With Labor Day behind us, we’re full speed ahead into September and can now finally safely assume that all the kiddos are back in school.
We’ve been back at it for full two weeks and as we find ourselves now settling into the school year routine, I thought it would be a good time to draw up a bunch of really ambitious new school-year resolutions. Then I remembered that I was having a baby in 5 weeks and decided if I was able to get myself and 3 children out the door 5 mornings a week, that may just have to be good enough for now!
However, as I thought a bit more about the new baby, and all the stress, responsibilities and craziness that would come along with her, I realized that maybe one little resolution should remain: the 15 Minute Challenge. By the way, this is only my little nickname for it. My four-year-old son refers to it as “Special Time”
My introduction to the concept of this 15 Minute Challenge came a few years ago when a parenting teacher at North Central Parenting Group (an organization I’ve been in 4 years now and can’t recommend highly enough!) first suggested the idea.
The premise is super simple: Devote 15 minutes per day to one on one time with each individual child. The rules are a little tougher: You should avoid spending that time teaching them or disciplining them, and you have to let them choose the activity.
As my teacher explained this idea, I listened intently nodding along like it was pure genius, but all the while, thinking, “This woman is NUTS!!!” Afterall, at that time, I was a stay at home mom with 1 child. With the exception of nap-time and 2 mornings a week at preschool, I spent every minute of every day with him. The question in my mind wasn’t “Can I devote 15 minutes more?” but, “Could I get 15 minutes a day alone without him? Could I please have 15 minutes a day to do an activity that I wanted to do?” Yes, I was all set to write this idea off as totally crazy. Then… I tried it..
Here’s what I learned:
Fifteen minutes is surprisingly long time for an adult woman to play legos! But fifteen minutes can also be surprisingly rewarding. I learned that it’s really hard for me not to want to be instructing him or guiding him all the time! (And by the way, if the situation calls for it, I do break that rule! I’m still his mom, not his friend! The point is, make it about just being together enjoying something, not another opportunity to find a teachable moment.) I learned that I don’t spend nearly enough time letting silence linger and letting him be the one to fill it. I learned that when I do let him fill it, he usually has something interesting or funny to say. I’ve learned that Thomas and Percy are usually delivering bottles of wine in their freight cars (his idea – not mine!). I’ve learned that I ask him questions all the time, to which I usually only receive one or two word answers; but sometimes I learn more when I let him ask me questions. I learned that I have been very sneaky with my board game selections and that I really only want to play games that are learning activities in disguise. I’ve learned that he can spot one of these “educational” games from a mile away! I’ve learned that he is creative and focused when he’s really interested in something. I’ve learned that when I watch him play, he seems to look so young. However when he opens his mouth to talk, I can’t believe what a big boy he has become. I have learned that this time is more enjoyable when I’m drinking a cup of hazelnut coffee and that it is essential to set a timer or he will never believe me when I tell him it’s over!
Now I have not always been faithful to this practice (otherwise it wouldn’t be my resolution). There have been days where I simply announce that “Special Time is cancelled” or sometimes, maybe I even lie just a little bit and set the timer for 10 minutes. I also only have this special time with my oldest because he, as the only child who will probably not choke on a small object if left alone for 5 minutes, is the one I often feel like I’m ignoring! In other words, please don’t think I do this perfectly!
Also, I know that there is a ceaseless cloud of guilt that follows all moms around, constantly saying that you are not doing enough for or with your children. If you are spending the right quantity of time with them, then it’s probably not quality time. If your putting in the good hard-core quality time with them, then your missing the tiny joys that only quantity can bring. Believe me when I write that the last thing I want to do is add to that guilt even a little bit! (After-all, I assume that if you are spending your child’s naptime reading a blog about being a mom, you are already probably awesome!)
No, the 15-minute challenge is not essential to good parenting. It has not dramatically changed my son’s personality, corrected some major behavior issue, or solved a pressing parenting dilemma. However, I can’t help but notice that these fifteen minutes of “Special Time” I give to my first born (when I do it! ) means the world to him.
I has also helped me to focus. It has helped me to be a little more intentional about giving him my undivided attention and remind him that he is a very important person to me; one who is truly and dearly loved. As I feel yet another Braxton hicks hit my belly and anticipate the earthquake in the form of a newborn that is about to rock our family’s peaceful dynamic, I can’t think of anything else a big brother might need more!