At the end of every year, I strive to reflect on what went well and what I’d like to improve going forward. Last year, I was reflecting on my year-long dates with my husband (read the recap and ideas here), and I wanted to improve on my quality time with my children. Granted, I have four children, so this was going to be a big undertaking for the year. However, they are getting older, and I really wanted to make spending time with each one more intentional for our family. For me. For them.
Step One: Schedule it
I am not spontaneous. In fact, I remember one time trying to be spontaneous. I had the day off, so I sent messages to a few friends to see who wanted to meet for lunch. It turns out, none of my friends are spontaneous either. No one was available to meet! What a disappointing day! But, I learned that it is better for me to stick to keeping things scheduled.
With six people in our family, coordinating schedules can be a fun puzzle. I also wanted things to be consistent throughout the year, choosing a date each month so no one was too soon after the date they had just had. And, I wanted it to be easy to remember. I chose to use their birthday date each month. (Thankfully, no one has the same number.) However, all of our days fall within the same week, so it made this week busy with connecting time. The month it was actually their birthday, we did something as a family.
Step Two: Budget
Taking into consideration what your child enjoys and how much disposable income you have in your family budget, set aside an amount of money you can use towards your date. Remember you need enough for the child and you if you choose an activity as opposed to buying a gift.
Step Three: Ground Rules with Your Child
This was our first year doing this, and my main objective was to get to know my children more on an intentional and individual basis. We had three ground rules:
- Stay within the budget.
- This was time for child and adult.
- Child gets to pick the date, no matter what.
What I Learned From the Year
What I learned regarding Rule #1: My children love to negotiate, and things cost more money than I remembered. There were some months they wanted something that was more expensive than what our date budget allowed. They had to decide if they wanted to pick something that cost less, or to save the money from this date to combine with next month’s budget and choose something else that was free for our date this month.
What I learned regarding Rule #2: My children rarely get any individual time with my husband or me. They wanted to include a sibling or the entire family. I am also overscheduled with working; there were a couple of months that I had too many commitments so I told my husband that he needed to do the date night. That wasn’t exactly the original idea, this was more my “thing,” so neither he nor the child were thrilled with this result at first, but they did end up enjoying their time together also.
What I learned regarding Rule #3: My children had their own ideas about how these dates would look that were different from my ideas. There were a couple of months that I was surprised by what they chose, and I found myself wanting to “correct” them or sway them toward something else. It was a great moment to practice biting my tongue and observing them instead of influencing their decisions.
There were also times that I was so tired that day, but we couldn’t reschedule due to other activities, and I just didn’t want to go on the date. However, my child had been so looking forward to their date. It was apparent that if I didn’t keep my commitment they would be understanding, but disappointed. It was definitely a balance of communicating and determining the difference between an excuse and a true reason to cancel a commitment.
Things We Did as Dates
- Shopping: Five Below, Dollar Tree, Target, and Hot Topic were what my kids chose. Once we even went to HyVee to buy as much candy as the budget allowed–this was definitely a “biting my tongue” moment! But I also realized we *never* buy candy or allow them this much freedom of choice. Learning moment for me!
- Hot Chocolate/Coffee at a coffee shop
- Watched their choice of an episode on Netflix (Anime and Stranger Things were the choices of my teens)
- Clean their room: I cleaned while they sat on the bed talking to me. They usually got involved with me at some point.
As we go forward into this new year, I think we will continue the monthly dates. We need to make some adjustments, and I still need to ask their feedback on what they liked and what they would change. I learned that, before this year, we never took them shopping to just buy something they wanted. Almost everything purchased for them was saved for a Christmas gift. This change in our year actually made Christmas easier and less about, “Will I get all I want?” and more about giving gifts. In fact, we used our December date to go and choose one gift for each member of the family (boys chose for girls, and vice versa.) It was really fun!
Do you date your children? I’d love to hear what you do together!