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Darren H

Activities/hobbies with young children

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I'm guessing this is a common scenario. I see my daughters (2-1/2 and 5) for a few minutes before I leave for work every morning and then, after I get home between 5:30 and 6:00, I get to spend about two hours with them before we start the bedtime routine. A good portion of that time is spent cooking and/or cleaning up after dinner, so I really only have 60 minutes, and too often I feel at the end of the day that I squandered it because I was short-tempered and tired from work or distracted by other projects or cleaning up a mess or whatever.

 

I want to have a better parenting practice, and I'm wondering if any of you have advice. My older daughter in particular is very demanding of attention. Nothing would make her happier than to know that after dinner she and her sister and I will be doing that thing we do together. I don't want to overschedule our lives, but I also don't want to feel a guilty sense of relief when the two of them run off and play together during those few minutes in the week when I can be a patient, present father to them.

 

Does that make sense?

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A friend of ours who is a child psychologist recommended a short time of focused attending.  It's typical for us to attempt to relate to our boys on our terms, like sports in the yard or reading or fishing, and the kids often go along with it because of wanting to spend time with mom and dad, but that still leaves them acting out for attention (not to mention now that we are gearing to move again and have imported a surly brother in law who's got his own share of "pay attention to me" quirks).

 

But our friend suggested to just join the boys in whatever it is they want (science experiments, play, drawing, ipads, whatever) and just engage them and allow them to lead the the interaction.  It seems to really be a valuable time and if we still have things to do, we are able to bail after 15 minutes or so.  That connection time is super helpful at building confidence in them and of course as circumstances allow we spend more time (bike rides and pool, right now).  I'm seeing our boys at their level with them leading the way. 

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Darren, this absolutely makes sense, and I can certainly empathize. My kids (5, 3 and 3 months) all love having "Daddy time" with me. The above suggestion to enter their world and activity, rather than try to make them do the things I'd want to do, has been both humbling and fruitful. But I've also found benefits by inviting them into my "adult world" and treating them as a gift and having full human being status, rather than a burden. The older my kids get, I've set aside a regular weekly 60-90 minute large chunk of time for a meal or date or activity with them. So, yesterday I picked up my son from kindergarten and asked him what he wanted to do. We ended up getting frozen yogurt (his choice), going to the bank (my choice), and taking the car through a car wash (both our chosen activities), then picking up coffee for Mommy. It was incredibly simple, and even productive, but also very significant for my son (he commented after the car wash, "I love hanging out like this, Daddy.")

 

I think the word my wife and I come back to often is rhythm--what is the current rhythm and pacing of our lives? Sometimes I'm more energized and present and gracious; other weeks are more frantic and draining, and time with my kids feels like a significant sacrifice. It does take discipline in scheduling, but that doesn't have to become legalistic or boring. We have times of individual play and rest, times of whole-family activities, times of one-on-one with parents, times where the older two kids play together on their own. When we look back on a week and there's a good rhythm of all these things, it feels sustainable.

 

Also, Sabbath. We have attempted to incorporate a legitimate Sabbath in our lives, 24 hours of rest and fun and general lack of productivity, from dinner on Friday night to dinner on Saturday. It's the one spiritual discipline I have always found difficult and/or unnecessary, until I experienced a season of burnout and depression due to overworking myself. Sabbath has dramatically changed my perspective on time, and vastly increased the energy I bring to our family times together.

 

Hope that makes sense and is encouraging, from one father to another.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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Oh yeah. Makes perfect sense. I offer a list in response because I have found that doing actual things in a loose structure over the course of a week is the best way to connect with my daughter:

 

1. Leave some sort of note/correspondence before leaving for work on most mornings. In first grade, this took the form of a book I bound for her. Each day I would write a new bit of pithy instruction for the day. Second grade I was far too casual about this. Next year I will be writing a "How to Survive the Third Grade" book, with new instructions each week.

 

2. Each Sunday pick 2 weeknights during the upcoming week that are untouchable. These are reserved for watching the current family show, playing board games, or swimming. 

 

3. Always have a book that we are reading together, read it on evenings/weekends whenever possible. We have a big spreadsheet on books read and books to read. 

 

4. Saturdays belong to us. I have a full time job and two part-time lectureships. I work a lot. On two continents. But on Saturday, good luck trying to get anything out of me. The highest Saturday priority is adventure, preferably of the natural variety. On "Family Exploration Day," the goal is to be together, exert ourselves, see something beautiful, and most importantly: secretly and slowly instill self-confidence into my daughter by placing having her negotiate obstacles, push herself physically, etc... 

