Dear Mr. Dad
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Alone Time For Dad Brings Family Harmony
by Armin Brott
Dear Mr. Dad: I work full time and my wife is a stay-at-home mom of our three kids. Sometimes when I come home after a very stressful day, I really need some time to myself to unwind. My wife thinks I'm being selfish. Am I?
A: Dear Mr. Dad: I work full time and my wife is a stay-at-home mom of our three kids. Sometimes when I come home after a very stressful day, I really need some time to myself to unwind. My wife thinks I'm being selfish. Am I?
A: Not at all, as long as you make sure that your wife gets the same amount of alone time as you do.
Having some time alone will give you time to focus solely on your own needs--which is a pretty hard thing to do. In some families, a stay-at-home mom will try to hand the children off to dad the second he walks in the door. The problem with that is that he's just as stressed as she is and may interpret her actions as saying that he's not doing his share. Yes, he's doing less around the house and with the kids, but what he's doing is making it possible for there to be food on the table, a roof over their heads, and for mom to not have to work. The result of dads being subtly (or directly) told that they aren't contributing is resentment and repressed anger.
Probably the most important reason for alone time is what could be called the "flight attendant theory." When you're on a plane, the flight attendants always say that if there's a drop in cabin pressure and oxygen masks drop, adults should put theirs on first and then help their children. The idea is the same with alone time: You can't help anyone else with their needs if yours aren't being met. Dads who are stressed aren't going to be truly "there" when they're with their kids. They'll be distracted, tired, and possibly tense and upset. Getting some time alone will make dad a better father.
One twist to the alone time question is that dads who have more than one child need to get some time alone with each one. Parents of two or more spend a huge amount of time refereeing squabbles between siblings and not enough time getting to know the kids and giving them the chance to get to know him. There's also the issue of sibling jealousy. The oldest child, by definition, had lots of time alone with dad, but all subsequent children have to share him. Most dads I've spoken with who are in this situation really cherish the individual time--and most younger kids are incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
Finally, in addition to scheduling alone time for yourself and your wife as individuals, the two of you should try to schedule time together as a couple, away from the kids. The better you feel about your marriage, the better you'll be able to parent and the more supportive you'll be of each other and of the other person's need for alone time.
As to how to get that alone time, there's no shortage of ways:
- get up a few minutes and do some meditation or get some exercise.
- take a class in something you used to do before becoming a parent, or want to learn how to do
- write in a journal
- hit some softballs at one of those batting cages
- go away for the weekend with the guys
- go to a movie
- if the alone time is with one child, do something the child loves to do, but try to make it an opportunity for interaction (movies aren't that great because there's no chance to talk) or discussion during or afterwards. Again, the object is to get to know each other and to develop a relationship. Camping trips are wonderful, as are activities that give dad and child a chance to learn a skill or overcome a challenge at the same time (otherwise dad will probably be better and the child will be jealous, or the dad might be disappointed that the child isn't learning as quickly as he hoped). Rope courses, sailing, white water rafting, figure drawing, etc. It's also possible for the dad to make the child part of something he's already involved with, as long as it doesn't become too competitive.
Armin Brott, hailed by Time as "the superdad's superdad," has written or co-written six critically acclaimed books on fatherhood, including the newly released second edition of Fathering Your Toddler: A Dad's Guide to the Second and Third Years. Armin Brott has just released a brand new DVD, "Toolbox for New Dads... because babies don't come with instructions!" Purchase it at www.mrdad.com/dvd/. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, American Baby, Parenting, Child, Men's Health, The Washington Post among others. Armin is an experienced radio and TV guest, and has appeared on Today, CBS Overnight, Fox News, and Politically Incorrect. He's the host of "Positive Parenting," a weekly radio program in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com and listen to his podcast at http://mrdad.com/daddycast/.