Not only do we want to spend time with our kids, we know that as good parents, we should. It’s not merely a case of wanting to know what’s going on in your child’s world, what’s on his mind, and what he’s thinking and feeling these days; it’s also a case of wanting to be sure that he understands that you do care, that he matters to you, making sure that he doesn’t feel ignored or neglected.
And yet…and yet…as a solo parent, you have so many responsibilities on your shoulders, so many claims on your time. Whether you work at home or in an office, store, hospital, or some other outside setting), chances are very great that you work. You also clean the house, supervise homework, watch over the kids, cook the meals, and do other household tasks such as laundry and dishes, unless your kids are old enough to take over those tasks themselves.
You barely have time for yourself. When are you supposed to sit down for a meaningful conversation—or some other enjoyable activity—with your child?
The term “quality time” was invented to legitimize the decreased amount of time that today’s busy working parents have available to spend with their kids: “I may have only 20 minutes a night to talk to my son, but I make sure it’s a quality 20 minutes.”
Sometimes, however, the “quality” of those 20 minutes is suspect: when the phone keeps ringing (even if you tell all the callers that you’ll have to call them back later), when half your mind is occupied with wondering if the chicken needs to come out of the oven yet, when you’re antsy because you know you really need to get a wash started, or your son won’t have any clean clothes to wear to school tomorrow, or when your other child, still a baby, starts fussing and demands to be held and sung to.
And sometimes the problem isn’t even with your head, your to-do list, or the necessities of life. Sometimes the problem is with your child.
When your schedule and his don’t mesh
Sometimes you clear the decks of other obligations, make a more-than-halfway successful attempt at clearing your mind of other concerns, and then lovingly tell your child that it’s his turn to have your attention. But he’s got a different agenda in mind. When you offer to play a game with him or just sit and talk and catch up on what’s new in school, he says he doesn’t feel like playing Old Maid, there’s nothing new and nothing he wants to talk about, and he’d really like to just get on the computer. Or call or text one of his friends. Or play a video game…by himself.
Your best efforts at creating quality time have been shot down. You’ve made time for him…but he doesn’t have time for you. You want to know what’s going on in his life, and you want to spend time with him to insure that he feels loved and cared for and cared about. But he has other priorities.
What to do?
The answer will vary according to the child’s age and personality. The answer for a four-year-old is not the same as the answer for a 10-year-old. But here are some ideas:
• Suggest an activity you know he enjoys that can be done within the amount of time you have available. It’s easier for kids—especially boys and/or older kids—to talk while doing something else (playing a game or even doing the dishes with you) than to sit down and dedicate a block of time to just talking. He may tell you more while battling you at Parcheesi or checkers than in half an hour of mandatory conversation. And even if he doesn’t, you’ve experienced togetherness.
• Make dinners more drawn-out and let them be occasions for conversation. Don’t let your kids eat dinner on the run, or in their rooms, or in front of the TV, or with the TV or stereo turned on in the background. Let dinner be a family time, a time for more than just eating, a time for the family (even if there are just two of you) to have a meaningful exchange about the day, or about whatever is on the family members’ minds.
• If it won’t distract you from driving alertly, talk to him when you’re in the car together. Let him silence the iPod or turn the car radio off and share a conversation. Make your driving time meaningful. Driving time can certainly count as quality time—as long as you’re able to follow the conversation fully while still focussing on your driving.
• Set a good example. When you and your child sit down together, whether at dinner or under whatever other circumstances, share events from your world with him. Not your concern that the next round of layoffs might take your job away—that could worry him unduly. Not neighborhood gossip that’s inappropriate for a child to hear (and that models gossipping as a good thing to do). Not trivia from your life that would bore him silly. But did you get a phone call from Grandma? Did you see a deer by the roadside on your way to work? Did your coworker tell you that her cat had kittens? Are you starting to plan a family vacation? These are all suitable topics, and discussing them models how to have a conversation and share events from your life.
Mandating a 15-minute conversation period is not the way to go. If you clear time in your schedule, and it works for your child too, that’s great…whether you wind up talking, engaging in some other activity, or (most likely) some of each. And if you clear time only to find he’s unavailable, don’t sweat it. You’ve made your point that you’re available to him. When he needs you—to talk, to do a project or play a game together, or just to have some “Mommy time”—he’ll know you’re there. And that’s what’s really important.
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens, The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family, all in print, and such e-books as Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way. Learn more about them at Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
Cynthia is available for copywriting, ghostwriting, and editing. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.
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