Leaning In: The Discipline of Spending Regular Time With My Kids

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Photo Credit: Reiterlied Flickr via Compfight cc

 

We had a tough week with our kids. There was the usual arguing and fighting plus and extra dose of sass from my eight year old. I’ve honestly hit my wits end with what to do about her behavior in particular. So I finally decided to take the advice that I’ve read so often and rarely manage to do. I leaned in.

When weekend comes, hubby and I are usually quite burned out. But I felt like we need to begin the discipline of regularly scheduled time with our kids, specifically one on one time. Usually when the toddler naps on weekends is ideal time for me to recharge because the kids will hang out with Daddy. But with all these recent conflicts between me and my kids I realized they needed time with just me, where my focus is not split between them and the house, or the school work or even each other.

To say this was difficult was an understatement. Just saying that makes me sound like a pretty awful mother. But what I really am is a selfish, human being who doesn’t like giving up her comforts. In these case, that comfort is my leisure time. I already spend nearly twenty four hours a day, seven days a week with my kiddos. While I love them dearly, there are definitely days when I want to run screaming as soon as Rob comes through the door. But beneath the rants and insults that lately come out of my daughter’s mouth, I heard a continuing theme.

“Mommy, why don’t you spend more time with me?”

She rarely used those words precisely, but it was strongly implied. I also hear that when my five year old is trying to stand on my lap while I pay bills or write a blog post. He says it in his own language of physical touch, but I still get the message. I knew they both needed me, and their father to give them our undivided attention.

So we did. On Saturday and Sunday, each kid got a parent for about two hours. I had my son first. We assembled puzzles and built with Legos. We talked a little bit. (They were geography puzzles and as a good home school mom I wasn’t going to let an educational opportunity go to waste). But mostly we just sat near each other and played side by side. Sunday afternoon I had planned to knit and do yoga with my daughter. The knitting got a slow start because I had to track down the proper size needles and yarn to teach her. While she was excited at first, she quickly became frustrated and we ended up cutting our time short and skipping the yoga routine because she said she wanted to do go build Legos with her dad and brother.

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I wish I could tell you that this was some kind of miracle cure and I saw a measurable change in their behavior. Maybe it yet will be. I didn’t expect to see results after just one time. (Which is good because the kids were just as snarky as usual despite the quality time). What I’m hoping to build is consistency. We have always spent time with our kids, but it’s usually hit or miss, especially one on one. We have family movie nights and my husband is introducing them to his love of video games. But I wanted to specifically focus on activities that would leave room for discussion. My kids are ALWAYS talking but I don’t usually fully tune in to what they are saying. This was a chance to do that.

I learned a few things about my kids would this weekend. They enjoy being challenged, but not too much. It’s difficult to walk the line between boredom and frustration. If something is too difficult, they both are quick to give up and decide they aren’t capable. I was glad I noticed this trend, and now I need to figure out how to help them learn to work hard, even if something doesn’t come naturally or easily.

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Photo Credit: Anne Worner Flickr via Compfight cc

I also realized quite a bit about myself. I need to spend this kind of time with my kids. Because when it’s too rare, too much rides on it. But the more time we invest in our relationship, the less pressure there is on each individual activity. Every time won’t be successful and that’s Ok, as long as I keep trying. I was also reminded, yet again, that parenting is very much about changing me. I am still a very selfish person. I need to learn how to serve my family with joy, rather than out of simple obligation. The discipline of spending regular one on one time with my children is part of that.

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A Stitch in Time: Five Minute Friday

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Knit until last 3 stitches, then K2tog, K1. This used to look like another language to me. I remember the early months of sitting in my college dorm room as we talking politics and tried to figure out who to add this new domestic skills to our otherwise very intellectual arsenal. I remember the late nights in my first apartment waiting for my husband to come home from class. Watching Law & Order and teaching myself new stitches. The years of waiting for the baby season and making dozens of baby blankets for friends and setting a few aside for my future children. I learned to make clothes, more complicated afghans. Every time I added a new skills it required that I slow down and focus more on what I was doing. It was often frustrating because it required more concentrated energy. It no longer became a smooth flowing process with a somewhat predictable result.

 

Parenting has become much like this. It’s like learning a new language and calculating a new currency all of once. Each time a new issue is raised, I have to slow everything else down. Give that new thing more of my attention and energy. Yes, it’s easy to stick to familiar patterns and methods. But since no two kids are the same, it may not and often doesn’t work.  It’s inconvenient to give a particular child or issue my extra attention because there is so much else vying for my time. I know the end result is not guaranteed. I can follow instructions to the letter and things still may not turn out the way I want them.

But I also know the joy of a completed project, that even in it’s flaws is beautiful. Why my son picks up his room when I ask the first. When my children enjoy an activity together without fighting. Watching my daughter occupy her baby brother without being asked. There is hope that someday this may become second nature and that things may go smoothly, at least for a time.

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My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 24: Evaluating Your Expenses – Entertainment & Hobbies

I really wish I had something to actually evaluate in this step. We have a virtually non-existent entertainment budget. We have $10 a month for Dates, which doesn’t pay for much. Usually if we want a real dinner date we can only go out 3 or 4 times a year, if that, barring any gifts cards we receive throughout the year. We do consider our internet access a form of entertainment however, since it provides access to websites like Hulu.com which allow us to watch favorite TV shows without paying for cable. In the future, I would like to be able to have an Entertainment and Hobby budget. I enjoy knitting, but rarely have the money to invest in yarn. Usually, if I do buy it, I have to have a specific project in mind that will be a clothing item for my daughter or a gift for someone, and the money comes from one of those two budget categories. I used to take dance classes which I really enjoyed and miss very much. It provided me with a creative outlet and physical fitness opportunity. My husband is a computer gamer and programmer. But to his credit, he hasn’t bought himself a new game in quite some time. He also makes good use of the library for programming books, rather than buying them. I know he would like to have many of these books for reference and would probably get more than his money’s worth from them. But there is no money to buy them out right, so he makes do with the library copies.

I think Trent was right to point out that cutting back too steeply on your entertainment can be emotionally difficult. It hasn’t been easy for us. But it’s as simple as not having the money. As much as I enjoy my hobbies and entertainment, it’s hard to justify buying a new season of a TV show or a novel I’ve been dying to read when we have medical bills and student loans to pay. Entertainment may be important to my mental health, but paying for entertainment isn’t worth the cost to my savings account.