Pearly strikes again with a very thoughtful blog on how to make quality time with your child, partner and family happen, even when time feels scarce. Thank you, Pearly!
Bonding with a child is much easier said than done. It isn’t always convenient. In fact, combining work, household maintenance, self-care and bonding is an act that usually isn’t perfected until we drop the ball on something or everything all at once.
Our family unit includes my husband, 2-year-old, and myself. We own two small businesses, which can make bonding with our child a little more difficult, or a little easier, depending on how you look at it.
Here’s our take:
Little pockets of time -
We added a little girl to our family because we wanted to. We were not tricked, we had no delusions, and we knew it’d be challenging. So we integrated her into our lives with plenty of bike rides.
With two businesses, people were constantly telling us how wonderful it was, that we got to spend all our time with her, when in fact, I felt like I wasn’t getting any time with her. My husband saw it otherwise. He had clearly designated pockets of time with our daughter, whether it was in the bath, walking to the shops, or going to pick up food. But for me, I didn’t consider 15 minutes as bonding time. Then it occurred to me that the problem was how we defined bonding time.
To begin with, understand that to a 2-year-old, a walk to the park is VERY far, and 15 minutes IS bonding time. I learned that as I watched my husband’s relationship with my daughter develop, and I found myself trying to multitask while trying to give my child some attention. I managed to carve out larger sections of time to spend with her, but I wish I had not neglected the tiny, valuable pockets, that can and do remind children that they are loved, and never forgotten (sometimes placed aside because we need to pay bills, but not forgotten).
Share routines -
If there’s anything I’ve learned from my husband, it’s the preciousness of routines. Routines don’t just help children practice independence, they also let children know when they can expect your full attention.
A large part of bonding is about sparing space and time with your child. A child that knows they will get your full attention as you walk to school with them, or when you have lunch as a family, can better learn patience as they have something to look forward to.
Setting a mutual understanding that there's a time and space every day or week that’s reserved for family is important. Growing up in Singapore, no matter how busy my family’s days were, my parents, my brother, and I always made time to connect. When all of us were busy working professionals, sometimes we waited up, other times we didn't. We wrote notes to each other that we left on the bathroom mirror or front door. I’ve even stuck notes to the handle of my father’s briefcase. Sundays were designated family days, and because our family made it precious, we valued it and seldom allowed interruptions unless absolutely. Difficult days can be easier to breathe through knowing you will have the full attention and care of your family soon.
Show, don’t tell -
Once we become parents, life seems a little more hectic. We read up ways to bond with our child and try to convince them to engage with us. But when our partners need us, we often have a lunchbox to pack, a bag to prepare, or a child to run after.
It’s important to show your child how to bond, by spending bonding time with your partner. Set aside time to bond with your child, where your partner takes space to self-care, and set up bonding time with your partner, where your child learns to engage in their chosen work or acceptable mode of self-care.
In the end, children imitate many things in order to grow, they learn the ways we take care of ourselves, which for our family is taking long, hot baths. They also learn how to bond, by seeing it happen. So, if our children are bouncing off the walls, brushing us off, and fiddling with too many things at once, it’s probably because we need to show more, not tell.
Bonding doesn’t have to cost anything. Try these. -
I’ve been there. I’ve felt like there’s nothing to do, and my husband suggested we take a walk. We couldn’t afford to bring our kid to indoor gyms and museums that other parents seemed to be bringing their kids. Then my husband reminded me that the world was just outside our door.
Children love walks, especially if they’re going to a playground. They can both learn from nature, and engage in nature; the earth is a playground. Attending free concerts and festivals just means planning ahead (bookmark events on social media, and set up reminders).
Because we have a child who loves orchestral events, and we can’t always pay for full price tickets, I’ve approached orchestras and concert halls to ask if there are any discounted tickets available. Event planners are usually understanding and some will point you in the direction of cheaper tickets (E.g. student tickets when you’re not a student) and some may even offer you free tickets. The worst that could happen is that they’d say no, and then you just turn to another event!
And if you’re a family that can afford a little more, buy another family an experience where they can have a bonding experience that they usually can’t afford.
Oh gosh, it’s raining -
Sometimes, when it rains, it pours. If you don’t feel like playing in the rain or jumping in puddles with your kid, what can you do?
There are plenty of home activities you can do to engage your child, whether it's simple baking, building a bedsheet fort or playing “cleanup-throwout” (anything that hasn’t been touched in over 3 months either finds a home or is packed for donation).
Want to head out, but scarce on pennies? If you’re not afraid of the crowd, IKEA’s always a fun place. Learn about plants, look at funky arm chairs, and pick up those batteries you needed all at once. Make sure you’re spending time with your child though, and not just going on a shopping spree. Feeling less adventurous? Check out a library, free museum, or your nearby pet/ aquarium store.
Of course, there’s the option of settling in with some microwave popcorn and a family movie, but how about settling in with a game of Pictionary with a toddler? Don’t have Pictionary? Again, all you have to do is plan ahead and borrow a board game, this one will even help build up your little one’s vocabulary.
Do nothing -
In closing, it is possible to bond even without an activity. Set aside time to share space, cuddle, and just enjoy each others presence quietly.
As business owners, we talk to people all day long. Sometimes, talk is frivolous and we, as a society, have forgotten the value of non-verbal communication. We can often tell how a person’s day has gone by sharing an embrace. Science has also shown that hugging for longer than 20 seconds helps us reduce anxiety and stress, and in today’s busy world, where hugs can easily be misconstrued, perhaps we should all relearn how to melt into the arms of our families.