 

5. Sunday catechism. Right now, I pick one image-heavy Proverb, translate it for the kids, and then have them draw pictures about what they learned. I will soon be starting them on a catechism that we will do during this time. 

 

6. Monthly dates. This year, we are trying to find the best pizza in St. Louis. On these monthly dates, we review our current reading and update the spreadsheet. Then we tell jokes and giggle.

 

So this is the stuff we do. She is eight now, but I had started laying the groundwork for this pattern when she was five with 2, 3, and 4. We are not always consistent with this pattern, but I don't get bent out of shape about that. 

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Oh yeah. Makes perfect sense. I offer a list in response because I have found that doing actual things in a loose structure over the course of a week is the best way to connect with my daughter:

 

1. Leave some sort of note/correspondence before leaving for work on most mornings. In first grade, this took the form of a book I bound for her. Each day I would write a new bit of pithy instruction for the day. Second grade I was far too casual about this. Next year I will be writing a "How to Survive the Third Grade" book, with new instructions each week.

 

2. Each Sunday pick 2 weeknights during the upcoming week that are untouchable. These are reserved for watching the current family show, playing board games, or swimming. 

 

3. Always have a book that we are reading together, read it on evenings/weekends whenever possible. We have a big spreadsheet on books read and books to read. 

 

4. Saturdays belong to us. I have a full time job and two part-time lectureships. I work a lot. On two continents. But on Saturday, good luck trying to get anything out of me. The highest Saturday priority is adventure, preferably of the natural variety. On "Family Exploration Day," the goal is to be together, exert ourselves, see something beautiful, and most importantly: secretly and slowly instill self-confidence into my daughter by placing having her negotiate obstacles, push herself physically, etc... 

 

5. Sunday catechism. Right now, I pick one image-heavy Proverb, translate it for the kids, and then have them draw pictures about what they learned. I will soon be starting them on a catechism that we will do during this time. 

 

6. Monthly dates. This year, we are trying to find the best pizza in St. Louis. On these monthly dates, we review our current reading and update the spreadsheet. Then we tell jokes and giggle.

 

So this is the stuff we do. She is eight now, but I had started laying the groundwork for this pattern when she was five with 2, 3, and 4. We are not always consistent with this pattern, but I don't get bent out of shape about that. 

I may have to steal most or all of this. Such good stuff, and really captures the rhythm concept we practice in our family, only you've described it in much more concrete practices. #2 is especially helpful for me--it gives ownership and the power of choice to my kids, while also remaining flexible with my ever-changing schedule.

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Good stuff? I guess that's my cue to come make trouble.

 

 

 

 I see my daughters (2-1/2 and 5) for a few minutes before I leave for work every morning and then, after I get home between 5:30 and 6:00

 

This is easier to change on the front end than it is on the back. Are you willing to make that change?

 

 

 

 

I get to spend about two hours with them before we start the bedtime routine.[

Two hours with them -- before the bedtime routine -- and you're complaining? Serious first-world/white-collar problems here. 

 

 

 

A good portion of that time is spent cooking and/or cleaning up after dinner[

And that's part of a nightly routine. Kids like routines, especially if they're made to be part of those routines. It's also good for them to see daddy going about his routines, doing chores around the house, etc.

 

 

 

so I really only have 60 minutes

Again, that's a lot of time to spend with young kids each day.

 

 

 

and too often I feel at the end of the day that I squandered it because I was short-tempered and tired from work or distracted by other projects or cleaning up a mess or whatever.

Fair concern, but why shouldn't your kids understand that daddy gets tired after work? What are you trying to shield them from? They need to learn boundaries, and if one of those boundaries is "give daddy a little space after he comes home from work," that's fine. Your kids won't be scarred or even slightly damaged by this, unless they sense a guilty conscience on your part.

 

 

 

My older daughter in particular is very demanding of attention. Nothing would make her happier than to know that after dinner she and her sister and I will be doing that thing we do together.

Here's where the alarm bells start going off. Don't give her the attention she demands. Don't do the thing that "would make her happier." And don't feel bad about that. You're raising your child to be an adult some day, so start now. 

 

 

 

 

I don't want to overschedule our lives, but I also don't want to feel a guilty sense of relief when the two of them run off and play together during those few minutes in the week when I can be a patient, present father to them.

Again, alarm bells. Them running off to play is a great thing, a major parenting accomplishment! When it happens, celebrate! They're kids. Let them do kid things with other kids. You're their dad. You're the parent, not the friend they run off with when they want to play. 

 

You've written often about your admiration and affection for your wife. What strikes me most about your post today is that you don't mention her at all. Remember when you get home after a long day that part of the reason you have to get the kids to bed is so that you can be a husband. Not a husband who spends his time with his wife talking only about the kids -- especially about whatever [shudder] guilt you might be feeling for not spending more time with them

 

Marriage first. Kids second.  

