In our premarital counselling, there was a session on children; topics included how we would parent, how many kids we wanted and how many years it would take to have an “empty nest” as a result.
I wanted 12! Melissa suggested a compromise of 6, we settled on 4.
Why would I want so many kids? Well, I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen movies like Cheaper by the Dozen but they inspired me to have a large family. The idea was that they would look out for each other and never have to wonder if they were loved or supported.
After we had our 3rd child I realized that 12 wasn’t an option. Why? – it was because I long to spend time with each of my kids and I was already noticing that my life and time was stretched, so much so, that giving the necessary time to 12 kids would be virtually impossible. None of them would likely feel as if they had a connection or relationship with their Dad.
Imagine juggling 12 balls, or 6 or even 4-not an easy task. That many balls is complicated and difficult and the potential of dropping one (or neglecting one child) grows with the number of kids that you have.
In spite of my reduced number, I’ve continued to see a gap between my desire to be with my kids and my ability to meet their time and emotional needs. After all, each one has different interests, different needs, a different personality, and different ways of knowing that they are loved. With all these differences, how do I make sure that each one knows they are heard, loved and validated?
Here are a few ideas that we have tried to apply as we juggle our kids. These thing DO take intentional effort but it’s worth it! It might be tough in the beginning but it becomes more natural over time.
1. Find a niche interest for each child; enter their world.
This isn’t always easy! Depending on how many kids you have, this can feel like a major challenge and demand on your time. We have personally decided that each of our kids will be in one activity at a time. Overcommitting doesn’t help anything and choices and commitments are important at all stages, especially as they are exploring their interests and strengths. The key is to engage and involve yourself with them in their activities. Being in their “world” impacts them tremendously as it increases their sense of value and identity. Be your child’s number one fan.
2. Designate a “date” time with each child.
This doesn’t have to be expensive, find a way to spend time alone with each child once a month. This could mean breakfast on a Saturday, a movie night or something that personally interests them. When you are with them, remember you are with THEM! Give them your undivided attention; engage in their world. Make your only agenda to learn about who they are-listen to them. Times of correction or criticism can wait.
3. Rotate which kids you tuck in at night.
Do your best, even if it’s a little extra time with one. They can even know that there is a rotation and they will look forward to their turn, its good for them to know that everyone in the family is loved. Use your time tucking them in to debrief with them, end their night with some physical affection and moment of connection.
Whatever you do, make sure to spend time listening. It’s vital that we put aside all distractions and allow ourselves the uninterrupted opportunity to hear from them.
My daughter recently told us that she saw angels flying and dancing above the stage at a Michael W. Smith concert. She was tentative and reluctant to share and we’re so glad she did! These kinds of open dialogues disappear if we aren’t present and engaged when they come up. Be in the moment. Without these moments, their willingness to share fades and walls develop in your relationship.
5. Remove distractions.
My kids are already noticing that we get distracted by things like cell phones, iPods, work, other adults and at home projects, to name a few. It takes discipline but we MUST remove those things in order to engage with them. Set a time at night where all electronics are off and work is put on hold. Do whatever it takes to show your kids they come first!
All of these ideas can look differently at different stages and ages. Our children are 20, 10, 9 and 4. As you can imagine, quality time is different for each and “tucking in” doesn’t happen with our oldest. Instead, time watching a movie or her favourite TV show with her before bed speaks volumes.
Nothing says I love you to children of ANY age like being engaged with and investing in their lives and interests!
Juggling is hard, and the balance of each ball is a regularly changing balancing act, but you won’t regret the effort or amazing relationships with your kids you will have as a result.