It’s easy to put off Special Time. After all, family life is busy, and in some ways gets oddly busier when we have older children. But Special Time it brings rich benefits when we do it. Most importantly it builds emotional safety.
Even when it is “pretty basic”, as this mother puts it, Special Time refreshes and renews our children’s sense of our confidence in and for them, and reassures them of our love for them. This is what our children need in order to begin offloading the emotional backpacks they are carrying around. As they get older, those backpacks are more tightly buckled down that they used to be. Our children learn to “suck it up” and hold it in for fear of social death if they let their feelings show.
So after Special Time, this mother finds her 11 year old daughter’s grumpy mood dissolves, and out rolls a big upset. It can be hard to know whether to go or stay when our children tell us to go away. At least sometimes, however, it’s worth staying, and listening it out…
Both girls had been in the school play for about two and a half months, which included after-school rehearsals until 5:30 three nights a week. During that time I’d let Special Time slide until it was nonexistent. I could have pushed for it, but time felt so harried that I began to treasure every moment of down, unlabeled time that we could muster. And finally the play was over, and it was time to get back into the Special Time swing of things,
But… I didn’t. Things came up. I let it slide. Then I went to stay with my ailing mother for a week. We didn’t do it then either. By the time I was back and willing to be really emotionally present for my daughters, I finally noticed that my eleven-year-old girl felt withdrawn. A couple of extra stomps. A couple of extra eye rolls. I reacted with irritation.
I felt lost to her, and remembered that closeness and connection were what I was after. We had Special Time the following Monday. It was pretty basic. We ate junkfood and watched Youtube videos. Instantly afterwards she let herself be more vulnerable to me. She held my hand more, asked me to be by her side, told me she loved me.
We bought coconut water and made “Louisa Spiced Pancakes”* together. It was pretty fun. We talked a lot. She let me know about some “drama” (as she called it) between her friends at school. Special Time ended, and the day wore on in a speedy blur.
At bedtime, I read to them and then their dad carried them one by one to the room. As I lay in my bed and waited for them to settle, I heard hysterical crying from my 11yo. She was absolutely sobbing, and I can tell you, that girl knows how to feel her feelings to her core! She’s amazing at getting her big feelings out when she needs to. I walked right into her room and began to climb into her bed. Her dad said, “I’m not sure she wants that right now.”
She began to scream for me to give her some personal space. I told her I wasn’t going anywhere. I really had no idea what had happened, but I was also pretty sure that whatever it was wasn’t the real issue. She had big feelings about her hard life that she was finally feeling safe enough to offload. I stayed with her while she berated herself, and I reminded her that she was loved. She asked for a tissue after a while, but clung to me when I went to get it, her need for personal space having melted. I was really grateful that we’d taken the impetus to start Special Time again. I think it gave her the safety to feel vulnerable again.
A mother in California, USA
Free for reuse as long as you credit the author. See our copyright page for details.
© 2018 by Madeleine Winter.
The image above is Grumpy Teenager by ElleJW CC0 1.0 Universal.