Edited by Christian

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Dude, did someone pee in your Wheaties this morning?

 

I'm tracking with your advice, especially "marriage first, kids second" (which is a useful pattern in all sorts of situations), but I'm not sure the message will have the resonance you intend.  I.e, it feels a little harsh, tonally, and while it could be just me, made me react defensively, which, I'm sure, is not the intention you have.

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Do I need to take down another post? Sigh. 

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It could just be me, you know?

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Not just you, Buckeye. Christian, I'm not disagreeing with the advice given, necessarily, but when you frame it as all the previous "good stuff" shared is questionable or missing the point, it does take on an unnecessary tone of antagonism, i.e. let me tell ya some real parenting advice.

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My older daughter in particular is very demanding of attention. Nothing would make her happier than to know that after dinner she and her sister and I will be doing that thing we do together.

Here's where the alarm bells start going off. Don't give her the attention she demands. Don't do the thing that "would make her happier." And don't feel bad about that. You're raising your child to be an adult some day, so start now. 

 

 

 

This I disagree with. If I were to take your advice with my 3 year old it would create more trouble than it's worth. What kind of adult am I training him to be?

 

A friend of ours who is a child psychologist recommended a short time of focused attending.  It's typical for us to attempt to relate to our boys on our terms, like sports in the yard or reading or fishing, and the kids often go along with it because of wanting to spend time with mom and dad, but that still leaves them acting out for attention (not to mention now that we are gearing to move again and have imported a surly brother in law who's got his own share of "pay attention to me" quirks).

 

But our friend suggested to just join the boys in whatever it is they want (science experiments, play, drawing, ipads, whatever) and just engage them and allow them to lead the the interaction.  It seems to really be a valuable time and if we still have things to do, we are able to bail after 15 minutes or so.  That connection time is super helpful at building confidence in them and of course as circumstances allow we spend more time (bike rides and pool, right now).  I'm seeing our boys at their level with them leading the way. 

 

This is a solution to both Darren's desire and still maintains the boundaries that Christian is so concerned about. It sounds like my eldest is like Darren's, and will take as much time as we give. But just a short 10-15 min of focused attention really makes a world of difference in both of our lives.

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Christian, most days my kids and I are awake and in the same location for two hours. I'm not talking about my marriage here, I'm not expressing deep guilt and angst, I'm asking how others use that time effectively. Keep your scolding to yourself.

 

Jeez, talk about alarm bells.

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Well, anyway...

 

With 3 teens in the house, one of whom will be heading to UT this fall, my kids' parental quality time needs and wants are very different than yours.  Your post, however, did stir up some memories of my own feelings during that time, as well as what worked and what didn't work at that age:

- Some down time at the end of the workday has always been valuable to me, whether it's a bit of reading, surfing the web, or whatever.  After some alone time, I always felt more prepared to attend to my kids and actually have fun with them.  The activities varied, depending on the weather and our inclinations:  pushing them on the swingset, piggyback rides, building a railway city with Thomas the Tank Engine gear and MegaBloks, etc.  Regardless, the kids loved their daddy time, and vice versa.

- My wife was very good about establishing a nightly routine of bedtime stories, in which we both read to them.  As the kids grew older, they took turns reading aloud, too.  Definitely some good quality time.

- Each weekend, one afternoon was almost always just for our nuclear family - sometimes a structured visit to a kids' museum or community playground, or more often, just unstructured play and relax time at home.  Good stuff.

 

Lastly, I know that not every family's budget can manage this, all of us loved our family vacations together.  As a certified introvert, I've always found extended family get-togethers to be a mix of stress and pleasure, so I'm talking about the joys of travelling with just the wife and kids.  Away from quotidian distractions and aggravations, these were wonderful times to cement the parent-child bond, take cool family photos, and create terrific memories.  

 

Once my kids got a bit older, I then branched out into the occasional parent and (one) child vacation.  My oldest son Jonathan was nearly eight when we first did this, and all of my kids still look back fondly on these adventures.  We decided on the destination and key stops along the way together, so it was very much a team effort.

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This conversation has proven really useful to me, if for no other reason than it's made me more conscious and attentive when I get home at night. So, thanks.

 

Andrew, I remember you telling me about your one-on-one vacations when we hung out in Knoxville. (By the way, you'll need to start scheduling your visits to Ktown around our Public Cinema screenings. The fall lineup should be pretty strong.) I doubt we'll ever do week-long trips like that, but I do want to start making a better effort to spend time alone with each of the girls, like Mike mentions doing with his daughter.

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