kids

"My eldest son asked me for a hug as I said goodnight. I'm ashamed by my response."

Like most parents I am exhausted by the end of a long day of drop-offs and pick-ups, washing, working and yelling; ‘put your shoes on’ or ‘don’t bite your brother’.

By the time 7.30pm comes around I want to hit ‘pause’ on parenting mode and relax into ‘adult’ mode, so I can stuff my face with the good chocolate and watch something murderous on Netflix.

A few weeks ago however, I realised I needed to check my attitude after the bedtime routine with my two boys aged seven and 18 months, ended with me feeling like an utter bastard.

My seven-year-old Toby was once again stalling and the lure of the next episode of Dark Tourist and a glass of wine was strong. As I attempted to wind up the chat about the pros of an M16 assault rifle over a rocket launcher in Fortnite, I said my final-final goodnights as Toby asked me for a hug. I am ashamed to say I literally sighed, a full-bodied, knackered-mummy sigh, before instantly realising how shitty that was. I whole-heartedly apologised and hugged him tighter than ever.

After hours crippled by Mum Guilt, thinking about the cranky, anti-hugging woman I had become, I decided that I needed to find a better time in the day when I could really listen and chat to my eldest son. I realised that for poor Toby who is at school all day then often at sport in the afternoons, he gets very little of my quality time and attention now he has a loud and demanding toddler for a brother.

Psychologist Giuliett Moran of Empowering Parents confirmed for me, just how important it is for me to find some time to spend with Toby.

Laura’s sons, Toby and Leo. Image: Supplied.
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“One-on-one time with children is great for building self-esteem as essentially, it demonstrates that they are important to you, that you enjoy and value spending time with them and that you’re interested in what they have to say. In Fact, the Family Peace Foundation recommends eight minutes of one-on-one time with each child every day.”

We spent six years as a family of three and I used to spend a lot of time with Toby just talking, laughing and doing our thing. As a mum-of-one I was also getting a (mostly) full night’s sleep, so I was less tired and less short-tempered too.

These days, our family life is much busier and while Leo brings us all a great deal of love and joy, my time is divided between the two of them, and so bedtimes are now sometimes the only part of the day when Toby has me all to himself. I could see why he wanted to extend our chats just for a few more precious minutes.

I decided I needed to regain some solid one-on-one time with my eldest, so I locked in a night for us to go on a ‘mum and Toby date’ to a dessert café near our home.

Our mid-week ‘date’ with chocolate was cheap, easy and a lot of fun. We were probably only out of the house for an hour but we talked about school, his friends, sport, the popular kids at school, his love of Fortnite (of course), and whether or not he should get a haircut.

We ate far too much chocolate but as it was a special treat, I steered clear of worrying about his sugar intake, and I just let him enjoy whatever he wanted, which made the whole night much more relaxed.

Toby and Leo with their dad, Jules. Image: Supplied.
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While I don’t think I can justify a free-for-all at the chocolate fountain every week, it has reminded me just how much fun I used to have with Toby and what a lovely little person he is today. As Guiliette Moran notes, it doesn’t always have to be special, but taking the time to listen is extremely important.

“Life can be busy and fast paced, so whilst sometimes you may head out for an adventure, other times it may be much more practical, like having a chat while they’re in the bath or letting them chose an activity or game to play while their sibling is having a nap. The important thing is to be truly present and give them your undivided attention.”

As bedtime once again rolls around and Toby tries to extend the proceedings with more Fornite revelations, I hear the wise words of Guiliette Moran in my mind. If I haven’t spent any other one-on-one time with him that day, I let him take his time and even if I have to wind-up the assault rifle chat eventually, I’m always available for a big mama hug.

How much time do you spend with your children as individuals each day? What do you think about one-on-one ‘dates’ with them? We would love to hear your comments below.

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