I got an interesting note on yesterday's blog post from a Gentle Reader with 3 and 38/40ths kids:
It can be hard to give everyone the attention they want/need WHEN they want it. In particular, my oldest has been wanting one on one time with me quite a bit these days and I'm just SO tired it feels like a daunting task. You know, though, with her specifically, I really DO need to make a point of spending time with her in more than just the capacity of Teacher and Slave Driver. She does SO much to help keep the family running smoothly (most days, heh), that I don't want her feeling like Cinderella, ya know?
I just need more energy. And to have this baby already!
I well remember - and I'm sure Mollie does, too - how suddenly HUGE and grown-up my first baby seemed when the second baby came along. Those teeny starfish hands suddenly seemed big enough to hold a football, and we had so much more history together – why, this kid could talk! You could reason with this kid!
It's very sweet that your daughter is asking for Mommy-only time right now. I also get how frustrating it can be, and how there's the occasional suspicion that she's only asking for it to see if you will DO it. Is this an exhausting job, or what? Here are some ideas I've found useful.
1. Have a standing date. I have weekly lunch dates with my college boys – when they're working and going to school, some weeks it's about the only time I get to see them at all. Sometimes we talk about video games, and sometimes we talk about LIFE ISSUES; but we know we can depend on at least that much uninterrupted time together each week. It doesn't have to be as fancy as lunch out; you can have Wednesday tea during naptime, or paint each other's nails once a week while the little kids watch Sponge Bob. Even if there's no chance for a twosome some hectic “regular” day, she'll know she can count on your date.
2. Designate them Senior Child Present. It's great that she is learning her part in helping to keep the family running smoothly. That's a bit of a soapbox of mine; parents who do ALL the work while their kids do nothing but play are raising dysfunctional people who won't know what “family” means. The oldest kid is in a unique position, too; he is expected by his parents to set an example for the youngest and to exercise a minimum of supervision over them – and he is expected by his siblings to be “the Cool One.” We give our oldest resident kid the title of Senior Child Present. The SCP is indeed expected to be a good example and to keep an eye on the other kids; we also give him a few Super Powers. For one thing he is included in some higher-level family discussions to represent the Kid point of view; for another, the Littles are told that certain orders from the SCP are to be obeyed as if they came from us. Obviously you have to gear this privilege to the ages involved; but having responsibility without any authority is an extremely frustrating thing. Back the kid up. We have NEVER had a SCP abuse his position. (Oh; they also automatically get the front seat.)
3. Work on secrets together. There's a real sense of excitement in sharing something with your Mom or Dad that is only between the two of you. I'm not talking here about teaching and chores, though these things make a bond too; I'm talking about hobbies that you approach as peers. Perhaps you're both interested in gardening; it could become a long-term project for you to spade up and plant a small garden bed. One sneaky advantage to this once it's been established is that you can GO together every day to the place where you work on your secret project, and the child can work on it (weeding or watering) and you can talk; while sometimes you are “accidentally” doing something else like nursing a baby or folding the socks. This plan works especially well if you have a lot of children, because the venue for the hobby you share with each of them can almost substitute for privacy.
4. Start a Bedtime Book. Sometimes there IS no substitute for privacy, and for this you need a Bedtime Book. A Bedtime Book is a notebook that you never talk about out loud; you leave it under her pillow one night with a note written in it saying, “This is our Bedtime Book; we can write about anything we want to in here. When you're done reading it, write a note to me and slip it under MY pillow.” This book may fly back and forth between your pillows for years, carrying everything from jokes and love notes to explanations and apologies. You will learn to know your child in a whole new way; some things it's a lot easier to write than it is to say, and that goes for little kids, too.
5. Change her bedtime. Ohhh, this is a rough one, especially since the ONLY time we get to be alone with our husbands is after the kids go to bed. I still recommend it, and I'll tell you why: the very best way to make the oldest child feel special is to give her a tiny peep into the grown-up world. A bedtime that is 15-30 minutes later than the rest of the herd – provided that the 15 – 30 minutes is spent with her parents – will remind a child that the bond between them is as firm as it was before all the interlopers came along, and that nothing will replace her in their hearts. You don't have to make a huge deal of it – just read a chapter of a “big” book aloud, or play a board game – but it will end her day on a lovely note. One practical upside is that if she acts like a "little kid" during the day, you can insist she observe the "little kid" bedtime. She won't want to lose her privilege.
Besides – it's not so VERY long before your kids will all be staying up later than you do, and YOU will have to go to bed early to get any time alone with your husband!