Last week, my 7-year-old son stomped into my room and asked, "Ya know what, Mama?" I sat back, wondering what could be so important to this little fellow at this moment. Carter then blurted out, "The dog's off button doesn't work anymore!"
The dog's off button doesn't work anymore?
The picture came to mind of a golden lab puppy jumping up and begging for Carter's attention. Carter held a remote control with a single big red "off" button that seemed to not be working. Hence, the ever-loving puppy kept leaping up and irritating my son.
Right away I understood what he was talking about. You see, a few months ago we had bought a puppy, and ever since had been training it to obey simple commands.
Working together, we had taught our dog to sit and shake. However, our entire family was frustrated at how he continued to jump on us even though we were trying to teach him that "off" meant to get down and not jump on anyone.
On this day, my son diagnosed the problem as a broken "off button." As cute as his remark was, this image made me realize that kids and dogs have some things in common. Our lab needed and wanted our undivided attention, if only for a few minutes of our busy day.
Our pup was always energetic and ready to play, just like kids. And just like kids, he was happy and generally stayed out of trouble as long as his caretakers were giving him love and attention.
I guess I'm a bit like our dear little puppy dog too. I have discovered, through various relationships, that the major way I show love is through spending time. I prefer that others demonstrate their love for me in the same way. I recognize that each one of us brings in our own variation of a love language. My husband prefers physical affection when giving and receiving love. My father shows his love by bearing gifts along with hugs and kisses.
Like all other humans, my kids have their own love languages, but no matter their primary one, each desires to have alone time with me, my husband, and the other siblings. My husband and I share a mutual desire to have our own alone time as well. The two of us also need alone time separately with each child. As a homeschooling parent, you are demonstrating every day that people come before things. I believe the fruit of your homeschooling will be seen in the relationships with your children. Someone once said, "When God measures a man, he puts the tape around the heart, not around the head."
This whole idea of spending time with your family members individually has been richly rewarding to us, and I know it can be rewarding for you as well. Proverbs 9:11 says, "For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased."
I am thankful for the many memories our family has collected. It's great when I hear my children beg to do a special activity again that has proven itself to be well worth the time, effort, and even money we put into it. Receiving verbal praises for mommy dates, sleeping with an older sibling, or working at Daddy's shop is delightful! My husband's talent for arranging for a babysitter and saving up date-night money is defined by me as both romantic and brilliant.
When my husband and I prayed, thought, and weighed all our options before teaching our first child at home, I had no idea that I'd have to intentionally work at refining how I built relationships with my children. With practice though, we all have developed habits of fitting in special one-on-one time naturally into every day. I came up with three ways I can do this—three ways all of us might give the gift of time and connect better.
Find Five Minutes
Even for families with several children, this is a great place to start. Look into your daily life and take five minutes to spend completely alone and uninterrupted with each member of your family. I actually have this time scheduled on my daily planner. Pick any time of the day when both of you are available, and spend the time alone without any other distractions.
At first, five minutes can seem almost impossible to find, but as you do this daily, those five minutes will fly by. Take this issue to your heavenly Father if it is something you can't seem to figure out. With a newborn, I hardly had time to brush my teeth, let alone to find five minutes for five other people. When I faithfully prayed that God would help me so I could use this one-on-one time to guard against any jealousy or bitterness that might arise against a colicky, high-maintenance newborn, He answered my prayer. God equipped me with the strength to just sit with each person and talk, and everyone else developed more security in our loving relationship.
Be Better at Bonding
This is quite possibly the easiest of these three steps: take advantage of time you spend together already. Little ones need baths and stories read to them, right? Previously, I would bring a magazine into the bathroom to read while my toddlers played in the bathtub, but now I usually try to just get silly and have fun while I am alone with a particular child. While everyone is rushing around during the day, make it a point to look at your family members, hug them, and give affection. Those seconds will add up.
Don't forget school time! The one-on-one time available to us as homeschoolers gives us a chance to see strengths and weaknesses. With older kids and teens, why not have a helper at your side while you prepare meals? Not only will you have less work and get to do more hands-on teaching, but both of you will be spending quality alone time together. Older kids like to stay up late at night, so for a special treat, we let our 10-year-old sit up longer with one of us once a week. For a date night at home with your spouse, give the kids a quick and easily cleaned-up supper, put them to bed early, and have the rest of the night to yourselves without hiring a sitter or leaving the house.
Have Twice the Fun
Why go out or work alone when you can have someone else along for the ride? Trips to the grocery store are inevitable, and I'll be the first to admit that if I've got to shop for food and household items, I'd rather be alone and get it done as quickly and painlessly as possible. But if you are looking for ways to pack in some one-on-one time, just look at your calendar and arrange for one person to alternate going with you. Vice versa, have someone else take everyone in the house except for one, and let that one stay home with you. Do you ever take your children to practices? If you can take one child at a time, turn off the radio and cell phone and just talk as you drive. Dates with Mom or Dad are favorites of all our children, although these can take up more time and money.
The Rewards Are Many
Take a look at just some of the lasting effects these special times can have: mended relationships, strengthened bonds, intimacy, deep relationships, knowledge of a child's academic strengths and weaknesses, recognized social issues to deal with, improved marriage, spiritual growth, forgiveness, friendships, and on and on.
Beware of guilt. As I've noticed Satan bullying me in every area of life, he also can torment me when I fail at making time to be alone with my family members. Sick days, busy days, stressful days, and forgetful days do come along, and I put things before people. Hours pass, and I realize I've gone the whole day without even telling anyone I loved him, much less spent time alone with him. On other days, one child may seem like a squeaky wheel and hog all my time and energy. What's one to do? Do we let Satan find amusement in our distress? No! We just need to call for backup. We cry out to our Lord Jesus Christ to lift the burden and renew our strength, having faith that He will answer our prayers and give us the grace we need for the future.
Sometimes we make mistakes in relating to our kids and spouses. God forgives these mistakes, and our families can too. Our modeling of godly behavior can demonstrate to our families that we try to be fair, but at times one family member will take more of our time and energy. Another advantage of building in five minutes of alone time is that our children will have the security of our unconditional love while we teach them to love their other siblings, even when a particular sibling requires more of our attention.
Homeschooling has many advantages. Ask yourself, "Why do I keep at this labor of love?" I am constantly reminded of one major factor that puts homeschooling at an extreme advantage. That factor is the relationships I am building in my home.
Have confidence in knowing that your kids are getting to spend considerably more time with you than the kids who are away for at least half their waking hours at school.
As for Carter and our puppy, my whole family must be more consistent in our training to get that "off" button to work. I am sure if we make a habit of spending time with our dog, he'll reward us with many fond memories for years to come.
*This article was published on May 17, 2010.
Stacey Posey is blessed to be the wife of Mike and the mama to five precious growing boys. Depending daily on God's grace, the Poseys enjoy homeschooling while living in rural Mississippi. Visit Stacey's blog at www.staceyposey.com for more encouragement and a few laughs.