia not far beneath the surface of my affinity, but it was fun to have my girl enjoy a place I enjoyed so much nearly two decades ago.
We both loved the food court. (I always have.) And while I would have ordinarily chosen a Gyro from Opah Greek Flavor (*chef’s kiss), she wanted Chick-fil-a, and we stayed together.
We people-watched, laughed and smiled, and sat in that sky-lit food court having the time of our lives. It felt magical.
I let her pick her scent from Bath and Body Works, and our day was a wrap.
I realize (because this is our family at times) that a trip to the mall is not always practical financially. At times I have subbed in a trip to Target (which we used to call “Target Mall” when my older girls were tiny, and they received this as truth—ha!). I pulled out all the stops I could manage with budgeting to get a soft pretzel or a special drink from the Starbucks or the restaurant inside the store, and we selected some fun items from the seasonal dollar area. Maybe you could go with the plan of choosing a cool hat or some jewelry.
My struggle usually lies in the realm of planning ahead. But the 20 minutes of planning, a week or two in advance, is always worth the quality time and anticipated fun together.
Also, maybe you can’t take your kids individually to go shop. I also needed to take my seven-year-old shopping for school clothes, but I had no way to take her by herself before school started. (We’ve since decided it will be a special nine-year-old rite of passage.) I took the whole gang. We talked expectations in the car before we got out—because I did have a fresh two-year-old and a large stroller this time around—and it was great!
The main differences included locating elevators, and the grand experience of the escalator was not as utilized. (But I did allow my two older girls to go up and down one level inside Dillard’s since I could watch them as they went up, exited, and then came back down… and that seemed to satisfy my middle girl’s curiosity.)
In whichever ways you need to modify your intentional shopping trip, go for it!
Intentional time with my kids doesn’t always have to cost money, and it doesn’t always have to be a grand experience. It stinks feeling like you’re unable to give your child opportunities because you don’t have the income other families do, or maybe the health, or the time, or helpful family members to care for your other children. I hope this article doesn’t discourage you. If you’re taking the time to try to know your children better, discover their interests, and learn who they’re growing into—and if you’re willing to pour the best of you over them (like water on soil)—good for you. And in my attempts—good for me.
Experiencing life together (good and bad—and sometimes boring) is the most valuable gift we give, and it’s a long game. Here’s to making it a fun one too!