The Challenge of Three

When my sister and I were growing up, our parents always made sure we each had one-on-one time with them. A trip (on the commuter train!) to the city to go window shopping, a long bike ride to the Botanic Gardens, a quick outing to get a chocolate malt at the best chocolate malt place ever, an evening walk. These outings were treasured time. We looked forward to our “time alone” and it provided a standing occasion for us to open up and talk about whatever we wanted. I credit “time alone” for the good relationship I had with my parents throughout childhood, even especially during those crappy teenage years. It’s important to me to establish time alone as part of the routine with my own children. But we’re failing miserably and I’ve decided that is my challenge of three.

As a friend said of having three, “Someone always needs something.” At first, this statement rang true on a logistical level.  “I need help with my socks!” “Nowww can we go biking?” “I want an apple, you said I could have an apple!” “I have to pee! I’m peeing!!” The requests come one after another, with pockets of quiet play lasting just long enough for me to start making plans. Cinnamon rolls, I could make cinnamon rolls. Tea! I’ll sit down and have a cup of tea! I may even get as far as melting the butter. Then, someone needs something, the butter hardens in the pot and the tea sits black and cold on the counter. 

But the logistics are manageable now, thanks to my excellent one-handed nursing, dressing, feeding, and wiping skills. I may not get to drink my tea, but I can meet those needs. The true challenge is that everyone wants and needs time alone with mom or dad. Alexandra, the all-night nursing monster, gets plenty of one-on-one with me. But for Katherine and Clara, it is trickier. We do find time alone with each of them - a hike in the woods, a walk to the cafe, an art project in the afternoon - but it is not regular and they can’t count it. I sense their anxiety in not knowing when they will have their time. I see, and share, their sadness when our time alone comes to an end, wondering when we’ll find another moment for just the two of us. Building it into the routine would be reassuring to them, and I suspect it would help on the sibling rivalry front, as well. 

But putting time alone for each child into the schedule is hard. Our weekday routine already feels full with work and school, which makes weekends our best bet for solo-kid outings. But I have to admit, it is hard for us parents to sacrifice the only time we have to parent together. Plus, family outings are fun, a time for us to all connect after a week of juggling schedules.

And so this is our challenge with three. Please, parents of many, share how you manage time alone with each child?