Thanks to a public school schedule that doesn’t always jibe with the day care schedule, I’ve spent more one-on-one time with my kids in the past couple of weeks than since my youngest was born. It made me a little sad about being a single mother. Walking on the street holding the soft hand of just one of my children, chatting without the distraction of another sibling offers a side of a parenting relationship that is not often explored if there is not another parent in the house. In a two-parent home, one kid may spontaneously join a parent on a grocery-store run. One child might join her dad washing dishes while the other plays games with his mom. Spontaneous one-on-one interactions have their own dynamic between two people, parents and their children included. These episodes are rare in single-parent homes. In a single-parent house — especially when kids are little and usually clamoring for attention — there is one overriding dynamic: Everyone, all together.
On our “mommy day” Lucas giddily sat on his big sister’s booster seat as we ran errands around Manhattan (he later recounted this as a highlight: “And then I told Helena and her cried!”). We went shopping for a new car, my son strapped in the middle back seat, his chunky little legs sticking straight out, patiently looking out the windows on the test drive. At the local diner, Lucas insisted on sitting next to me in the booth and popping catsup’ed fries in my mouth. Without his outgoing big sister present, I see the assured, confident part of my son shine brighter than usual.
Later, Helena and I spent our mommy day shopping for school clothes and then for sushi lunch. She impressed me by tackling the unfamiliar seaweed salad with chopsticks like a pro, and politely declined further wasabi after a failed try. Without a little brother competing for my attention, my sometimes dramatic daughter showed me a remarkable patience and calm. While we sat across each other for an afternoon coffee/hot chocolate stop, chatting about what “family” means to different people, I glimpsed a young lady, not the collective “kids” that Helena forms with her brother.
This week had me thinking about relationships with my children are not unlike relationships with others: With a romantic partner it is advised you make time with them with the rest of your family, with friends, and alone — just the two of you. I also find that true of friendships — sometimes close friends need one-on-one time to catch up in an intimate way that is impossible without the distraction of spouses, friends or kids present. As my children grow, I realize how important it is to nurture different facets of our relationships: The three of us as a family unit, around other loved ones, and one-on-one, just me and one of them.
I’m not sure how to build in routine one-on-one time with my kids. In fact, last year my friend, time-management expert Laura Vanderkam gave me a time makeover, and we had to scrap my desire for this special time, since it just didn’t seem to fit in my life. But now my life is slightly different as my children attend different schools, are on different schedules, and are becoming different people.Question: How do you fit in one-on-one time with your kids? Is it harder for single-parent families to nurture relationships as individuals?