“Daddy’s home!, daddy’s home!,” the boys shriek most afternoons as my car pulls into the drive way, frequently loud enough to make our neighbours smile. It is almost movie like as they run out to greet me, enthusiasm overflowing, and expectant that Dad is going to play with them and has some interesting stories to tell.
But the next few hours are the hardest time of the day for me as I battle selfishness, tiredness and generalised apathy with the needs of two little boys.
I have “sensible” thoughts of wanting to check email, watch the news, chill with a drink or go to the gym!
But this is the time of the day, which involves the battleground of dinner, bath time, winding down and story time which can be extremely stressful and tiring for both parents and children who are fading quickly.
No wonder most parents of young children fall into a heap on the couch and watch random reality TV shows until bedtime.
A senior colleague once told me how he avoided evenings with his two young ones and “delegated” this to his wife, choosing to pick up after-hours work instead. I will never forget his face change as he told me he wished he’d been at home during this time and that although his son was 12, he felt he’d missed a great deal of time with him and that routine of bath time and story time were so valuable.
But there is a way to approach this. I struggle everyday with this but have found a few things that have worked
1) Come home earlier or on time
This may be hard for some but choosing home over work is the first step. You may decide to start at 8am and finish at 4pm instead of 9am-5pm and choose to push that after work meeting to within hours or in the morning.
Coming home earlier most of all helps your wife/partner to share the load and hopefully catches kids before they start to derail.
The revelation here is that kids spell LOVE with T-I-M-E.
2) Play as a team – zone or man to man
This of course becomes more difficult as children start to outnumber you (choose zone) but instead of taking it all on, teamwork is the best option here.
Taking the kids outside for a play as soon you come home helps (I like wrestling and chasing them around). Be in charge of dinner or baths and simultaneously clean up or get them dressed.
Story time is my favourite time of the routine.
Never miss a chance to read your kids a story, it is one of the most rewarding experiences of being a parent – Max Lucado “Dad time”
3) Know it is going to be tough but work with end result in sight
The end result here is independence but the road here is paved with the daily grind of screaming, mess and reading the same story over and over again.
But once home knowing that you’ll be tired and likely thinking about work is normal but the benefits of engaging your children and helping during this time are huge, not just for their development but for your marriage and your maturity.
Benefits of being present during the night time routine:
1) Training produces results
The formative years spent at home are the most important. Children learn obedience, patience, boundaries and how to behave and treat one another.
The simple act of the night-time routine lays an excellent foundation in engaging with your kids, providing instruction and setting boundaries, reinforced everyday by loving adults.
Getting it right early counts and compounds with time.
2) Helping out releases your wife
Being able to share the load that your wife or partner has been carrying all day is essential for her wellbeing and your marriage. In the years where kids are dependent, coming home on time or early helps immensely and nothing makes a husband sexier than one who helps out.
Helping during this time conveys to your wife that she is important and highlights her place at the top of your priorities.
This season will not last a life-time as when your kids are grown up, there will be no one home at 4pm needing your constant attention.
This is encouragement to dads and also mums who struggle at this time of the day. This is the season in life where routine can take over spontaneity and fatigue and chaos cohabitate. But take heart, as Max Lucado says “succeed at home first”.
Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP