If you are a parent, I think you will agree—most parents want to be a lot of different things to their children—their protector, their provider, their example, their hero, their counselor, their friend, their confidante—all qualities that add up to…a parent and parenting.
As a parent, what was really important to me was to build a strong and loving relationship with each one of my sons. As a result, I was always looking for ideas that would help and assist me with that goal. Mark and I actually did several things to accomplish this, but today, I want to share with you one idea we used to build a close and caring relationship with our sons. It became a tradition in our home. It is fun, your kids will love it, and it will be the starting point of constructing an amazing bond between you and your child.
In 1980 Mark and I started the tradition of taking each of our sons on a monthly “Date Night.” At the beginning of each month we sat down with the boys and marked four dates on the calendar—one date night for each child. Most the time we tried to make it a date with both parents, but there were months when only one parent would go with the child. We always planned these dates the first couple of days in the month so they were “cast in stone;” thereby avoiding a conflict and interference of other activities.
Mark and I kept the date nights simple, yet fun. When they were young we took them to the park (to feed the ducks); to a bookstore; to the beach; a farm, swimming, fishing, the zoo, sleigh-riding, a music activity, a cooking night, or a special visit to the library. And every date night included food—lunch, dinner or some special treat like ice cream, popcorn, etc.
As they got older the venue of the date nights changed—now they were interested in golfing, sporting events, music concerts, plays and other activities. We tried to choose activities that would allow for interaction and not places like Disneyland where you are mindlessly going from one ride to another or movies where you sit mute in a theater. Those activities were saved for later.
But no matter where we took them, our goals were the same—alone time with each son; time to interact one-on-one and have a good time—separate from their other siblings.
Here are some tips to making it a perfect outing:
**Make date nights interactive: We asked a lot of open-ended questions about school, sports, the music they were learning and the music they liked, their friends, their concerns, hopes and dreams, etc. We wanted them to talk–a lot!
**Avoid criticism or preaching and stay away from topics that could evoke hurt feelings or anger.
**Focus on having fun, laughing together, enjoying one another’s company and communicating.
We also made some mistakes with date nights. When our oldest son Jason was four we took him to see the Vienna Boys Choir. We erroneously thought that since they were young boys singing (and Jason loved to sing) that he would enjoy seeing this choir. Wrong, wrong, wrong! We barely lasted until intermission and the only redeeming part of that date night was taking him to McDonald’s (his choice) afterwards.
However, “Date Nights,” paid off in other ways. The boys loved them, looked forward to them and even when they were teens, (and do not want to be seen with their parents) they still wanted to go and participate in these monthly rituals.
For example, when Ryan was 16 he wanted to go hear David Helfgott play the piano at the Hollywood Bowl. If you are interested in the story of David Helfgott, read the book, Love You to Bits and Pieces: Life with David Helfgott. Ryan had seen the movie, “Shine” and wanted to see Helfgott up close and personal. So we went. It was actually a turning point for Ryan and his music. He was getting bored with practicing, but seeing Helfgott and understanding his life story and all he had to overcome, Ryan became inspired. From that point on he practiced with a vengeance until he left for college.
So, try it with your children. Set aside a day each month; mark it on your calendar; and decide together with each of your children what you are going to do. Leave your cell phones behind and focus entirely on your child. You will be amazed how this will begin to build a bond of trust and appreciation for one another and open the flood-gates of communication. Plus it speaks volumes to your child that you are willing to sacrifice your time to build a relationship with them.
(these are all pictures of our sons–Jason, Ryan, Brandon and Trevor when then were young–each one represents a date night we took them on. They are all grown now and taking their own kids on date nights–thus another family tradition has become a legacy for future generations!)