Sometimes it's divide-and-conquer. Sometimes we refer to playing "man to man". Sometimes it's having a special date. But whatever the reason, or whatever we call it, we are gaining great appreciation for one-on-one time with each child.
At almost-3 and 5, our boys are the best of buddies and each others' biggest annoyance. Like puppies, they wrestle and play, and that often dissolves into pinching and hitting with someone getting physically or emotionally hurt. We try to walk the line between letting them work it out themselves and stepping in to coach through the challenges. But they are together a lot. And some times it is obvious they need a little time apart.
Out of necessity, we have started to split them up for outings more often. This morning I took the little one to the grocery store while the big one stayed home and did a puzzle with his dad. When we got home, I took the big one to Mass, and the little one went to the hardware store with Dad. Then almost all afternoon the boys played together, with only minimal intervention.
Besides keeping the peace, this time with one child has great benefits for our relationships with each child. When I am with one, I can give them all my attention, and tailor our activities and conversations in a way that is developmentally appropriate to each one. We giggle together and get the chance to talk about whatever they are feeling right then. Each kiddo can request their favorite songs on the ipod. They don't have to play defense, shouting loudly to be heard over the other brother. I am more patient, too. I really listen to what one is saying when I'm not also trying to monitor the other. And when I hear what they are saying, they feel validated and important.
It's amazing how something so simple - spending time alone with each child - brings balance to our lives. Finding balance doesn't have to be life-changing rocket science. Sometimes it is the day-to-day little things. Now to find more of those things...