From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
“I just . . . feel like you don’t pay any ATTENTION to me!” she wailed.
My six-year-old daughter, folks – the drama queen. Just half a dozen years under her belt, and already she’s a master manipulator, saying the words that cut deepest in my mama’s heart. I often ask my husband where on earth she could possibly get these traits – and then pretend not to notice when he stares at me pointedly.
Yes, it’s true we are a melodramatic bunch in my house, but despite the crocodile tears and bedtime delay strategies, I know there’s truth in my daughter’s complaint. We had a baby in January, and after being an only child for six years, my oldest daughter is having a rough time with the adjustment.
Don’t get me wrong! She LOVES her baby sister. Like, crazy over-the-top adores her. But she still has felt overlooked and underfed, at least in the attention department, and has found lots of ways to let me know. Even though her methods (and method acting!) irritate me, I’m thankful she’s spoken up so my husband and I know she needs a little extra assurance that we love her just as much as the tiny baby everyone keeps fussing over.
I know that so much of good parenting is being intentional, setting specific ideals and goals for our families and then following through. But man, oh man, is that ever difficult when you’re tired! And if there’s ever a time for being tired, it’s when a new child enters our homes and throws everything – sleep, meals, family dynamics – into chaos. Still, this is important.
So what’s a tired mom to do when one of her kids feels left out? Make a plan, of course! Okay, maybe a plan isn’t the obvious go-to solution for all of your problems, but if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about life, it’s a solid to-do list or outline. Or chocolate. So maybe there’s more than one thing…
Though I love plans and lists, I didn’t foresee this issue the way I did meal planning and grocery shopping. So while I spent my last trimester shopping, cooking and freezing in bulk, I neglected to plan ways to make sure my older daughter felt loved after we brought home her baby sister.
That’s okay, though! It’s never to late to make a parenting plan, and besides, your kiddos might be feeling overlooked for any number of reasons (not simply as a result of a new baby in the family). So let’s make a new plan together.
My approach to planning one-on-one time with kids is three-fold:
First, I make sure we connect every day. Whether that’s an extra bedtime story or snuggling in the morning before anyone else wakes up, adding to our gratitude journal during dinner or discussing the latest kindergarten “gossip” in the car on the way home from school, I make sure to look her in the eye, hold her hand and listen to her heart. That seems like the bare minimum, I know, but slowing down enough to really connect with the people we love most can fall by the wayside easily on busy days if we’re not intentional.
Secondly, I ask my daughter for her opinion and input about family activities. When it’s appropriate, of course! I certainly don’t check with her before paying the bills or planning a date night with my husband. But occasionally, she gets to choose what we have for dinner (and then, ideally, help me fix it) or what movie we watch on a Friday night.
And on the day after school ended in May, we went to lunch for a “summer planning meeting.” I told her when she’d be attending summer school and theater camp, and what days she would spend with a babysitter or grandparents. But then I asked her who she’d like to invite over for playdates and what special summer activities she wanted to add to our list. (Sidewalk chalk paint, s’mores and a family game night, in case you’re wondering!) She loved feeling like her opinion mattered as we made our summer plans (and bringing her notebook to Chick-Fil-A for our “lunch meeting” pretty much made her day).
Finally, we plan dates. Sometimes it’s an actual outing:
– going to a movie
– getting ice cream cones
– shopping for a new outfit
But other times, it’s simply taking time to be together:
– reading an extra story at bedtime when the baby happens to fall asleep early
– walking home from school so we have more time to talk about her day
– letting her paint my nails
– having her tell me all about her make-believe superpowers and fairy princess friends
One-on-one time together doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It doesn’t have to be fancy or formal, and you don’t have to spend hours on your city’s calendar of events or Pinterest to find the perfect activity. Playing a round of Go Fish, making his favorite dessert together or playing catch in the backyard after dinner could be all it takes to make sure your kids remember that you think they’re special, all by themselves.
The point isn’t spending money or spoiling a kid who’s feeling underappreciated or overlooked. And sometimes, it isn’t even about spending hours and hours together, gazing into each other’s eyes or – even worse – wielding glue sticks and glitter to make the Pinterest-perfect craft that will prove your devotion and Mom of the Year status. It’s simply about showing your kids a little extra love when they feel unloved.
We all feel unloved at times, and our kids are no different. So whether it’s because of a new baby or a new house, overtime keeping you or your husband at work more than usual, or any stage when they need a bit more attention, making a plan to keep your relationship with them on track will go a long way.
And now I have to get busy typing up my daughter’s “Summer Plan,” because that was my action item after our lunch meeting and summer is already underway!
How do you spend one-on-one time with your kids? Have you ever made a plan to prevent one child from feeling neglected or overlooked?
Photo by Dave Parker