HEART OF LIVING • BY EMORY LUCE BALDWIN
I really want to be a good father, but the reality of the situation is that I’m divorced and I only have my kids with me half the time. That plus my work schedule means that even when my kids are with me, we have to spend most of our time dealing with the basics: getting fed, getting homework done, getting to soccer practice, getting to bed at a reasonable time, etc. And because they are kids, they act up or move too slowly or whatever, so I get grouchy and snap at them. Is this all they will remember when they are grown up—me growling at them as we run from one thing to the next?
I want my kids to feel like they have a father—that I’m more than just the cranky guy hustling them through their day. But how can I do more when there never seems to be enough time?
Dad on the Run on Reading Rd.
Dear Dad on the Run,
I’m guessing there are many parents who share your concerns. Trying to squeeze being a dad or a mom into a tightly packed schedule is a big challenge. Sharing custody with your children’s mother may mean that your time with them is cut by half or more. And solo parenting when your kids are with you may mean doing twice as much on your own.
I appreciate that you feel there should be more to being a father than simply being your kid’s manager and chauffeur. Even when time is short, here are some ideas for ways you can build in more good experiences with your kids:
- Whether it has been a day or a week or two since you last saw your children, start by greeting them with a warm smile and a hug. Take a few minutes to show them that you are genuinely happy to see them, not just stressed about how much there is to do.
- Before running to the next thing, spend just a few more minutes to connect with each other. It can be very difficult for kids to exit from one-half of their family and join the other half. Don’t grill your kids with too many questions in your first few minutes together to get caught up with them. First, help them get caught up with you by filling them in on what’s new with you, what’s going on where you live, and what’s coming up in the schedule.
- As you go along, offer to teach your children something new and interesting. It might be how to pick out a ripe tomato or how to sort the recycling. Or maybe it’s teaching your child how to safely stir the bubbling spaghetti sauce or wipe the red splatters off the counter. Parenting isn’t just about taking care of kids day-to-day, it’s also about preparing them for the future. When life is hectic, it’s tempting to take the short cut and do everything for kids instead of showing them how to do things for themselves. Yet these life lessons are some of the most meaningful experiences that bind one generation to another, when your children someday remember, “I learned from my Dad how to cook this,” or “my Mom showed me how to fix this when it breaks.”
- Deal with problems more creatively with your kids. Time pressures can put pressure on grownups to do the problem solving for kids, either by giving kids what they want to avoid trouble or telling kids what to do to save time. You will save time over the long run when you problem solve together with your children. “I’m hearing a lot of fussing about getting ready for bed. Do you have some ideas about how we could make bedtime go more smoothly and easily for all of us?” Questions like these won’t solve every problem every time, of course. But just asking this type of question and letting your kids know you are willing to work cooperatively with them can create a more cooperative and friendly atmosphere.
- If you do only one thing, Dad, here is my #1 suggestion: Give each child their own 5-10 minutes of time with just you and nobody else every day or so when you are together. Your kids know that your time and attention are precious. Sharing even this little bit of one-on-one time with them shows that they are also precious to you. When time is short, every minute counts. Making it a priority to frequently give your kids a little bit of time with you without having to share you with anyone else will solidify and strengthen your relationship like nothing else. No matter how late it is, how tired you are, or how much there is to do, you can probably find a way to give each of your children five minutes of individual attention.
A few minutes for warm greetings and loving good-byes, a few minutes to offer to solve problems together, a few minutes to teach and practice new skills, and making it a priority to share at least a few minutes of private time together with your children will do much to smooth your way during these busy growing up years and build you a foundation for a solid relationship for years to come.