As a parent of five, one of the greatest challenges I faced was trying to give each one individual time alone with me. Eventually, I learned that I could never give all of my children the same amount of time and attention all the time. It just wasn’t possible. In an ideal world, we would spend time with each one daily, but realistically this rarely happens.
Our children are different people with differing needs and personalities. Some are more demanding than others and will get your attention regardless. The child who talks constantly will usually get a parent’s ear, although there can be a temptation to switch off as your child starts yet another story about what happened at school and the intricate detail that each student and teacher played in that story. A quieter sibling may miss out on attention if we’re not deliberate about spending time with them as that child may never demand it – but they still need it.
In families where one member suffers from an ongoing chronic or serious illness, children can miss out on attention. Trying to juggle spending time and caring for the sick child (who needs that love and care) with the needs of any other children can be heart-wrenching for parents. On occasion, the well child may feel some resentment towards the ill sibling and this is normal and understandable. How’s a parent to navigate this delicate situation? First, and foremost, don’t try and do it all alone. Enlist the help of family or friends – often they want to help but don’t know how. You need somebody you can rely on to leave the children with, and if a child is in hospital for a long time, having another trusted person/s visit that child is essential. One of the best things to do is to be fully present wherever you are. If you’re with the sick child, focus on him/her entirely, and if you’re with the other child focus on him. Trust that the hospital will be caring for the ill child. Try to ensure that the health of the child is not the only topic of conversation in the family. Try somehow to have a few quiet moments each day for yourself too.
I’ve been surprised at the number of children who’ve complained to me that their parents spend all of their time at home on their phone (devices). There’s probably some exaggeration, however, all of us need to check on ourselves at times and ask whether our families are missing out because we’re distracted. If they can’t get our attention, sometimes they’ll use other means like teasing a sibling or starting a squabble.
I mentioned earlier that it’s not possible to give equal time all the time and that’s true, but what we do need to try and do is to make sure we give each one time and that there’s a balance overall.