My husband Matt and I just celebrated our 7 year anniversary – and in what seems like a blink of an eye, our little duet is now a party of five. Our crew now includes Max (5), Jake (3), and Sadie (1). People often ask me how I make it all work – and the truth is that I’m totally winging it (with caffeine in the morning and wine at night to bookend the chaos). As COO of our Hermer House, I operate our home as a triage unit and whoever is bleeding the most (more metaphorically speaking than literally, although with a house of toddlers, this is also sometimes literal) gets the attention. There isn’t a ‘balance’ to it all and though I wish I could pie-chart out my day to give each child the same about of time, this isn’t always the case. Our baby gets to sit on my hip more than her older brothers and our eldest, being the most verbal and also the loudest, usually gets the most airtime. That said, even in the madness of raising a household of young children, there is something to be said for special one-on-one time with each of the munchkins.

Growing up, my own father would pick me up every Friday from school for a MAD Afternoon (Marissa And Dad) – we would do different activities and just have special Father Daughter time. He did the same with my brother Ben (BAD Afternoons). It made us each feel valued and also gave me some time just to connect with my dad, outside of the daily operations of family life. Thirty years later, these are the some of the fondest memories I have of both my childhood and my father.

The other morning, our eldest son Max climbed into bed with me and as I was stroking his head and telling him stories of when he was a baby, and he responded “and I was your ONLY child? You had attention for just me? Can we do that again?” There are pros and cons to being a member of a toddler triumvirate and about a year ago, I started to feel it was important to start giving each child their own time with Mommy.

I’ve started taking out the kids to one-on-one breakfasts (Max on a Monday, Sadie on a Wednesday and Jake on a Friday) – and after awhile, having seen the benefit to each of our children’s growth and also my own relationship with them, Matt has now started Saturday morning one-on-one breakfasts with the children for his own dose of Daddy time. This is also incredibly impactful as of course Mommy time is very different than Daddy time. Matt has also noticed that the conversations he has with the kids and the time spent are extra special – and we have seen that the children feel they are valued individually – not just as a gang, and though of course they are part of the mix, that we always have time for their individual thoughts and feelings.

Of course breakfast doesn’t always work – I might have to travel for work or there is a conflict – and breakfast might not work for your family… but doing simple things like finding childcare backup for the other siblings (husband, nanny, inlaw, aunt) and talking a walk around the block or a special morning at the park might work.

I’ve also found that if we actually name these one-on-one times moments (similar to what my father did with MAD days and BAD days) – calling it ‘Max & Mommy Time’ (we even have a song that goes along with it, which we sing at the beginning of one-on-one time) communicate that this is special scheduled time – it hasn’t just happened but Max (or Jake or Sadie) is WORTH the scheduling of the special time – they are valued.
We’ve seen that one-on-one time:

+ Gives each child a moment to share their own individual thoughts and not get crowded out by their siblings.

For now, our children are young, and so the main issues that come up are that someone snatched a toy from him at summer camp or that he doesn’t like carrots anymore. But later on, as our munchkins grow, there will be larger issues and hopefully our children will feel comfortable in sharing bigger issues with us during these times. We are giving them a platform and a listening ear now – for the carrots – and later, for whatever else comes their way.

+ Makes each child feel really special and valued individually.
Any mother’s attention is always divided, whether it is another child, a husband, work, dinner on the stove, any number of the thousands of things we are constantly managing. In these one-on-one moments, the child gets 100% of the mother’s attention – there are no other distractions and this is the most impactful time in shaping a child’s understanding of himself – he is worth it.

+ Gives them a break from competing with their siblings for our attention
There are so many other voices to talk over in our kitchen – and often times our quietest child won’t fight for airtime. During our one-on-one times, he actually is incredibly verbal, when given the space to talk and share.

Heres to more MAD days and BAD days (and to raising strong confident children).