My husband and I share the distinction of being the oldest of five children. Growing up, there was always one of the children a little out of sorts. Luckily, with four other siblings there always was someone to distract the grumpy family member until the clouds parted.
After our second and youngest daughter, Hannah, was born, her 19-month-older sister, Dana, became quite irascible. Dana refused to go to bed, and temper tantrums were frequent (hers and mine). Our nerves frayed.
One Saturday afternoon my husband and I realized that Dana’s behavior was based on a need to feel like the Numero Uno she had been. Dana’s place as the only child had been usurped, and my husband and I could empathize with her a bit due to our primal places in our family constellations.
But our awareness did not come quickly nor easily.
Our knowledge came as a rapping at the door that won’t go away and that finally you can’t ignore.
Our circumstances were, as a friend of mine says, not pretty.
That day, Dana seemed to be doing everything in her power as a two-and-a-half year old to wake Hannah up from a nap. I was cranky from lack of sleep and trying to deal with Hannah’s chickenpox. The tension in our home waited to be cut with the proverbial knife.
A knight in shining armor arrived; my husband swooped up Dana and announced that they were off for a date. Peace and quiet settled over the house, and I took a much-appreciated nap. A couple of hours later the sound of the garage door opening signaled the end of our cease-fire.
Dana came in glowing with a report of swinging at the park and eating frozen yoghurt. Dana’s loving personality shone as she hugged and kissed me. Off she went to work on a puzzle, contented and self-possessed.
Dana’s glow of contentment continued throughout the rest of the day, into the next day and the next.
What, my husband and I wondered, was different?
After a bit of thinking (remember this did not come quickly) we landed on the idea that it was Mark’s date with Dana, the concentrated one-on-one time that made her feel loved and appreciated. In retrospect we saw how other Dad and Dana dates created a quiet contentment for Dana.
That Saturday evening, as we realized the healing power of these outings, we consciously decided to ensure that each of our daughters got our uninterrupted individual attention for at least an hour a week.
Our dates with our daughters were simple, an outing to the park, a trip to get a snow cone or a visit to the library. As the girls became kindergarten age we were more formal about the arrangements and put these dates on the calendar, letting the girls choose an activity.
These dates with our daughters, I think, helped build a strong emotional foundation and sense of belonging in our family. I encourage you to make time to have a weekly one-on-one with each of your children.