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Staying Home

Daddy in Demand: making the most of family time

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, pp. 26-28

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

My husband works long hours so I can stay home with our children. He is often tired, and the children really want to be with him when he's home. He finds it difficult to make the transition from work to home, feeling the demands on his time from both sides! How can we make the most of the time we have together without burning him out?

Mother's Response

It can be hard to wind down and put on your "daddy (or mommy) face" while everyone is clamoring for attention. It's hard to set aside your own needs and attend to your children's, especially when they all need you at once. I found it challenging as well when I came home from work.

My husband lost his job, which meant I returned to work part-time while he worked interim jobs. Paying for childcare was not an option, so I worked in the evening, leaving just as soon as he returned home. The children often weren't ready to go to sleep until I returned home, needing to reconnect with me before calling it a night.

I was fortunate to work close to home. I often took a few moments after work to clear my head, practice some relaxation techniques, and leave the office behind. If your husband works nearby, is walking to and from work an option? There's nothing like a little fresh air and exercise to clear your head and prepare you to face the next phase of the day. If your husband's job isn't close to your home, perhaps stocking the car with his favorite music would help him relax before he gets home.

When it was my turn to be the one who was waiting with the children for Daddy to come home, I made sure everyone had a snack in the late afternoon so they weren't both hungry and excited when he arrived home. It also helped to have a bit of a routine—snack, clean up, and so on. If your children are old enough, get them involved in a small project (coloring, play dough, reading), helping prepare dinner, or setting the table. I often carried one baby in the sling while the others were helping to make a salad. When times got tough, I turned on a favorite movie or television show.

Sit down with your husband and talk about what's most troubling to both of you during the transition time. Does he need a minute to compose himself? Take a shower? Read the paper? Eat a quick snack? What's most important to both of you about the time you have together? Would you rather play games or read together than eat a meal? Would you rather go for a walk than do the dishes right after dinner? Two heads are better than one; together you can create your own transition routine.

Mary Wagner-Davis
Roseville CA USA

Mother's Response

Maybe it would be fun for you and your children to get together and make or draw a short picture book about anything (your day, the weather, zoo animals). Then your little ones can "read" and share their book with Daddy when he gets home. Most tired people can spare five minutes for a child to read them a story they created. Maybe if your husband is forewarned to expect something special, he would be more receptive, and after seeing the children's delighted responses, he might get a second wind.

Little ones can also learn a little poem or song and put on a show for Daddy. I suggest that your husband have a few minutes to relax or eat something to help him unwind before the children surround him! Perhaps you can distract them in another room while they rehearse their surprise.

Dee Russell
Honeoye Fall NY USA

Mother's Response

I understand your situation. My husband farms and works every day, all week long, from dark until dark again. Sometimes the children don't get to see him for days at a time because he is gone to work before they wake up and he is not home again until they are asleep. The situation is compounded by the fact that I, as primary caregiver, do not get the same support or time to myself as mothers who have the ability to share more of the childcare with their partners. It's a lot of pressure for both parents!

Some of the ways my family has found to help this situation might work for you as well. It can help to have the children involved in an activity (like eating dinner or reading them a story) when your husband first comes home to give him just a few minutes of time to himself. The children are apt to wait with more patience if they know Daddy will be ready to play right after they finish dinner or the story is over. Some fathers take a few extra minutes in their vehicle to listen to a song or just sit in peace and quiet for a few moments before coming into the house. My husband plays with our children for a short time while I get dinner on the table. This way, I have a few critical minutes to myself at the time of day I need it most, and he can fully invest himself in play because he knows there is a definite ending not far away. Then, everyone is calmer for dinner and able to converse.

It also helps to eat together whenever we can. My children are darling during our family meals. They focus so much attention on their father and enjoy telling him what they have been doing. We each take a turn, one at a time, to say the best and worst things that happened that day. We also include the smaller children who can't really talk yet, and I translate for them.

My husband knows this is his time to connect with our children and he tries to pay special attention to their stories, and then tells his stories to the children in return.

Attention at bedtime is helpful, too. When your husband is getting home late and is tired, he may enjoy reading a bedtime story. My husband likes to be the designated "snuggler." That way he might get a quick nap while "helping" someone get to sleep. My children enjoy conversation at bedtime, and 10 extra minutes of visiting with Daddy at the end of the day can really help them connect. Making the most of everyday situations is the key for my family. Even if my husband is reading or talking with me, it helps if one of the children just sits on his lap to be close to him.

It can take a lot of work to maintain the connection between children and fathers who can't participate in a lot of their care. Be conscious of the importance of this bond, and it might help if you and your husband sit down and talk about both of your needs and roles, and how your family can best deal with the situation. Everyone will benefit from your efforts.

Jessica Rau
Derby KS USA

Mother's Response

One thing I have seen many fathers do over the years is lie down on the floor and let their children crawl over them while they close their eyes and "rest." It is amazing how relaxing this can be.

Patty Spanjer
Dalton GA USA

Mother's Response

In general, transitions are easier for some people than for others. My oldest son has always needed lots of preparation for changes, and always needs to know "the plan" ahead of time. My other boys are more flexible. It's easy to forget that, as adults, we also have unique temperaments. A lot of stress can be avoided if we honor the needs of each family member's temperament, Dad included.

My husband is very introverted and thoughtful. He needs lots of time to himself and takes a while to process things. If one of the boys approaches him with an activity the moment he comes in the door, my husband doesn't respond well. If my husband has time, however, to settle in, change his clothes, and look at the mail, then he is more receptive. The boys have figured this out over the years without either of us having to tell them! (This doesn't mean they always remember!)

Parenting is more difficult for some people than for others as well, especially if your children have different temperaments than you. For example, it might be hard for an introvert to understand the energy of an extroverted child: "Why does he need my attention so much!?" Again, if we can just accept each family member's needs as needs, and try to meet each person's, life will run more smoothly and happily.

When babies are small, their needs trump all others, but fortunately those needs are often met easily and quickly (through nursing, holding, or babywearing). After baby's needs are met, it's important to make your home a safe, welcoming, fun place for everyone else in the family. As your children get older the logistics change—it doesn't necessarily get easier, it just gets different! Don't wait until the children grow up to make sure that your husband, and you, are happy in your roles. Remember that change is always an option. Don't limit yourselves to the obvious choices if they're not working for you.

Also, remember to thank each other for what you do for the family. A little appreciation can go a long way!

Cheryl Peachey Stoner
Hesston KS USA

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