"I'm going to ran away. I bet you won't even no."
Although her spelling wasn't perfect, the meaning of her note was clear. My 6-year-old daughter, Julia, was feeling neglected. Less than a year before, I'd married Eric, a single father with two kids, and overnight Julia went from being one of two kids to one of four. The week before I'd received Julia's note, Eric and I had shared the happy news that I was expecting a baby. Julia, who'd always been the youngest of the family, was struggling.
As I read her note, I knew that something had to change. I thought I was doing the best I could to make time for each child, but I had to admit that my home was running more like an assembly line than a warm place to raise children. The kids had become items on my to-do list. Homework? Check. Dinner? Check. Bedtime prayers? Check.
They needed more one-on-one attention, but how would I squeeze that in? That's when I realized that a few small changes throughout my day could make a big difference for the kids without adding extra tasks for me.
Choose an errand buddy
I usually did our grocery shopping and other errands on the weekend when my husband could stay home with the kids, but I realized I was missing a perfect opportunity to spend time alone with one child. I still run errands on the weekend, but now my kids take turns accompanying me. I'm amazed at how many great conversations we have during my weekly errands. And it doesn't take any more time.
My husband does the same thing when he runs errands. His trips usually include a quick detour for an ice cream cone and some one-on-one time.
Allow special selections
During our weekly shopping trip, my errand buddy is allowed to choose some food items to enjoy that week. My son loves eating breakfast foods for dinner, so he almost always chooses bacon and eggs. My stepson loves Italian food, so he selects ingredients for spaghetti or lasagna. My daughter and stepdaughter love desserts, so they usually choose a mix for brownies or cake. Then my errand buddy becomes my cooking or baking buddy, giving us even more one-on-one time.
Allowing each child to select groceries makes our time together more special and enables me to learn more about my children's and stepchildren's likes and dislikes. And since I would be grocery shopping anyway, it's another great way to make each child feel loved without increasing my workload.
Because my husband often works late, the kids' bedtime routine falls on my shoulders. My goal was to get everyone in bed by 9, and I was almost always racing through stories and prayers. My impatience was a barrier to forming any true connections.
Then I decided to stagger the kids' bedtimes. I put the girls to bed at 8:45 and the boys at 9:15. The next night, we switch. This change alleviates the bedtime blitz and allows the kids time to share about their days. It doesn't take much longer, and I think the kids actually fall asleep more quickly because our bedtime routine is more relaxed.
A few weeks after I'd implemented these changes, I got another note from Julia. This one read, "I like shooping with you and helping with diner. Thank you, Mommy."
Kids in blended families can feel lost in the shuffle, but small changes to our weekly routine can help us find pockets of time to make each child feel special.Diane Stark is a freelance writer from Indiana who writes about family and faith.