This article originally appeared on Mind, Body, Green January 20, 2014.
At times, growing up as an only child was hard for me. I used to get so bored playing all by myself. I'd gather my stuffed animals and play pretend school or I'd make mud pies outside. As I got a bit older, I decided I'd definitely have three kids so they'd always have a playmate.
In 2002, I had my daughter and then went through a divorce shortly afterward. Being a single mom with only one kid was definitely easier than having three, but it still brought up my childhood feelings of always longing for a sibling. I felt I had failed my daughter by being a single mom with her so young. The last thing I needed, or wanted, at that point was another child.
So I embraced the fact that my three-kid dreams were over and that I'd be absolutely content with just this one awesome daughter. Here are some tips that have made life fun for her:
1. Always have friends over.
Since my daughter was little, I always had my friends over (and, as she grew older, her friends). I set up playdates frequently so she could enjoy board games with someone besides me. (One mom can only take so many games of Candy Land before she wants to set it on fire!) Now that she's in middle school, we have kids in and out of the house all day, every day. They bring so much life into our world and it’s a great way for me to know my daughter on a deeper level.
2. Be fully present with your child.
The worst thing you can do is turn on the TV as a baby-sitter. While this works great sometimes, it’s not a good daily solution. Go get frozen yogurt or window-shop at the mall. Turn off your phone and just be with your child. You'll find this leads to deeper conversations as they get older and you'll cherish these times together.
3. Keep busy in the community.
I always check the newspaper for local events such as farmer’s markets, craft fairs, dinosaur exhibits at the park, etc. Anything that was free (or cheap), we'd make a day of it. Staying home was sure to cause us tension and boredom.
4. Hang out with other families.
Since my parents died, we were left short in the grandparent department, and we'd do Thanksgiving and Christmas with my friends and their families. Luckily, I have some amazing friends who took us in as their own.
5. Let the child help you as much as possible.
I'd get home from work exhausted, but found if I let my daughter “help” with dinner, she loved it. I got her a stool so she could reach the sink and even wash dishes.
6. Have a movie night in your adult bed and let them sleep with you.
We'd make quiet Friday nights fun by having popcorn while watching Dumbo for the 20th time. My daughter loved it and it was something special we shared together.
7. Pick an activity and sign up your child.
It helps to try one at a time so you don’t run yourself ragged trying to keep up with everything! For my daughter, we started with dance then moved onto gymnastics. Then she tried tennis and golf. When she was 8, I signed her up for volleyball at our local rec center. After the first season, she knew without a doubt that she wanted to continue and loved it more than anything else she had tried. She's now 12 and has made some amazing friends through the sport.
8. Bring one or two of her friends with us when we go out to do fun things.
I love hearing the kids sing in the backseat of the car and this is a great way to keep up with what's going on in their lives. Having a friend is sometimes more fun than just mom, especially when we're going places like a water park. It lets me relax a bit while the kids have a blast.
These are all things that have worked for me in raising a healthy, happy and well-rounded pre-teen. While I wish I could have had more kids, for us, our little family is filled with amazing friends and lots of laughter.
My mission as a Certified Health Coach is to make the world a happier, healthier place, one person, one meal at a time, with love and gratitude. I work to inspire others to live a life of prevention and overall wellness!