Given our busy lives, one-on-one time for our spouses is often difficult to find, but we would all agree that it is a necessary component to keeping a marriage healthy and vital. The same holds true for our relationships with our children, yet too often we are doing things as a family-unit.
I went for a walk with my older son recently and realized that other than time in the car, we were not spending enough one-on-one time together. “My bad,” as the kids say. One of my first columns, and still one of my all-time favorites, is “There’s No Such Thing As Quality Time.” That column simply states that kids will only open up and really talk and express themselves when they are good and ready, not when you “Plan” it or schedule “Quality Time!”
Sometimes, this erstwhile dad writer needs a little kick in his own behind and I was reminded of this time-spent-together issue when my boys began expressing that I was “On the computer all the time.” Maybe it really isn’t “All the time,” but that is the way it feels to them. We, as parents, have to hear what our kids are saying. And, though my boys are teenagers and crave independence, they are also still my boys and want some time with their dad.
The walk with my son was a hearty reminder of this fact. I had asked him to join me for a walk the previous day, but he opted out saying he was, “Tired.” The next day, I asked again, and he agreed.
We began walking in silence. There had been some recent tension between us so that feeling was in the air. As I tend to be the biggest talker in the family, I chose to resist that urge and kept silent. Eventually, he started talking to me. At first, it was about his favorite subject — music. Later, it got deeper and into things that were going on between us and that were troubling and concerning him.
I struggled to just listen and not immediately reply with a lesson or lecture. That is not easy for this highly opinionated and vocal dad. But, it gave him the room and space to continue. There’s no need to go into the details of what was said, but suffice it to say that it was important and allowed us to connect in a way that had sadly lapsed due to my increased workload and his increased teen moods.
The obvious lesson to me was that I was not doing what I was preaching, nearly enough. The first thing I will take from this “lesson” is that when either of my boys comes into my home office, I will close the laptop and pay attention to them. I had deluded myself to believe that just because I was around, working out of the home, that I was there for them. Not in their eyes, nor my wife’s, and I was in fact, deluding myself.
How many of you do the same thing? How much time do you really spend one-on-one with your children or your spouse, for that matter? Do you spend more time watching television than with your family members? Or, more time on the computer or doing chores around the home?
I suspect all of us would be shocked if we actually tallied up the hours we spent with our family, let alone the amount of one-on-one time spent with individual family members.
There is a significance difference between “family time” and “one-on-one” time and it’s extremely important to recognize and understand that difference. Each family member will react differently in different groupings of the family. Siblings in particular will react with old habits that relate to their age and current status in the family, based on grades, behavior, etc.
So, by only interacting with your kids at the dinner table, for instance, it may be impossible for one of your kids to actually say something that is personal to them for fear of ridicule by a sibling or just fear of opening up in that setting. While I know this is obvious, I realized that I was allowing my busy schedule and life to intrude on their time with me, and therefore my kids were suffering and not being given that essential one-on-one time.
Needless to say, most couples are guilty of doing the same thing with each other. Our “date night” has been relegated to a monthly or less frequent dinner, and rushing home because we’re both tired. My wife and I haven’t had enough one-on-one time either. I intend to rectify that fact and strive for more of that intimacy we only get when we’re alone and I’m not talking about sexual intimacy, but the deeper intimacy that comes from sharing your deepest thoughts, concerns, hopes, and dreams.
My lesson? My family needs me and I need them. My older son will be leaving the house sometime soon and my time with him will forever after be limited and less frequent. Our kids are on loan, as we often hear, and I urge you and myself to not forget that the loan expires. Don’t lose the opportunities to appreciate the gift of your children.