There is more than enough jostling in my parenting playground. The fussing of a near-teen over hair that can’t be straightened can upset up the tight routine of getting kids to school. I need my parenting A-game to soothe tears made of clothes that were trendy last week and uncool this week. I hear way too many stories of “Emma said this to Hayley, who told Abigail who doesn’t like Neeta, so Neeta told Emma, who told Hayley and now Hayley won’t talk to Abigail, who refuses to invite Neeta to the party…”

All this sometimes makes things confusing, boisterous and harried in my dad play space. There is plenty of energy in those occasions that is further stirred by the nervous excitement of year-end celebrations. Yet, amid the verve of this season, there is the contrasting salve of soft moments that top up my parenting spirit. One way I top up the tank for all of us is to create one-on-one time with my daughters.

One-on-one time is a great treat for both of us. I find that the noise, deadlines and multitasking all become frivolous when two of us get to disappear down our rabbit hole of make-believe, Lego, play wrestling or drawing. I delight in that time that is exclusively ours. Time spent one-on-one with either of my daughters is a rare treat for dad and daughter. As a single dad, it is not so easy to craft such time. My dad spirit stirs when there are just two of us, and the rest of the world can be put on hold.

Free to Be Silly

Recently, my eldest was invited to join in the exuberance that goes with celebrating a friend’s twelfth birthday. Instead of the usual rush to drop off at the birthday party and pick up a short time later, Miss 8 and I shared a whole day together while the twelve-year-old birthday was celebrated with a day-long adventure. While realising that I was one day down on the precious time I share with my older daughter, I did appreciate the opening of a one-to-one stint with Miss 8.

The gift in the one-to-one place is the exclusivity. There is no one to peer in. Two’s company, three’s a crowd gained more meaning. When it’s just two, we can be crazy without any critiques from a twelve-year-old with fervent attitudes about cool and not cool. Miss 8 can let herself go when there are no headshakes or churlish eye rolls from a sister.

We can be fanciful in our paintings of castles and fairies. We can be carefree in building Lego worlds where building codes do not apply. I can act out the headlock hugs my daughter will apply until I ‘pass out’ when there is no audience in the wings. We purge our sillies in bursts of exuberant joy that won’t be arrested by the teen police officer who is typically the authority on maturity.

Deep Connection

In our settled time together, my youngest went about producing her own play about Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. If I peeked in behind my imagination, I could just make out the decorated cardboard box that had transformed into a sleigh. I was ushered to my seat by an assistant that looked remarkably like my daughter. A face drawn on paper and suspended on a string opened the show. The paper face narrated in a voice that had an accented similarity to Miss 8.

When she stepped into camera, the safe space of dad and daughter meant that she could shake off her sometimes reserved veneer and shine a performance that was worth an Oscar. For a few hours, work and worries dissolved into producing and delivering the stage show. And that special time together was like putting a swizzle stick into our relationship to stir up bubbles of joy.

Conversations in our one-to-one happy place are more honest and affirming, whether with Miss 8 or Miss 12. I want the one-to-one time I give to say, “You are precious and worthy of my time.” Last week, Miss 8 and I stretched out side by side on our deck to review her post-production performance.

We watched clouds and birds, and I talked up her acting skills and uncanny knack for mimicking accents. I said, “I love you,” and had it reciprocated in hugs. We talked. Sometimes, lizards were topical; other times, we worked through the big-picture issue of playing nice at school. And I received a hearty reminder that making exclusive time for my children is critical for us. Our relationships are so much better for it.

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Photo by Nicole Michalou.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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