Making time for kids isn’t always easy for a father.
As a working father & husband, balance has been a struggle for me. I work very hard at my job. Like every man, I want to be a provider. It’s in our nature and I will admit, I really enjoy it.
But with a two hour commute each day on top of often ten hour days this time of year, I always look forward to the weekends (when I don’t have to work overtime on the weekend that is). When I get home though my plans of relaxing begin to fade away.
See, my wife works full time and almost every weekend which means that from 8am – 4pm Saturday & Sunday, I am on parental duty by myself.
A typical Saturday is spent going to hockey practice, doing laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, working on the numerous projects that a new house brings and picking up five million toys that seem to have been strategically placed so that every time I take a step I land squarely on one. At this point, there’s a lot to be said for sitting down and watching a movie or just vegging out on the computer for a couple hours. I’m exhausted, mentally drained and ready to fall asleep standing up.
But wait, what are these little people doing swarming me? When did I become a jungle gym? Amidst the cries of “Daddy, can we go to the park?”, “Daddy, my bear fell behind the couch!”, “Dad, can you help me put my new Lego together?” and “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Lookit me, lookit me!” I feel like I’m ready to explode.
There was a time when I would have bolted for my office, shut the door, donned my headphones and tuned them out. Ok, maybe not an act of the most involved parent, but hey, I work hard so the family can eat, have this nice new house, drive the SUV and buy all those toys I just spent 6 hours stepping on, right? Besides, kids always bond more with mom. I’m just here to make sure the bills get paid and act as the heavy when mommy doesn’t want to be the bad guy.
Well, as it turns out, it’s not 1945 anymore. Dads are expected to have as big a role in kids’ upbringing as moms now. So, what do I do? I can’t keep avoiding my kids until they’re teenagers, I need to step up. But how?
Find common interests or things you can both enjoy
Ok, so I think to myself, what do I like to do? Well, I like TV shows from the 1980s, Violent video games and my job. There’s got to be more to me than that though… I think back to what I did as a kid, and what my father did with me. Bingo! Lego! I still have every piece of Lego I ever bought in bins in the garage. Time to pass it on.
Now I have one thing that my son and I can do together. But there’s still got to be more that I can do right? Time to get out of my comfort zone and see what his interests are.
He likes sports. Uh-oh. I’m not a sporty guy. Never played on a team. I’m more of a one-player type of guy. But there’s got to be something I can do with him that’s more meaningful than just being there while he plays hockey or runs around a field. I could coach… how hard can it be? I coached his soccer team. Sure, it means that one day a week I have to leave work at 4pm instead of my usual 6pm, but, in the end, where are my priorities? My kids should come before my career, maybe not all the time, but I have to find a balance. I surprised myself and really enjoyed it, so that fall, I joined to be a leader of his Beaver troop.
Ok, the boy is covered, I can help lead his teams/activities (at least until the kids get too old for my admittedly half-assed “We’re just playing for fun” approach) and build kingdoms of Lego for him to play with an destroy. One small issue though… I have a daughter too.
What to do with her? There’s no way I can see myself playing My Little Pony or Barbie. I’m a guy! I don’t do girly stuff. Guess what though? When you’re a dad, you’re not a guy anymore, you’re a dad. And being a dad can be so much more fun.
Once I realize that I’m not limited in what I can do with my daughter just because of the equipment I came with, a whole new world opens up to me, and that world is decidedly pink. I paint her nails, pick out her outfits, take her to parent-tot swimming lessons, take her with me to Home Depot and Canadian Tire and I’ve lost count of the number of times that one or both of us had passed out sitting in my bed while I comb her hair after a bath (a 45 minute exercise that’s more calming and relaxing than any vacation I’ve ever taken).
Ok, so I’ve got a couple things to do with my kids now and we’re getting along great, but I’m feeling more stressed than ever. I’m moving ahead at work and now have more responsibilities, the kids and I both need time together as often as possible, I’ve got a wife whom I definitely don’t get to spend enough time with… and there is still so much to do around the house.
I need to find a way to get everything done without wearing myself down to the bone. Well, I can’t bring my kids to work, not without having government security clearances issued to them anyway, so that idea’s out. I also can’t stay home and play with them if I want my career to keep moving forward. I’ve got to find a way to maximize the time I do have home with them.
I have a plan. Weeknights, if I’m home before my kids go to bed, I give them their baths, help with homework, listen to them tell me about all the drama of their days and then tag-team with mommy in putting them to bed. After a really long day, still without having eaten supper and exhausted beyond belief, I suddenly feel refreshed. My mood lifts, I’m happy. My kids are making me a better person, just by spending time together.
Now the weekend arrives. There’s still that laundry to do, the toys have clearly multiplied and been strategically placed for maximum foot pain, the bathrooms look like bombs went off in them and I was really hoping to get the new custom desk I designed built and installed in my home office. But There are still these little people following me around. What am I going to do with them?
Wait, if they’re just going to follow my around all day anyway, why don’t we make it fun? Divide and conquer, the sooner we’re done, the sooner we can be out getting an ice-cream or playing at the park. My son goes off to clean his room and pick up the toys all over the house. My daughter gets a damp cloth and heads into the kids’ bathroom to give it a wipe-down. I toss some laundry on and vaccuum behind my son while I’m waiting for him to finish.
A job that used to take a whole day and put me off my game for a whole weekend just took 3 hours. The house isn’t perfect, but I’m not looking for perfect, I’m looking for livable. Nobody is in any danger of stepping on a Barbie shoe or a Bakugan ball. The dog hair no longer outnumbers carpet threads. The bathrooms no longer look like we rent them out to long-haul truckers. And we’ve still got a day and a half of weekend left! It’s time for ice-cream.
By finding common interests, losing the 1940’s mentality, and finding ways in incorporate the kids into the daily tasks that have to be done, we’re all happier, closer and much less stressed. My wife is happy. My kids are happy. I am happy. This is what family should be.