As with a number of posts recently, this topic today is inspired by feedback from the blog annual survey.
In the section of the survey where I asked readers if they had a question for me, there were a number of questions around the theme of balancing the kids’ needs, like this:
How do you balance the needs of your children when they can be very different varying across ages and stages of development?
This question very much reminded me of a post I wrote back in 2012 on The Dilemma Of Balance. In the post I wrote about how I came to the conclusion that balance wasn’t something that I should aim for, but instead focus on “tilting” my time as needed:
In the end I really just wanted for my family to be happy and satisfied and that I was also happy and satisfied. I realised that this may sometimes mean I leave my family for a week to attend a blogging conference on the other side of the world and other times that I will go offline for weeks at a time to have my family as the sole focus.
For the last couple of months of 2011, I tilted towards key activities at different points in time. And by not hooking myself into the goal of balance, I could do it without the over thinking and the fretting. It wasn’t neat, tidy and even but we were all happy and were able to achieve individual and family goals in this time.
In that instance I was talking about it applying to work and family in general, but this is also the approach I take to meeting the needs of the kids. It isn’t something that I always find easy as I do like parity, for example:
- I read bedtime stories to the eldest two boys until they were in year five, so I try my best to do that for all of the kids.
- I let the oldest have stay up late night on the weekend when he turned nine, so that is the age all the other kids start having a later bedtime on the weekend.
- Once the kids hit secondary school, their access to technology changes. Those in primary school still have less techno time than the older kids.
But in many other ways I try to take the needs of each child and each particular situation into account. There are certain stages of a child’s life that I think they require more attention, thought and time. In the younger years, I certainly find this as they enter periods of disequilibrium. You can read more about disequilibrium in these posts:
- Characteristics of two (and a half) year old behaviour
- Characteristics of three (and a half) year old behaviour
- Characteristics of four (and a half) year old behaviour
More recently I have experienced a different set of challenging behaviours with my teenagers. While they can give the impression they want as little to do with you as possible, they really do need time to connect away from other members of the family. You can see some of the direct strategies I use specifically with the teenagers in my series on Parenting Teenagers here.
Strategies to manage stages of development with the kids
With 5 kids now aged 16, 13, 11, 8 and very soon to be 6, there is pretty much one or more child experiencing a “stage” all the time! In reality I cannot spend the same amount of time with each child. When specific stages arise, it is at these times I will tilt to ensure the child who needs more of me, can do so.
20 minute blocks
As outlined in a recent post a strategy I like to use with the kids is 20 minute blocks of dedicated time. This is where a child has 20 minutes with me to do any activity they like. I usually do this during school holidays and across the weekends, but when I think a child needs more time I will instigate it during the week and if there is limited time on the weekend, I will make sure they receive a 20 minute block.
I don’t make a big fuss of this, as generally the last thing the child in question needs is attention brought to them. If the other children ask for time, I will explain I will try my best, but cannot guarantee anything. If there is complaints about this (and there often is), I explain that while it might not be even at the moment, over a period of time it does even out and I need them to show patience and understanding.
With limited time and to make sure other kids do not feel too left out, I will do a group session where I encourage as many of the kids as I can to join in an activity or game. Just being involved with me in some way can make all the difference.
Choosing my extra-curricular duties with the kids wisely
Trips in the car can be a great way to talk to the older kids. Even if one of the teenagers is at that time, completely annoyed with me, a decent car trip can thaw this ice and can provide an opportunity to talk in a non confrontational setting.
During winter on Saturday mornings we have five different sporting activities. Mixing up what activities I attend can make sure I can take advantage of some of the longer drives we have to undertake with the older kids.
Swapping my focus during the day
I find the kids’ age determines when they need me most across the day. This doesn’t mean they have my exclusive focus at that stage, but I am more mindful of them. In our house it goes a little like the below. Of course every day does not run exactly like this, but it gives an idea of how I switch my focus through out a typical school day:
0700am – 0830am – The younger kids need me more than the older kids at this time. While they are all independent enough to get themselves breakfast and ready for school, there is often an emotional need from the younger kids; a hug, some time sitting on my knee just after they have woken up, telling me some knew and interesting facts they have learnt or about a dream they had. The older kids are far more focused on getting as much sleep as they can, then getting up, getting ready and out of the house on time.
3.15pm – 4.15pm – I pick the younger two kids up from school and we have afternoon tea together. This is a time where we chat about the day. I can generally tell if something has happened that they may want to talk about and use this time to chat to them if needed.
4.15pm – 5.15pm – The older kids get home around this time and on nights when I don’t have after school activities, I try to get them to sit at the table to have afternoon tea and chat with them.
6.30 – 7.30pm – After dinner – The older kids will be doing homework and it is bath, story and bed time. I usually do stories to the younger boys in one room (they currently share with different siblings). If I think one of them might need some time to talk, I will choose to read their story second and in their room on their own.
8.15pm – 10.00pm – If the oldest two need help with their homework this is the time it will most likely happen. It is also a time where I can have more “adult” conversations with them as the younger kids are not around.
It is also a time to share – it might be a new remix that the one of them has found and loves and wants me to listen to it or some crazy meme they have come across in their social media feeds. It is a time that lets me get a better understanding of what is going on in their world.
Physical activity together
On many more than one occasion I have taken a grumpy child with me on a run around the block (run/walk for the younger ones). The older two kids are at an age when I can leave the other kids home with them while I do this, so it isn’t dependant on their dad being home too.
The run is very often quiet for the first kilometre, but I can generally get to the bottom of the problem before we return home.
There are still many times that I wish I had more than one of me! Sometimes I find I am late in working out that one child has hit a development stage that requires a little bit more of me. It is easy to slip into worrying about that and what else I am probably missing, but I try to be pragmatic and know that I am trying my best. I will never be perfect at this parenting gig, but I am always working to improve what I do.
What about you? How do you try and balance the needs of all of your kids?