We are all very fortunate around here. We've got a fun, loving, involved dad. But, especially with our first baby, I really didn't do much to help that be the case. I had some things to learn. I had to figure out that the best thing I could do for my husband was to . . . let him do it HIS way.
That's it. If you can do that, he'll be all set. Easier said than done, of course.
I don't mean not being on the same page as far as important family rules and general parenting philosophy. Those are conversations parents should have together and, ideally, agree about.
I mean letting fathering look different than mothering. And I mean not undermining his confidence and authority.
1. Let him try HIS stuff out on the baby.
For newborns, that means letting dad hold the baby not quite just the way I've figured out is exactly the best way to hold that particular newborn. It means letting him do it his way. It means letting him hold the baby like this:
Even though those are CLEARLY not the right way to hold a baby. Clearly.
Pay no attention to the fact that baby Jack is sleeping soundly/having a blast. There's no accounting for him. ;0)
2. Don't immediately rush in to rescue baby (or dad).
But even if the baby is fussing, even if the baby is crying, if mom immediately swoops in and takes the baby away, how will dad ever figure it out for himself? It's a hard row to hoe, but in my experience, letting dad figure out how HE wants to hold the baby, or walk the baby, or feed the baby, or change the baby, means that occasionally *I* won't have to be the one holding the baby.
Sometimes it's just not going to work. If a baby is hungry around here, he needs his mama. But that's not always the problem. If I always rush in and take over, especially if I take over with an exasperated, "Let me have him, I'll just do it," dad will never get the chance to become a confident baby-holder. And that's not good for any of the three of us.
3. Let dad time be about quality, not quantity.
For toddlers and older kids, letting my husband be a good dad means understanding that, usually, mothering is about quantity, and fathering is about quality.
I stay home with the kids. I am a near constant presence in their lives. Quantity time. We got it. I'm always there, meeting their needs. I make sure they are fed and dressed. I tend boo boos. I hand out time outs. I read aloud to them, and admire their drawings and Lego creations, but I do very little in the way of dedicated play with them. We have the occasional tea party or board game. I'm their primary educator. But I've got a lot going on at any given moment in this house, so there's not much playing.
My husband works outside the home. He makes a point of being home for dinner, but most days that means he only sees the little kids for an hour or two. That's okay, though, because fathering is different than mothering. From him, they get quality time. They get books read aloud, and artwork admired, AND they get dinosaurs played with, and board games suffered through, and train tracks put together. (I have my kids convinced that I don’t know how to put train tracks together OR change batteries.)
Whether we work outside the home or not, whether we homeschool or not, mothering is often about being THERE. It's about meeting the needs and wants of our children in more of a slow and steady way. Whether I am a drink Tab and lock them outside type mom or a tea party and box fort type mom, what my kids will probably remember most is that I was around if they needed me. But a father's interactions with his kids are often more about intense moments of awesomeness. It's nice that my kids can have both.
I don't need to keep track of the difference in parenting hours logged between mom and dad, because we are really filling different needs for our kids.
4. Let them roughhouse.
Even better, they get types of play with their dad that they wouldn't ever get from me. They get chased and wrestled with and thrown in the air. They get riled up right before bedtime. And they love it.
Even though sometimes it makes me nervous to watch.
But every bit of research says it's a VERY good thing for kids to roughhouse with their dads. Which means every bit of research says it's a very good thing for mom to quit trying to make them stop.
I can always just go take a bath so I can't hear it.
5. Be willing to be a little flexible.
And while routine and bedtimes are important, sometimes a little more of that quality time they get with dad is more important. It's my goal to have the kids finished with homework and chores in the afternoon, so that they are available for those times when they'd be able to see their dad. If dad has a later day, I try to let the kids stay up until he gets home. Even if I'm really, really, REALLY ready to not have them around any more. Occasionally, they get to go on a special outing with dad, even if it means they'll miss nap time.
Sometimes I have to remind myself how important it is. It's easy for me to get so caught up in following our routine that I forget about our family's priorities.
If your kids have a confident, engaged dad, then just keep doing what you're doing. But if, like me, your natural inclinations are sometimes at odds with encouraging fathering, maybe all he needs is the opportunity to do it his way.
I know around here, we are all better for it.
Here's wishing your family a very Happy Father's Day!
p.s. Did you see this year's free Father's Day printables?
p.p.s. The newest episode of the Fountains of Carrots Podcast features . . . me. You're going to want to check it out, to hear a great discussion with my fellow bloggers and friends Haley and Christy about social media, blogging, and parenting in and around the internet. Also you'll get to hear why people always ask me if my mom is home when I answer the phone. (I usually say, "I think so. But she doesn't live here.")