Dad-life is a breeze compared to mom-life, since the kids are not as demanding of me as they are of my wife. The Way of The Dad who’s sole purpose is to bring home the bacon seems to be over, though.
For those of you who remember the TV show The Wonder Years remember the dad in the show would go to and from work, not say a lot unless Wayne and Kevin were fighting, and sit in his chair and read the paper? I think for the most part, those are the dads of the past. Kids want their dads, which hasn’t changed, and moms expect dads to be involved. Man, b$%&@*s be crazy, right?
To be honest, though, I love being an involved dad. I love making my kids laugh and helping with their homework (even though I sometimes give them the wrong answer), or taking them to a museum. They certainly drive me nuts at times and I crave alone time occasionally, but I would rather have that than my girls wondering if they are loved or not.
The benefit of being an involved dad is building up deposits in my kids’ emotional piggy banks. Paraphrasing from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, everyone, including your spouse, has an emotional bank account that you withdraw from and deposit into just like your checking or savings account.
When you do something nice for your kids, you are depositing into their emotional bank account. When you are not nice to your kids, you are withdrawing from that account. And just like your financial accounts, if you have too many withdrawals and not enough deposits, you are overdrawn and the repo men come looking for you. If you are constantly withdrawing from your kids’ emotional piggy banks, their emotional debt collector will break your emotional knee caps leaving you on the floor begging for your wife to step in and save you, probably literally.
If you’re always barking at your kids to do clean up their toys, brush their teeth, or eat their breakfast without any kind of deposit like reading a book, playing a game, or maybe riding bikes with them, you should expect some push back. But if you have made deposits into their emotional account, making a withdrawal is not as expensive.
So here are some things that should help let your kids know they are a priority in your life and at home.
When you’re home, put away your phone/tablet/computer/whatever.
The reason this one is first is because I am the biggest offender of this. My wife is often asking me to put away my phone, because she feels I am trying to detach or escape the reality around me, or that whatever is going on in my phone is more important.
Being physically present in the room isn’t the same as being mentally or emotionally present, which applies to all situations not just at home or around your kids. I know some of you have jobs that are very consuming and require a lot of your time and attention in or out of the office. Fortunately, for me I am not allowed to analyze cancer cells at home, although I wish I could and be able to work from home.
Even if you can’t turn your phone off once you’re home, set it down and walk away for a little while. I try to put my phone down somewhere right when I get home and don’t pick it up until the kids go to bed, which is about an hour to hour and a half from the time I get home.
Now, I fail often, but I get better at it by practicing and making it a habit to put my phone down when I get in the door. And remember as I was reminded today, your kids are just excited to see you and want to play with you and for you to play with them.
We have made it a family rule to have phones and devices put away at meal times. Permission must be granted by other members of the family to be excused from the table if my wife or I want to use our phones, unless the phone rings and it is a grandparent that wants to talk or FaceTime. Haley, my 3 and a half year old, will catch me with my phone on the table, not even in my hand, but on the table and yell, “NO PHONES AT THE TABLE!” Good to know they understand the rules and the kids know how to get the point across.
This is a relatively new rule in our house made within the last few months, and, coincidentally, I saw an article a Chick-Fil-A manager initiated at his restaurant that has been adopted at others because of its’ success. The manager started challenging his customers to put away their phones for a meal. They put their phones in a box on the table, and if they can go the entire meal without taking the phones out, they can get a free ice cream. The challenge is a big hit among families, even if they fail the challenge. They come back and try it again. It might work so well, we all should put a box in our house to dump our phones into when we get home.
Spend time with them
Yes, this is an obvious one, but ask yourself, are you spending time with your kids? Or are you just spending time around them? Because those are two different things. I know you need to get things done around the house; I know you need some time to yourself to unwind before starting the cycle all over again tomorrow; I know that you can’t always stop working even though you left the office.
I do make it an excuse sometimes that I need to do the dishes, so “I don’t have time to play with you right now, Sweetie.” Guilty as charged. But this may surprise you, your kids don’t care that the dishes need to be done, or that the laundry needs to be folded, or that there are crumbs all over the floor that need to be swept up. At least they don’t care when they are my kids’ age. And they may not even care when they are teenagers either. Let’s hope they care by the time they get their first job.
Here are 5 ideas of things to do with your kids to help you build up some Dad-points in their emotional piggy banks, without making you want to poke your eyes out. Notice none of these ideas include them painting your nails.
