As many of you already know, we have three daughters in our home. They play together ceaselessly, and can subsist with very little external entertainment. In fact, it is most often rather difficult to get a word, idea, or game in edge-wise in the midst of their hermetically sealed play realm. And I am so thankful for their abilities and mutual interest, that I sometimes forget there is more to life than their interactions with each other, and more than ours as a family unit as well. For just as much as they are together playing, and pretending as if nothing else exists, we are also together as a group — whether at home, at our favorite café, or out on some family adventure.
We are so often all in the same room, whether or not we are all interacting together, that we actually debated how best to remodel our home based on how it would affect our ability to all still feel near each other. And we are so geared toward clumping up into a happy ball of family, that it took us awhile to realize that it would be good for our girls to have some one to one time with us parents. Sure, we’d read that siblings really benefit from alone time with a parent, but mostly thought we were immune to such a need, simply based on our family dynamic.
In truth, of course, we were getting individual time with both Izabella and Xideka because there were occasions when we had just one of them at a time. At the time, we just didn’t think of it that way, or realize that we were inadvertently doing them a valuable service. When Echo came along, she just folded so neatly into our regular rhythms, and the girls so loved her and so enjoyed including her (at various levels as she has aged), that we didn’t notice at first how our family was changing. But slowly and subtly, it has become clear that even though they play together all day long, and don’t want to be interrupted or distracted from each other the vast majority of the time, they have other needs that we want to honour as well.
So even though it was an unnatural feeling to us at first, and even though we weren’t sure how to orchestrate it, we have created time and space for us to have one to one time with each of the girls. And, again, because of our shared custody situation, we have had an easier time than many other families might have pulling this off. The thing we have had to work with most is our own feelings about fairness, and family-ness, and how to work it so that everyone feels that there is a healthy balance.
And though it has caused us to stretch and grow in our relationships with each other and with ourselves, and given us a few things to figure out in terms of mechanics and specifics, we have found it enormously beneficial. And though there is likely a tidy list in here somewhere of all the various benefits, the thing that strikes me the most is how good this practice is for two things in particular. Both are of inestimable importance to the lives of our children, and both were already of primary focus in our parenting.
First, and foremost, (it almost goes without saying that) making time and space for each parent to have individual time with each of the children is ideal for the self-estimation of each individual involved. As much or more than family identity and connection, and as much or more than sibling identity and connection, individual identity and connection (to self and to others as a single self) is vital for a healthy self-image, and proper socialization. It also gives the individual child an enhanced opportunity to see herself as individually important — not just as part of a family unit, or as “one of the kids”, but valuable as a solitary person in her own right. Furthermore, it gives each child the pleasure of being loved as one person, through her own personal characteristics, in addition to being loved by virtue of belonging to the family group. So, in terms of facilitating our girls in growing their self-love, this has become one of our more trusted avenues.
Secondly, one to one time with each of our children provides maintenance to the individual bond shared between parent and child in a way that family time simply cannot match. One might wonder why this particular form of bonding and bond maintenance is so important. Of course, when we consider the specific manner in which individual parent-child relationships function in the life of the child, it becomes clearer why such is worthy of particular focus. For example, with our girls, they are learning different (and overlapping) things about their own future interactions and methods of interacting from each of their parents and in each kind of interaction they have with each of us. As you can surely imagine, individual sons and daughters have very different and very important things to learn from each of their parents about how to be themselves, how to be with others, how to interact socially in and across respective gender roles, how to live, and how to love, and just as importantly, how not to. In addition, individual bond maintenance is better for the comfort of each child when in the care of each particular parent. When we spend time one to one we increase the points of comforting contact between the two parties involved — and this effects how both child and parent feel in their shared relationship. And finally, providing for the individual bond each child shares with each parent adds to the cohesiveness of the family itself (which has loads of its own benefits of course).
So, long story short, when we are enabled by school and co-parenting schedules and mutual agreement, Natalie and I are taking regular opportunities to have some individual time with each of the girls. It doesn’t always involve something grand or elaborate, or even a large amount of time at any given interval. And even though it has taken us some time to get used to, and figure out how to manage the specifics, it has proven worthwhile to each of them and to us. And for our family — all together and one by one — it just makes good sense.