Every parent wants bedtime to move as swiftly as possible.
At ages 9, 10 and 12, my three girls are finally old enough for that to happen.
But under cover of darkness when it’s one kid and me, our eyes adjusting to kiss good night without bumping heads, it does not. At all.
Because that’s when they tell me their secrets.
Whispers about who they like. Who likes them. What they are afraid of. Who they imagine themselves to be one day. “Do you think I would make a good teacher?” one asks me.
They have me alone, and they like it
My daughters are so close in age — the two oldest separated by 17 months, the two youngest by 19 months. To relatives and friends, and even to their dad and I, they are often referred to as “the girls.”
Of course, they are not. They are individuals, they want to tell us their #goals and #secrets. There’s never enough time or energy at night to share everything. But they deserve the chance, so my husband and I plan periodic playdates with each of them.
The reason is no secret. Individual. Quality. Time.
My parents would have scoffed and yelled at my siblings and I to shut up about personal playdates and get our butts in the Pinto or no one was going to Dairy Queen.
Too bad, they missed out
Parents are the ones who stand to reap the benefits of this one-on-one time.
You can formalize these dates like All the Moms writer April Morganroth, who takes a son on breakfast dates on rotating Saturdays. Or you can keep in loose like we do. My husband takes one of our girls out for dessert once a month, while I might take one to see their aunt in Oceanside, Calif., for a long weekend, or sometimes just to Starbucks or maybe a Diamondbacks game. When money is tight, we go to the park.
I can’t promise playdates with your kids will speed bedtime along. There’s no end to the number of secrets middle school girls harbor. But I can say these dates come with parent perks.
5 reasons to set one-on-one dates:
- The ogre gets a day off. Day in and day out, you’re issuing orders to pick up shoes, do homework, stop fighting. But on playdates, you get to be the concierge of fun, the giver of unicorn Frappuccinos, the Olympic coach of the monkey bars.
- You can use the information you glean to help him/her later. Let me explain. On these dates, the child loosens up, and instead of the usual “fine” and “good,” he or she may start to babble, especially if on a sugar high. For example, one of my daughters wistfully shared she sure would like to perform in a play like her sisters have one day. So when the time came to try out, she said she didn’t want to. I knew it was fear talking. I knew she needed a nudge. Maybe a shove. She got one. She performed. She loved it.
- You may get to talk about yourself. This was wholly unexpected. During the drive to California and on other dates, my girls would suddenly turn to me and ask me questions about … me. What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you growing up? Did you ever cry in class? Did you have a friend when you were little who said she was your best friend but would say mean things to you all the time? Were they asking about me? No. Maybe. I’m not sure. But these questions led to deeper talks that were important in the context of whatever was happening in their lives.
- You start to think you may be kind of awesome. As you’re sitting across from one child and she is not fighting or shouting with a sibling, you can’t help but think: “What a great kid.” Here’s this kid that is funny, kind and smart. And maybe I had a hand in that. I helped raise this kid. I must be doing something right.
- It’s cheaper. I don’t know about you, but with three kids, I’m always doing math in my head. Pricing out the cost of a ticket, snacks, plus whatever else times three. And math was never my strong suit. Then I’m trying to figure what I can afford and if I can afford it. But with one kid, there’s a good chance I can afford it. Which means I can just relax and have fun.
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