We're Raising Individuals, Not a Group

5 years ago

We’ve never been good at one-on-one time with our kids. I’ve always thought it would be neat to date each son -- a few hours alone with just one child sounds wonderful and important. When the thought of mother-child dates crossed my mind, I quickly answered myself with a lengthy list of why this novel idea is an impossibility. Where would I find the time? It would be expensive. Four kids, four dates, plus dating my spouse -- that’s an awful lot of dating, money, and scheduling. I would need a tournament bracket to organize this endeavor. Or a spreadsheet. Those give me irritable bowel syndrome.

I decided the summer with its forgiving and flexible demands would be the perfect time to begin spending time alone with each of our sons. Our life is crazy and full. This house is bubbling over with our boys and neighbor boys. Dull moments are a rarity. I'm learning life doesn't decide to slow down on its own. Given the go-ahead our days gallop ahead uncontrollably. Life runs around hurried -- panicked -- like the white bunny that led Alice down the hole. Sometimes only a firm announcement of "I'm making time for this. I mean it. I am." stops life dead in its tracks.

Today was date number one. I was getting ready when I realized Wonder Boy had been sitting on the front porch for a while. "What are you doing out here?" "Waiting for dad to get home so we can go," he said. My heart melted. He talked about our date throughout the day. "I can't wait till tonight, Mom. It's going to be just me and you." If I had ever thought that one-on-one time was unimportant, watching our boy wait for his daddy outside on a hot, Texas afternoon would have taught me otherwise.

We headed to a restaurant. He wanted hot wings. Really hot wings. So hot he brought his own water bottle into the restaurant in case the waitress wasn't quick enough with her refills. On the drive over the car was abnormally quiet. "It's weird in here without your brothers. It's quiet. That's strange," I said. My normally chatty son was silent in the backseat. Usually I'd argue that our car is one of the loudest locations on planet Earth. The boys talk constantly or argue. They laugh hysterically. They manage to wrestle while buckled into seatbelts. How is this possible? On the verge of losing my mind, I've been known to say, "Everyone be completely quiet until this song ends -- and sit on your hands." But today -- with only one boy -- the car was odd and silent.

I attempted small talk. It was awkward. We could both feel it. How is this possible? We're always talking when everyone is in the car. Always. Me to them, them to me, us to each other, me to myself. So why does this feel so uncomfortable with only one child in the backseat? "What are you looking forward to the most this summer?" What is wrong with me? Did I just ask him that? I don't sound like his mother. I sound like the nurse at the pediatrician's office. What is happening? I don't understand.

Then I did understand.

This is why this is so important. Sometimes in the blur of messes, work, hugs, school assignments, discipline, lunches, snacks, playdates, laundry, and chores, I forget that I'm not raising a group. I'm raising four individuals who live in a group.

There will come a day (I hate to think of it) when we won't have a house full of boys. We'll have four boys who are off living unique lives -- perhaps at separate colleges -- or in different cities working jobs. Our relationship with them will have very little to do with their siblings. It will be us -- and them. Parents and child. Each boy with a separate connection -- or disconnect -- from us.

Years from now when they call home will our phone conversations be as strained as this car ride to the restaurant? I was on the verge of tears considering this possible reality when I vowed right then and there to work through this. To push on. To make these moments alone count. I started telling him all my favorite stories about when he was a baby. Over appetizers I asked him questions, told him all the things I love about him -- or a few things I love about him -- since telling him all the things I love about him would take us nine weeks straight -- and that's without eating or bathroom breaks. He was all smiles. Come to find out there were troubles with friends he needed to talk about and secrets he needed to tell. I got the scoop between hot wing bites and gulps and gulps of water.

We held hands as we walked back to the car and planned our next getaway. Come to find out he doesn't want dinner. Just a giant heaping bowl of frozen yogurt. With a scoop of every fruit topping. And Nerds.

Our date only lasted a couple of hours. We ate at a restaurant where kids eat free. I spent 11 bucks. It might have been the best 11 dollars I've spent in my life.

I love my boys. But I also love each boy. Getting to know them better individually feels like a whole new world to me. A world filled with hot wings, frozen yogurt, stories, and secrets that can only be told when we leave everyone else at home.

Do you date your kids? Talk to me.


Read more: Date with Child Number Three.


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