When I reflect on motherhood, I think our natural tendency is to focus on areas where we are failing or times when we’ve dropped the ball. As a recovering perfectionist (and an enneagram one), it can be hard for me to highlight where I am actually winning as a parent.
But if I sit down and think about it, an area that I am truly proud of and one that I know will leave a long-lasting impression on my children, is the intentionality my husband, Matt, and I have put behind raising our two boys, Dixon and Thackston.
From the start, I knew I wanted to have deep, meaningful relationships with my children, filled with honest, safe communication, and a whole lot of fun. One way I’ve made sure this happens is by spending intentional time with each of my boys. We lovingly refer to this as #DudesAndDoll date nights.
We started this purposeful time when Dixon was five years old and heading off to Kindergarten. I wanted to spend some uninterrupted time with him before he went off to school, so I took a week off work at the end of the summer and developed camp-like activities for each day. When we were planning this out, Dixon said to me: “You always talk about me and T and daddy being your dudes. What if we called this week Dudes and Doll Camp, since we’re the dudes and you’re the doll?” It stuck and we’ve been using the #DudesAndDoll hashtag ever since.
Since then, our time together has grown organically. When they were little, I planned each date thoughtfully with where we were going, what we did and topics for our conversation. We only did it a handful of times a year, but now that they are older, we do it each month individually. I am with one son, while my husband is with the other and then we switch for another night that month. And I am over-the-moon to tell you that Dixon and Thackston anticipate this time each month and are super interested in helping plan what we do. Sometimes it is very low key. Recently, my oldest, Dixon, wanted to have a picnic and then watch our favorite show. Sitting shoulder to shoulder on the couch, we talked about all that is middle school life for him right now. Other times the dates can be more elaborate.
As the boys get older, they often want to try something new. Just last week, Thackston told me he wanted our date night to include sushi – something he has never had before. He said: “Mommy, I think you would be a fun person to do that with the first time.”
And it’s not just about the experiences. Part of the intentionality behind these dates is to have meaningful conversation, teaching moments and build rich, personal relationships with each boy – all designed to shape them into strong young men of integrity. When they were younger and I planned topics to discuss like how to be create a memorable date, conversation to have on a date, how to pick someone up at the door and what to talk about with their parents when you arrive. We still do that, but these conversations are evolving as they grow older and more mature. Now, we talk about topics like not texting someone to ask them out on a first date -- do it in person, navigating friendships, being inclusive and standing for what is right, even when it’s not popular.
The idea is that when it’s time for them to start dating, they’ve had some practice and have some skills to do it well. I’m also finding that both of my boys feel safe sharing hard things with me – weird feelings or bruised egos, stressful seasons and toxic relationships. It’s all there. They’re teaching me in the process too. I recently found that advice I was sharing with one about a broken friendship was directly applicable to a current situation I was facing with my own friends.
As the boys get older, this time becomes increasingly special and beautiful. And, did I mention fun? It has allowed for quality, character-building conversation and special moments I will never forget. But it is not just about the memories and pictures we post while we are together, but more about the men they are turning into and how we are shaping them as they grow.
Teachers have praised my boys, telling me they can see how hard we are working to make sure they are kind, inclusive kids. Friends and other parents have watched the progression of our date nights and implemented them in their own relationships with their kids, too. I have to tell you, that’s the highest compliment to us. What an honor it is to raise these insightful, respectful boys. What a privilege it is to be their mom.