As part of my ongoing national seminar series based on the No Regrets Parenting book, I spoke on behalf of Children’s Hospital Colorado to a community parents’ group program this week. As usual, the questions at the end of the program were insightful, intelligent, and provocative. One mom, Lisse (not her real name) asked this heartfelt question:
“Everything you said tonight struck at my core, and I am trying to be that No Regrets Parent. But how can I get my husband to do the same. He doesn’t seem to enjoy his time with our kids. After work, he’ll sit and read the newspaper while the kids are playing in the same room and, when I ask him to spend the time with the kids, he says, ‘I am with the kids. We’re all here together.’ When he takes our daughter to swim meets, he spends the whole time on his iPad and doesn’t even watch her. I want him to be as excited about being a parent as I am. What should I do?”
There are no easy answers to these questions. Here’s what I suggested:
Find ways to help your husband “double-dip,” one of the “staying sane strategies” in No Regrets Parenting. I define double-dipping as doing activities that a parent and a child would both enjoy doing separately, and instead doing them together. Movie makers, for example, have figured this out and found it to be very profitable; today’s slick animated films are targeted to both adult and kid sensibilities. Some of the jokes are way above a child’s head, and the story lines may be as well, but there are also enough cute characters, goofy gags, and slapstick to tickle a wide range of childhood maturity levels. Two hours in the theater with your kids, everyone laughing (albeit, often at different times), everyone sharing popcorn, and everyone talking about the movie in the car on the way home. A great double-dip.
A few more examples:
Biking—Put the littlest ones in a trailer, the somewhat older ones on a trailer cycle that hooks onto your bike and lets your child pedal; once kids are old enough to bike next to you, they get their own wheels. You get outdoor exercise, your kids get fresh air, and you get each other.
Charity—Do a charity walk together; get sponsors and spend a weekend day in healthy outdoor activity for a good cause. Or have a spring-cleaning day where everyone collects clothes and toys from the closets and under the beds to donate. Then go to the collection center together and show your kids the act of giving.
Jogging—Strollers made for keeping your kids close while you’re pounding the pavement are perfect for together times that relieve, rather than create, stress.
Language lessons—Learn a second language together, listening to tapes on long car rides or in the dentist’s waiting room.
Swimming—The pool feels great on a hot day whether you’re an adult or a kid. When the kids are old enough to play in the pool unsupervised, you can swim laps while they splash their friends.
Reading—Books are one of the best ways to reconcile different attention levels and interests. Quiet time with everyone reading his or her own latest page-turner.
Snow-shoveling and leaf raking—Depending on the age of your kids, you may be doing most of the shoveling while you help them build a snowman, make snow angels, or have a snowball fight. The idea is that you’re all at the same place at the same time, sharing the experience. And the snow gets shoveled. Same idea with raking the leaves: you rake, and the kids play in the piles and help you fill the bags. As the kids get older, of course, feel free to assign them the harder parts of this partnership.
I suggested to Lisse (the mom at the seminar who asked the question) that she start slowly with No Regrets Parenting training for her husband. Have him announce “Time for READING CLUB” to the kids when he’s ready to sit with his newspaper, and gather the kids in the same room to read their books or magazines. Every 10 minutes or so, have him pause and ask the kids what they’re reading, and share what he’s reading (age-appropriate news only, of course). That’s double-dipping reading time. Lisse had another great suggestion based on one of the other strategies I presented in the seminar – she’ll ask her husband to video her daughter’s swim meets so they can watch together at night. Lisse can’t get to the meets because she works at those times, so now she’ll get to share the excitement and her husband will be pulled off his iPad.
Share your own suggestions for helping your spouse or partner get in the No Regrets Parenting spirit. Click on the title of this post, and a comments box will magically appear.