I recently came across the concept of “dating your children” – the idea is that you have a regular date night with your child, where you plan to do fun and special things with them and teach them manners and respect and so on. The idea at its heart was nice but it seemed a little too sweet, a little too “happily ever after”. To be honest it’s been an age since I managed a date night with my husband, let alone adding something else to my schedule. Unexpectedly this week, however, I ended up at home alone with my 5 year old son one evening, so I decided to give it a go. We only ate left overs in our PJs, but I was warmed and somewhat challenged by the outcome.
I explained to my son that we were going to have a “date night” and that a date is something you go on with someone love, and an opportunity to pay respect and attention to someone, to show you care about them. After the scramble to reheat our dinner (and a tantrum over the beetroot in the salad!), we sat down without any phones, homework or distractions and had dinner together. After a silent pause, my little one looked up at me beaming from ear to ear and said, “So Mummy, how were you feeling today at lunch time?” After I answered and we talked about my day still grinning he said, “Now it’s your turn to ask me about my day!” I repeated his question back to him, and we had a sweet little chat about the new friend he’s made, the funny thing his teacher said, and his worries about why I haven’t been able to go to the special event at his school.
What became clear to me and challenged me as I spent this time with my son was that he delighted in my company and was thrilled to have my whole attention just for himself. Since that night we’ve had less fuss about going to school, less drama at bath time, and almost immediate compliance when I’ve given an instruction.
I’m sure if I continue in my busy habit of keeping up with the washing and the dishes and the cleaning and running to training and all the other busy mayhem of life, then this effect will wear off pretty quickly. What I’ve been reminded of, is that kids thrive when they have a warm relationship with a parent who is involved, interested and present. Not in a “project management” capacity, but in a loving, gentle, “biggest fan” kind of way. And not only will my son thrive in himself now, but he’s also learning and practicing important skills to show respect and be considerate of other people. Sure his table manners could do with a bit of work, but he has the confidence to ask me about my feelings, listen and respond with empathy – and those are ultimately skills that will get him a long way in life.
So I challenge you to have a “date” night with your child. You can go as low key or as fancy as you like, it doesn’t really matter. Have frozen dinners, eat on a picnic blanket on the floor, drink lemonade from wine glasses, light a candle on the table. What will make the difference is that you are there and that your child has your whole attention. Even if your child is older, venue is Maccas and you have to go two or three times before you get the phone out of their hands, the time and attention will be a solid investment.