A mug on Father’s Day that says “World’s Greatest Dad” is nice, but Dad wants to be included on a daily basis. If Baby has made three into a crowd, here’s some great advice from Moms who enjoy a parenting partnership with their spouses, which we’ve compiled into six ways to make Dad feel like it’s Father’s Day every day.
“WALK AWAY AND LET HIM DO IT WRONG”
Having a partner who wants to be more included in the parenting process is a wonderful thing. And Moms who want their spouses to get more involved need to let go a little. Ceding control to their child’s other parent is the first step. “One great piece of advice I got as a first-time mom was, ‘Walk away and let him do it wrong,’” says Kelly, mother of one. While, of course, safety always comes first, mothers should resist the urge to micromanage their partner’s every move. “Let him muddle through a diaper change and don’t swoop in,” says Kelly. “If he puts it on wrong, the worst thing that will happen is one more thing to put in the laundry. Which, you know, was going to happen anyway.”
Leigh has a toddler son with her husband, Jake. “I think the best way was to treat my husband as someone whose opinion mattered,” she says. “I think giving him equal weight in the decision making—vaccinations, pediatrician choice, circumcision, etc.—were critical.” Dad won’t feel welcome in the decision-making and parenting process if he isn’t treated like an equal. And he won’t get things like diaper-changing or choosing an outfit right if he isn’t given the chance to try. “It was so great for everyone that [my husband] was respected as a parent from the get-go (as he should be!),” says Kelly. “and not treated like an incompetent sitcom dad.”
We’re not talking about running off on a family vacation or playing hooky from work (who can afford to do that, anyway?). When Marcy wants to encourage her husband, Aiden, to spend more time with the kids, she makes a plan for herself that takes her away from the house, whether it’s meeting up with a friend for some grown-up time, or hitting a cafe with a book or a writing assignment. Then Aiden gets one-on-one time with the kids. “Otherwise, they just want me, and I end up doing everything,” Marcy explains. When Mom is the primary caregiver, kids may automatically look to her, not Dad, when both parents are there. That’s why sometimes it can be beneficial for everyone when Dad is the only parent present. If the kids are in need of some fresh air, maybe Mom can stay home and catch up on some sleep or get some work done while Dad takes the kids on a family outing. A trip to the zoo or a walk through a local park can provide the setting for some much-needed father and child bonding time.
With the ability to take crystal-clear photos or videos on smartphones and send them on the spot to anyone with a phone or an internet connection, it’s easier than ever to communicate the thousand (or more) words a picture can provide. And sometimes a photo or video just feels more special than a recap over dinner; visuals can help the parent who is missing out on the fun feel more connected. A Dad who comes home from work to hear that his toddler took her first steps or his six-year-old enjoyed her first bike ride sans training wheels can really feel that he’s missing out on his kids’ milestone moments. Page, a mother of two, uses her iPhone to keep her husband posted throughout the day, and not just with phone calls. “I try to forward my husband any pictures or videos that I take on the iPhone right away, so he feels that he knows what [the kids] are up to.” Of course, the traditional use of a phone is welcome, too. “ I have my daughter call him at work, and talk to him, if he is not home by bedtime,” adds Page.
Mitch adores his six-year-old daughter Hilary and baby Pete, but works a full-time job and is often away from home. His wife, Sara, is a stay-at-home mom and thus, Hilary and Pete’s primary caregiver. “[Mitch] works such late hours and only sees the kids in the morning,” laments Sara. It’s perfectly natural that Mitch would feel left out, but what to do? A family counselor had a unique and creative suggestion for addressing Mitch and Hilary’s relationship: a “family mailbox.” “It’s a shoebox that we decorated,” says Sara. “Mitch writes notes and draws pictures for Hilary. She goes and checks the box when she gets home from school and then makes a special note or picture for Mitch and puts it in the box.” The mailbox provides an opportunity for Mitch and Hilary to communicate even when Mitch isn’t home. “It’s sort of like he’s here talking to her in the afternoons when he can’t actually be around,” says Sara. The mailbox has been such a hit that Mitch and Sara are planning on keeping it around for when baby Pete gets older. Getting creative—and thinking of unique and fun ways to stay in touch even when Dad has to work long hours—can be key to fostering close father-child relationships, especially when Dad can’t be at home as much as he’d like.
DIAPER (AND FEEDING AND BATHING AND BEDTIME) DUTY
It can often seem like Moms do it all—changing Baby’s diaper in a flash, presiding over rubber duckies and detangler during bathtime, and acting as Baby’s sole food source while breastfeeding. And not only are all of these activities essential to Baby’s well-being, they’re also opportunities for parent and child to bond. But if Mom is doing it all, it’s no wonder Dad can often feel like a third wheel. Encouraging Dad to take on some diaper duty or give Baby a bath—even if it’s just once or twice a week—can help him feel more included in your child’s daily life. “We put my husband ‘in charge’ of our daughter’s evening bath right from the get-go,” says Sharon, mother to a little girl. “It became their special time (and gave me a break).” Kelly’s husband took over bedtime, and “[he] figured out all kinds of tricks,” says Kelly. “And to this day, he is better than me at knowing when the baby is ready for bed (because they hang out alone together when he comes home from work.)”
And while there’s no question that breastfeeding is the best choice for your bab—as recommended by organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization—there’s no reason Dad can’t get in on the act, too, by way of using pumped breastmilk to bottle-feed Baby. “I breastfed my son exclusively for a long time,” says Jenna. “But from the beginning, I pumped my milk so that my husband could also bottle feed our son and enjoy that cuddling and bonding moment.” Lila concurs: “As soon as I was able, I pumped a bottle a day so that [my husband] could feed her her final evening feed. I think this went a long way towards bonding for them.”
When Dad wants to feel more included, and Mom needs a break from the minute-to-minute, day-to-day care of Baby, specific tasks like bath time or feeding can feel like the most important ways for Dad to be involved. But don’t forget that just having fun is a simple way to seriously bond. When Dad leaves for work in the morning without being able to linger over breakfast, and comes home from work after bedtime, he may feel as though he’s the Invisible Man. “There is no better way to make your partner feel loved than by sending in the troops into our bed on a weekend morning, and having them shower him with tickles and kisses,” says Page. Maybe it’s a walk to the local ice cream shop for a special treat, a dance-off in the living room to Yo Gabba Gabba, or sprawling out on the floor for a marathon Lego-building session. Whatever way father and child might choose to be silly, having fun with Dad is not only essential for children, but a way to remind Dad that he’s loved not just on Father’s Day but every day.