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Friday, 7 December 2012

The importance of quality time in multilingual families- and my struggles with it

I’ve been writing how multilingual children develop differently than other children. But it is not entirely true. Multilingual children are still children and just like all children they need tons of love and affection and attention and quality time spent with their parents. The only difference is that by spending quality time with them, we don’t only foster a positive child-parent relationship, but also convey a positive image of our language and culture.

I attended Eowyn Crisfield’s workshop on raising multilingual children, and learned that bilingual children need to spend at least 20% of their waking hours in a language in order to be able to speak it, preferably more. And this needs to be high quality language, not the “please put your jacket on, it’s cold” kind of language. It needs to be time spend reading books, singing songs, explaining the world- in other words, it needs to be quality time. 20% of a child’s waking hours are a lot of time and even more is recommended. This reminds me of the importance of being there for a child and giving them our whole undivided attention.

This is also where I struggle the most. For the last months and weeks I think I did quite well, being patient and understanding and staying calm where I could have screamed. I also did quite a good job of talking to my children and increasing their vocabulary. But this pregnancy, bundled together with sleep deprivation is already taking a toll on me. Almost every night, one of my three children wakes me up: Klara can’t sleep and I don’t know why. Julia can’t sleep because her nose is blocked. Baby Y (still in my belly) can’t sleep because he thinks that nights are for dancing. The result? I can’t sleep, and it is killing me.

So I’m trying to take it slow, and rest and not to do too much. But I am still tired. And yes, even speaking, reading books are tiring. At the moment I don’t feel like I am doing this right, because I am so tired. And the fact that my throat is sore doesn’t help, either.

But, I know it will get better. Right now, we are in the process of changing the children’s daycare schedule. Instead of me having three whole days to myself and two for the children, we are slowly moving towards sending them to daycare every day, for half a day. We are already doing this on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I notice how much better it is this way. Instead of waking up in a hurry and stressing to get the children dressed, I wake up to cuddles and lazily lying around in bed. This makes the world of a difference even though it’s only a matter of time before Klara goes to school. We take our time eating breakfast, and I use that time to read books to them. After that we read some more and talk. If Klara wants to play by herself, I read to Julia- and she’s picking up fast!

Sometimes we go to the playground. Sometimes we stay at home and do nothing much. I can do this because I know that this is my time with the girls and don’t care about chores or errands. I know I will have the rest of the day to myself- and if I don’t manage today, there will be tomorrow. Finally, I know I can do this because there are these moments, and these days that I wish would go on forever. Sometimes I wish I didn’t need to so much me-time and so much help to raise my children. But I don’t need guilt. I need strength and energy and ideas. I need to have fun. And I can’t do that if I’m overtired and cranky. And I can’t raise my children multilingually if the only thing I can say to them is that I am tired. “Better” doesn't mean “more” and it doesn’t matter if it’s undivided attention or good quality language input. 

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  1. Eowyn's comment also caused a revolution of change at our house. Fitting in that quality time is so hard, especially when you need to use the minimal home time to fit in two foreign languages. I can imagine that being pregnant and tired makes it that much more stressful. Good luck to you!

    1. Thank you, Lynn! Yes, the more languages the more difficult it gets, and the more planning it requires. Good to hear that Eowyn's workshop helped you. Luckily she also says that it doesn't have to be every day, just like with the vegetables (you have to look at their weekly input and not what they eat every day) and that helps. I also think how it's going to be with the third child who will also require attention- and so will the girls. It is not easy, but that is exactly the reason why I need to be well rested and relaxed. Besides, your children amaze me with their language skills!


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