As you may know, I am the youngest of nine and also had many foster brothers and sisters growing up. Needless to say, one-on-one time with my mother was very rare. However, my mother planned an intentional one-on-one date for us once a year. This was always at the end of the summer for our school clothes shopping. I loved this day and looked forward to it very much. My strongest memories of it are not the buying of the clothes but of our lunch together, just the two of us. These lunches were most often at Sears, where we would eat in the cafeteria. I loved having a tray and getting to pick our food together. I remember well being allowed to choose a dessert, which was most often the chocolate pudding in a glass cup. It was a simple day, nothing fancy, just a lunch at the Sears cafeteria, but this was our day, just ours. I felt seen. I felt enjoyed. And I felt special to my mother.
When I had my own children, I wanted to continue this tradition of one-on-one time. So, when my kids were about 4 or 5 years old, I implemented monthly individual ‘dates’ together. As a single mom at the time, money was tight, so often these dates were very simple. Sometimes they included eating together, other times not; the point wasn’t to create an exciting, magical, entertaining time. It was just about creating time for togetherness. I look back fondly at these times with my children. I remember when my eldest son was about 5. We would go to a coffee shop and he always ordered white hot chocolate. He loved to play word association games so we would spend an hour together, drinking our hot chocolate and playing word association. Or my dates with my daughter; we would bring scrap paper and draw collaborative pictures that were often very funny. Or with my youngest – often just a city bus ride (a treat for him) together while we chatted about all the cars we saw.
I believe that these one-on-one times I spent with my children deepened our relationship, helped me to get to know them, and provided my children with a sense of individual significance to me.
I saw the attachment energy that was created by these gentle, simple times together. Planning the time together was part of it. Where would we go? What would this hour look like? But mostly, I believe it was that my child felt individually significant to me, liked by me – not just loved by me. Additionally, these one on one times made room for new dynamics to emerge. A quieter child, who may speak up less around a lively sibling, may have more room for their voice and discover other parts of their personality. New dynamics create new windows into ourselves and each other.
As my children got older, I increasingly saw the value in this one-on-one time with them so I added a yearly excursion, in addition to our monthly dates. Once a year we would go somewhere together, just the two of us. Usually this was local, sometimes it included a night and sometimes it was just the whole day together. But this special time brought us together and held us close. Through the teen years, this anchor was especially important and helpful. During some of the teen years – these dates felt one-sided. I did more (all?) of the planning and talking. I had to be the one to hold onto the relationship during some of the more developmentally challenging years. Some years it was harder to see or know if they even enjoyed it, but I kept the tradition alive. (And my two adult children now thank me for that, as at that time they weren’t able to articulate or express what it meant to them.)
Today, I am living a dream of mine – to go on a one-on-one vacation with one of my children! Today my adult daughter and I board a plane to visit Slovakia together. We will be spending some of this time with my eldest son (who lives in Slovakia) and then exploring Hungary, Montenegro, and Croatia. I feel so blessed to have this special time together. And I am grateful to my mom who began this tradition with me.