I am glad I have siblings. My brothers are a connection to my past and to areas of the world beyond my own reach. I love them more than I can say, but I remember as a child the sense of competition that comes with having siblings. Many times it was nice to have the attention of my parents diverted by my brothers, and the house was lively and interesting with the children outnumbering the adults. But I also remember how complicated things could get the more individuals had to be added into any equation, in terms of sleeping arrangements away from home, what we could eat or how many could fit in the car, etc. The logistics of living with multiple children is a whole special skill set. One of the biggest challenges I remember was to eke out time with a parent alone, to not feel overlooked, to feel loved and special apart from the ever present group.
Now I’m experiencing the same issue from the point of view of the parent, and it isn’t any easier. Lately the need for my undivided attention has led to bruised feelings and frustration. I’m not sure what to do. What I need is more time and I don’t know where to find it.
When my husband was deployed my kids had me all the time. Now that Ian is home and in the role of the stay at home parent, I’m back at work and my kids miss me. It doesn’t help that recently I’ve had to take a few trips to Michigan without them, which also means more time away from them when I come back because I need to catch up on the work I missed while I was gone. On a typical school day I don’t see my kids until I get home from work a little after 5:00. There is dinner, violin practice, reading time, midnight snuggle.… That’s a lot to cram into not a lot of time before they are all supposed to be in bed with the lights out by 8:00, and they all want time with me alone.
When I’m helping Mona with violin practice she loves that it’s just the two of us, but more often than not Quinn will discover I’m sitting with an unoccupied lap and join us. This gets on Mona’s nerves, even if all Quinn wants to do is sit there. Sometimes I tell her to relax, and sometimes I encourage Quinn to wait in the other room. Either way, someone is unhappy. When it’s Aden’s turn to practice, Mona then wants to cuddle with me, forgetting completely how annoyed she was moments before when she was the one trying to practice sans siblings.
Sibling interference is complicated enough in our house that we have to have the girls actual violin lessons (with the same teacher) on different days, even though this is inconvenient for us. The stress put on Mona to do a lesson before or after her sister made her harder to teach. Now that she has violin on her own day she’s enjoying it much more and improving faster, so it’s worth the effort, but that doesn’t make it less annoying as far as our schedules go. My children are different when you get them one-on-one instead of as a set, and the violin lessons are one way we are mindful of that.
To help my kids with their reading skills we’ve been reading together in the living room every evening before bed. Each child reads something to me, and then I read something to each of them. Mona and I are making our way through the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ books, and Aden and I are almost done with ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ Mona doesn’t want anyone else around when I read to her because she sees it as her time. She glares at anyone else who tries to sit down on the couch, too. Aden won’t read aloud in front of her siblings for some reason, even though she’s reading things they would enjoy. What should be a nice time for us all together taking turns reading can get contentious. If I play it just right I can get us all under one blanket and we can read as a group, but often I end up sending some children away so we can read one-on-one, and again, someone is always unhappy.
I get time alone with Quinn probably more often than anyone because he’s only in school for half the day. Sometimes Ian will bring him to the violin store when I’m working, and on the alternate days when the store is closed I’ll spend the afternoon with him at home when I can. Aden manages to carve out time with me for help with homework or playing heart and soul on the keyboard. She also has moments when she needs a hug or a cry and she’ll corner me on the couch and keep me there alone for as long as she can. The person most in need of one-on-one time for awhile was Mona, and she’s found ways to solve that herself. Sometimes she’ll come with me to work for an entire Saturday (even though it’s boring for her, really) just to get me alone. She also invented midnight snuggle. She cuddles up and reviews her day and asks me questions and gives me hugs and Eskimo kisses. It’s lovely. But Quinn has been worming his way into it whenever he can. It bugs Mona to no end that her brother wants to be in the bed too during midnight snuggle time, but I just focus my attention on her and tell her it doesn’t matter, and then I make it up to Quinn later.
Recently I got a note from Aden that she put in my room one morning letting me know that being excluded from midnight snuggle made her sad. (The note was complete with an illustration of her weeping, just in case I missed the point.) I talked with her about it, and she said she can hear us talking and giggling from her bed and she feels left out.
It’s hard making time for each girl’s violin practice, and for individual reading, and I can’t do midnight snuggle with each child or we really would be up until midnight to do it. I told Aden I was really sorry, but that I have three kids, and sometimes that means doing things with one that leaves the others out. I reminded her of the pottery classes we did together, and how many times we’ve been able to do things just the two of us because she’s the oldest. I told her she can’t begrudge Mona or Quinn for wanting times like that, too. She says she understands, but she still doesn’t like it.
It’s not that my kids don’t get along. For the amount of time they spend together I’m shocked they get along so well, frankly. But it’s like I’m some rare commodity that throws everything out of balance, and there is only so much we can cram into those couple of evening hours. We can’t split up the time by doling out some of the reading or violin or midnight snuggle to their dad because that’s not what they want. They love their dad, but he’s more available in general, and they don’t seek him out for the same activities. Sometimes everything has been going fine until I get home and then unhappiness and mild chaos ensue. So every evening I hope for the best and wish for extra time to spend with each of my children.
The irony is when they are old enough to stay up later and we could have a little more time they probably won’t be interested anymore. And I’ll wonder why I ever thought spending time with my kids was considered a problem.