One of my recent columns in The Catholic Weekly:
My nine year old daughter and I recently spent a weekend away at a mother and daughter camp organised by parents at her school. We met up with girls from her year and their mothers, and spent two days basically having fun together.
My daughter loved being with her friends from school, and enjoyed a few impromptu games of volley ball or Newcomb ball with them outside of the organised activities, but she also chose to spend some of her free time with me.
It was clear that she really appreciated the fact that she had my full attention, with no competition for it from her four siblings or dad or anything or anyone else, and she was going to make the make the most of it!
I really enjoyed having the opportunity to enjoy her company as well, with nowhere to rush off to or any other commitment to attend to for two whole days.
The Mass in the beautiful chapel was the highlight, and we especially loved sitting side-by-side with no distractions from younger siblings just this one time.
It’s important for parents to give their children some uninterrupted one-on-one time just doing something fun together, or just spending some nice time together.
My husband and I have five children, and they each know that we love them all, but they each need to know and experience deeply our love for them individually.
The only real way for us to give them this experience of our personal love for them is to waste good chunks time on them. We try to remember to take each child someone on his or her own; for a drive, or a walk, or to the shops.
It’s not easy to create free time with individual children when you have a larger than average family, but it’s doable. I know of large families where mum and dad separately schedule a monthly date with each of their children, and sometimes also take one child out together.
It’s worth the effort. There are lots of benefits, but to focus on just a few – first, it makes our child happy and that boosts our mood as well which has a knock-on effect of the mood of the whole family.
And it’s a powerful way of boosting our relationship with each child, by helping us to attune better to their needs it can reduce problem attention-seeking behaviour on their part and sibling rivalry as well (hopefully).
Finally, and most importantly, when our child sees us put away every distraction and pressing chore just to spend some fun time with them we show them powerfully that we love them and that they are loveable, they are valuable, they are interesting, and they are special to us.
It is a powerful way to foster resilience in our children, and to show them the love of God, because God’s love is universal but it is always personal. God loves each of us personally; each of us has a unique relationship with God.
Jesus gave us the context for love, when he said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love.”
I’m convinced that our children will find it much easier to grow in their relationship with God and love of God if they have deeply experienced the personal love of both their mother and their father. And the best way to express this love to our children is through spending regular one on one time with each of them, and while ‘wasting’ time with them, showing and telling them that we love them. Mum and dad do this in different ways – the children need both, they need the benefit of our complementarity.