Yes.... date your children.
Stay at home, work outside the home - it goes for all parents, date your kids. Here's my short list why:
For the last 2 years, this little man (5 years old) has insisted on looking like an actual little man. He wants people to think he's a little person and not a child. He insists on scarves, tying his hair into a ponytail and of course a moustache. He usually wears a marker moustache, but I surprised him and splurged on a more realistic looking one. It made his day. If someone smiles at him as if he is a child, he slowly blinks and turns away - like a grown man would do to any nuisance. It's so hard not to laugh but it's important to him and I can't get enough of it so I play along.
1. They need YOU. It can feel as though you're always staying ahead of the tornado, and any of the conversations you have with your little ones are while doing something else. Face to face time, truly listening and making eye contact is hard to do throughout the day - that's why setting time apart is important. I only get to do this once in a while, and each child in my house gets 3-4 "dates" a year - so this isn't something that can't be worked into a calendar. Set the date, pick somewhere quiet outside of the home, turn off your phone, and let your kid absolutely have YOU. No dishes to do, no siblings in the background fighting for attention, no phone calls, nothing to take your attention away from your "date".
2. You're sowing seeds. My oldest is only 12, so this next chunk of advice is purely from my own childhood and watching other families (succeed and fail). Parents expect, and need, a relationship with their older children. Parents who are trusted are more likely to be told about a school bully, sexual experimentation or abuse, drugs, etc - and parents with a healthy parent/child relationship will probably see these things before they're brought up. This communication doesn't magically happen between two people, and it is especially not initiated by the child (now a tween/teen). This is a cultivation of relationship -where the Mom who listened to ridiculous stories about superheroes and boogers, and then girls and things feeling "funny down there", is a trusted person to hear the big stuff like friends shoplifting and an inappropriate Uncle. I know it's hard to look at a 3yr old and think - I'd better get this relationship headed in the right direction. We are so busy making meals, running errands, wiping bums - but that 3 year old becomes a not-3-year-old so quickly and building the relationship becomes more difficult the longer you wait.
3. Activities are not included. Soccer practice, karate, dance, etc. are not one on one time with a parent. Most families play this scene on their way to an activity.... hurry up and get out the door before I explode, don't talk I'm concentrating on speeding to whatever we're late for, and phew... go do whatever activity I'm paying a fortune for you to complain about attending. There are variations as always, but most outings look that way for a lot of families (even really nice families that don't fight during this process but it's the same process nonetheless). I'm not saying being involved in programs, sports, and leisure activities aren't important or good - I'm just saying it doesn't count.
4. You'll love it. Having more than one child means I can't lavish attention on everyone all the time. I spend no time watching tv while they are awake, spend very little time on the computer or phone (no games) during the day (you have to watch yourself or it gets addictive), and use the majority of my time cleaning, prepping meals, teaching, playing, cleaning, breaking up fights, wiping bums, setting up crafts, cleaning, and - listening. Even with all the time I allow for them, the time I carve out just isn't enough. Some kids are more needy than others and want to talk to me all day long - explaining every thought in their head at great length, and some aren't. They all need the same one on one time. The point is, I hate feeling rushed - having to stop someone's story because another someone is crying, asking people to get out from under my feet so I can get dinner on the table, hopelessly shushing everyone because someone was brave/dumb enough to call me. I hate the feeling of not enough time as much as I love the feeling I get when I sit down with a child and say.... ok baby, talk my ear off.
All my dates have been in coffee houses. The kids order steamers - hot milk with a flavour shot that they think is awesome. We scour the games bucket before we leave and fill my purse with their favourite games. Checkers, cards, my last date asked me to bring the photo album of when he was a baby so we could look at it. I know I said no activities, but having a game like tic tac toe can ease the child in to real conversation when needed. It really is nice to spend time with the little person you are raising. Our children are NOT accessories. They don't fill a quota in our lives, they aren't meant to look cute and impress our friends with their hilarious antics (total bonus if that's what happens) - they are people who are learning how to behave, love and be in relationships - so enjoy your time with them while they adore you and are so willing to learn.
*I've actually had to have a few dates in the house, turning it into a coffee shop. If it's an older child's turn and my husband's work schedule is too hectic I let that child stay up late after the others are tucked in, and we replicate the coffee house at home*
5. Teaching moments. The moment to teach someone how to behave is not when they are in trouble for behaving poorly - it's from watching you do it properly in everyday life. Practice love and respect in the home every day, correcting small hiccups as they come along. The dates top it off, teaching your little ones that you share time (not money and gifts) to show love. It also builds up their self esteem and their expectations of relationships. If you want your daughters to respect themselves and have a high standard when making friends or looking for a partner - be that example. Date your daughter. Show her that what she has to say is important and worth being listened to. That she is smart, funny, capable, and worthy of friendship. Date your sons. Let them be goofy, and sensitive without the social pressures to be cool and tough. Show them that real men are strong enough to support those around them with kindness, empathy and selflessness.
The moustache man loves when I dress up for the date. Normally I wouldn't wear my Downton Abbey hat out for coffee, but it makes him feel really important when I get dressed up and make an effort for our date.
In conclusion: Most parents love their kids. Most parents want their children to grow up to be people they can be proud of - smart, compassionate, functioning adults. Whether or not you date your children, find the time to cultivate the good qualities you want to see in them. Despite unprecedented access to information, entertainment and freedom - our young people still need us, desperately. Make human connection the bulk of their lives, and let the other stuff be that - other stuff, not the focus.