Friday, September 10, 2010

1-on-1 Time When You've Got a Brood

(cross-posted at

In a webinar I ran on Wednesday (co-sponsored with CurrentMom), one participant spoke of wanting to find solo time for each child, given that she had children. This is a good question, and one I've been pondering myself lately.

On one hand, I know that one-on-one parenting (past the nursing baby stage) has not been the historical norm. As I write in Chapter 6 of 168 Hours (my new book, for those just tuning in!), Mrs. Meyer (of the cleaning products fame) rarely got time alone with any of her nine kids.

On the other, these individual interactions are among the most pleasant of parenting. When you have multiple kids doing something together, there are always group dynamics, there is always competition for your attention, and there is always the desire to keep things from descending into chaos. Even if, in general, your kids do very well together.

So how do you carve out time for each kid? Here are a few ideas:

1. Evening book groups. If your kids are clustered together in age, they might enjoy the same books. But if they're more spread out, you can read with the little one while the older one(s) is getting ready for bed, then go do another story reading appropriate for the older set. If you and your spouse are both doing this, you can read at the same time, or if you have four book groups, split them. Mark where you are in the book so your spouse can pick up where you left off. Then let the kids fill you in next time (a bonus reading comprehension exercise!).

2. Use older kids' activities. This is a good time for hanging out with littler kids. Rather than chasing your 4-year-old all over the piano teacher's waiting room while the 8-year-old has her lesson, think through what you'd like to do together. A walk? Put the Big Wheel in the car trunk so she can ride it? An art project you can both do? A nearby pond where you can go feed the ducks? Ask her what she'd like to do during this mommy or daddy time, too.

3. Commute together (if you can). Some parents I profiled in 168 Hours coordinated their work schedules so they could commute with the kid whose school was closest to the office. Yes, this is just another way of saying "drop the kid off at school," and may not sound exciting if you're the parent normally doing that, but if you're not doing primary parent duties during the week, it's a nice way to put solo kid time into the day.

4. Find an activity you can do with each child. Maybe you and your 12-year-old train for a 5K together. Or if you're training for a longer race, the child can bike along. You can volunteer at a food bank together with a 16-year-old, or in a church nursery with a 14-year-old. You can take a multi-age art class with a younger child.

5. Chore teams. If they have to get done (and you're not outsourcing them), you may as well get some one-on-one time out of it. Mom and one child can always be responsible for changing the sheets together. Dad and another child can do the dishes together (or you can rotate which kid does this with which parent). Car washing and garden weeding are chores even a young kid can do with you; if you're comfortable with it, a teen can help with bill paying (that's one way to introduce them to the idea of personal finance!) A middle-schooler can maintain a grocery list and then serve as Dad's Special Assistant during all grocery store trips.

I'm curious how other people with larger families have created special time with each child.


Twin Mom said...

We had 3 kids in 2 years (singleton and then twins) I enjoy taking one child to the store and leaving the other two with Dad. It's great fun to let one child push the cart, make the STORE's annoying electronic Elmo dance 22 times and generally do the things a one year old enjoys. I can't keep track of 2 one-year-olds in two directions who are engaging in these activities.

Jennifer said...

What a great topic! I really enjoy your suggestions. It's such a challenge for some folks to find that family time, and one-on-one time can be even more difficult!

I'm also commenting because I would love to get in touch with you about SENG-- Your insights into family and educational values are wonderful, and we are currently working on a grant project that we could use your help on! Email me any time: