I read an article recently that said that a parent should spend fifteen minutes a day with each child on an individual basis. According to the report, you should put the time aside and spend it doing only what the child wants to do. This, apparently, increases the child's sense of belonging and self-worth. So, I have four children - that makes an hour a day. How hard can that be?
Hmmm. This type of report is always thought provoking and makes me examine how well I step up to the mark. I fear I fall far short.
It's not that I don't see my children. I am always here when they are. But rather than spending time together, we all sort of orbit each other like a bunch of slightly erratic satellites. I am generally in the kitchen sorting post or cooking or ironing something. They beetle in and out to request food or help with homework or to recount some interesting tale. But time actually spent on a one to one basis?
It was worse when they were smaller and needed my help with getting down the pens or doing a jigsaw or setting up the lego. A little voice would pipe up with a request for assistance and time and again I would hear myself say - "I'll be there in a minute" or "Just let me....." I did try to get there when I'd finished whatever vital task I was working on but they had often lost interest in the project by then and wandered off to pastures new.
Now they are older and more independent they generally don't even bother to ask for help, just mentioning their intended action casually as they flit through the kitchen. That makes it even worse. Whole days go by when all I do is housework around them. Good job the report writers didn't visit my house.
It's not that I don't spend any time with them on a one to one basis. I try to make sure that the lines of communication are kept well and truly open with my teenagers and will seize any opportunity to gently pry into their worlds over a cup of tea or perched on the end of their bed. I read with the little ones individually each day and talk to them about their day on the way home from school, listening to their tales in turn. And one advantage of having lots of children is that there is always someone to play with and the dynamics change the whole time.
But 15 minutes when they pick the activity? Nope. It simply doesn't happen. And the children seem to be OK with that. They know that I'm here if they need me and they have each other. Is that enough? I think so. I hope so.