- Read them stories
We have made it part of their nighttime routine before bed to read a couple of stories. Over the years we have collected a lot of books, and we often read the same book for a week. So get ready to hear the same story over and over again a little bit. It helps wind them down, and it does help them learn how to read.
Warning! You may become victim to the routine and may have trouble falling asleep without “your stories” the nights the kids fall asleep early or you get a free night without them. On the “plus” side, your girls may be very balanced and like superhero stories just as much as they may like princess stories.
- Play board/card games
Sometimes we all play a kid-board game together or Go Fish, which gets interesting when, either, Haley is done playing after we’ve set everything up, or when the first kid loses. Zoey is getting better at being a good sport, but Haley can’t handle it yet. She is a little young, so it makes sense to have a full meltdown if she loses. But it is not necessarily easier to snap her out of it.
- Adventure time! To Best Buy!
At some point it became my routine to go to Best Buy on my day off. I didn’t have anything to get most of the time, I would just wander around and browse. After having kids I just continued to go for no reason, and now it has happened enough times my girls know the Best Buy sign as the “Daddy-Daughter-Day Store.” We go and browse, and the girls end up at the video game demos and play with those Infinity action figures.
Other Daddy-Daughter times can be events at their school. Participate in as many Dad Events your school puts on. If you are homeschooling your kids, make some events up. But do something dads-only with your kids. Zoey’s school had a Daddy Daughter Dance that she and I attended. She’s only in kindergarten, so she didn’t want to dance much, which was good for me as well as the other people there who didn’t have to see me dance. Although, that is still better than my singing. Anyway, we danced some, and spent most of our time standing in line waiting to get our picture taken. In the end, we were there for about an hour before she was too tired and wanted to go home, and she appreciated it a lot. The next couple of days she was really clinging to me. It was kind of annoying. 🙂 I knew how my wife and other moms feel when the kids are always on her lap and in her face. I banked some dad-points that are a lot more valuable to her than I can understand.
- Play sports with them or ride bikes
Zoey has recently started playing hockey. She played a season of roller hockey at the local rink and loved it. We moved the cars out of the garage and set up the kid-nets we have so she could play. She has wanted to play goalie while my wife and I shoot on her. She seems to have some natural instincts to that position, so we got her some goalie gear since her birthday is coming up soon and we bought a bigger net with her Easter gift money.
At Christmas they did get their first bikes, so we also take those out to the cul-du-sac down the street. If they are not on those, they have their scooters. At least now they do. Zoey outgrew hers, gave it to Haley, and then I broke it in a fit of rage. It took a little while before that withdrawal was built back up. If you don’t have bikes, or scooters, or hockey equipment, take them to the park and climb around with them and go down some slides. Oh, and put your phone away while you’re there.
- Watch one of their TV shows or movies with them
My wife was out one night for something, and the girls and I watched a movie. I sat between both of them, who ended up snuggling up to me, and Haley fell asleep about halfway through. Zoey was awake, though, and I think appreciated the attention. Her appreciation went beyond the duration of the movie: I stored up a couple points in her emotional piggy bank.
It is hard but not impossible to get on the floor with them and play at their level. You’ll score some good dad-points that can go a long way. And chances are, depending on what they’re doing, you won’t even need to play that long because they’ll move on to something else or kick you out like Haley does to me. But you need to try first.
Get a gameplan
Because of traffic, I get home a little late in relation to our kids’ nighttime schedule of dinner, bath, and getting ready for bed. My wife would also stress a little about making sure I ate dinner or would have something I could nuke and eat. To make things a little easier for everyone, I started taking meal-replacement shakes to work and drinking my dinner on the way home. It helps to be able to step in the door and be dad right away, which is when I need to be dad: immediately when I get home.
My challenge for you is to make one simple change to add to their emotional piggy bank (remember your spouse has one of these too).
- Start playing with them more than you have been
Or at least just offer to play with them
- Read them one book a day
Don’t be surprised if they don’t know what you’re doing and why. Just keep trying. Keep showing them they are important and they are important to you. Whether you realize it or not, they are watching what you are doing, so model for them what you want, how you want them to grow up, and what kind of adult you think they should be. Remember, if you have daughters, they will choose a man like you.
Link to the Chick-Fil-A challenge
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