Q: “I’m a dad of two daughters, a baby and a toddler. My work has me leaving early and coming home late, sometimes not until right before bedtime or after. How can I establish a bond with my girls when I’m away from them so much? Do you have any suggestions for making the time I spend with them quality time?”
I’ll tell you what I know. I’m a father of two young ones, myself – a three-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. Also, I’ve seen every episode of “Full House,” so I’m kind of an expert in fathering.
The good news is that your heart is obviously in the right place. You’re thinking about these things and asking the right questions. You’re conscious of the bond you’re establishing with your daughters during their early years, and that’s the most important thing.
The biggest bummer of parenthood is that we have to provide for our children and afford to house them, feed them and give them the tools they need to succeed, like an iPhone and a Phillips-head screwdriver. That means working long, hard hours at our jobs, physically separated from the kids for whom we’re working so hard for, in the first place.
It’s a conundrum, I understand.
I travel for my job, so there are days where I get home just in time to tuck the kids into bed. That’s not great when I think about all the time I’m missing out on. We don’t get those moments back. All we can do is make the best of what time we’re given.
And bedtime is rich with opportunities to make an impact in your children’s young lives. I’ll tell you why: Children crave rituals. Not usually the sort that involve torches and hoods and chanting, of course. I’m guessing your kids aren’t asking for those kinds of rituals though, otherwise your question would have probably been along the lines of: “Why are my children always hanging out in the woods after dark in their robes? And what’s with all the chanting that goes on in my house?”
Think routines. Bedtime is a process that they can be able to count on reliably. Pick up toys, take a bath, put on pajamas, brush your teeth and hair, read a book, go to sleep. Same thing, same order, every night. If you’re getting home just in time for bed, make sure you’re participating in the bedtime ritual and, I guarantee you, it’ll carve a special place for you into your children’s hearts.
Be present in those moments. Don’t be looking at your phone or thinking about what you should have said to Dan at work when he gave you that attitude you totally didn’t deserve (stupid Dan). Keep your head in the game, and soak in every minute you have with the kids.
Remember, though, the task at hand. As dads, we’re easily distracted, and our minds will eventually wander to the big questions like, “I wonder if I can lift both kids over my head at the same time?” I know that we have to prepare our children to one day qualify for “American Ninja Warrior,” but bedtime is not the time for tests of agility and equilibrium. It’s a time to be really, really boring.
I’m great at this. Both of my kids think I’m super dull. They’re wrong, of course. I’m a lot of fun. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you. Unless they’re short, young, look a little bit like me, and they live at the same address as I do. But I don’t struggle with getting them to sleep, because I’m totally chill after 8:00 p.m. every weekday night.
And weekend night. My life is basically over.
Remember to read to your kids, also. We’ve been reading 1-5 stories per night to our three-year-old, and the daycare suspects that he can secretly read. He’s just a little too up on current events for it to be a coincidence.
Just love your kids. Talk to them. Let them know how special they are. Make sure they understand that, when you’re at work, you’re working for them. And when you’re at home, you’re there for them then, too.