After our children were grown and out of the house, Tim and I were called upon to help a brand new mom who was headed back to the hospital for emergency surgery. We savored the task at hand, helping these young parents while being able to love on an infant. While I was in the kitchen warming a bottle, Tim was also busy. I came back into the living room to discover he had folded all of their laundry. I didn’t recall him ever voluntarily folding laundry in our home during the 30 years we’ve been married. A few days later, he schlepped me to Costco, helped fetch the items on my list, went to the other end of the store when I forgot an item, came home, and helped parcel out and put everything away. This was another first. Tearfully I asked him, “Where were you 10, or even 15 years ago when the house was swarming with children, laundry was piled up, and I didn’t go to Costco until everyone was down for the night?” His simple response, “I was overwhelmed.”
As I considered his response and reflected on my heart during those years of having too much to do and too few hours in which to do them all, I thought of the resentment, the tears, and the hushed prayers of forgiveness as the Holy Spirit convicted me to look at the condition of my own heart. Would I have responded differently if I knew my husband was not being lazy but he was simply overwhelmed? Overwhelmed by the constant demands of a full house, overwhelmed by the need to be on top of his game every day at work and keep current on his job, and overwhelmed as he battled Los Angeles traffic twice a day. This caused me to pause and to ponder, what could I have done differently?
Many dads “go to” reaction when asked by their wives for a much needed break is to turn on the television for the children, put on a movie, or play a video game with them. This is seldom what we moms would consider quality father-child time. What can you do instead to help your husband engage with the kids? Here are a few suggestions:
When your husband has agreed to give you a short break, ask him if you can give him a couple of suggestions for things he can do with the kids. Make sure the activities are simple enough for him to just pick up and do. In other words, don’t suggest a bike ride if you know that most of the tires are flat. Keep a couple of ideas written on a sticky note or in your journal to refer to quickly.
- The local library offers a wide selection of books to read aloud. Write down some titles you know your children would enjoy. The library often has planned activities for kids to participate in also.
- The nearest park could provide a nice place for a walk or supervised play on a playground. Pack a snack for them.
- Even a walk around a couple of blocks will be just the ticket for Mom to gain a little breathing space.
- Get the inner tubes for those bikes so Dad can fix them in his time, then plan a bike ride for them.
- Keep your eyes out for Open Houses at local fire and police departments.
- Ask him to pick up a few groceries with a list you’ve provided
- A trip to the mall or favorite store to pick up a gift for a grandparent might make for a fun outing as well.
- List some “cool” day hikes. Again, provide snacks for the trail.
One of my friends would send her boys out camping. As long as most things were thought through and packed, Dad was usually game to accompany them. It is the tending to the tedious details that sometimes trips our husbands up.
There are other ways to help your husband engage with the kids:
- Begin early including little ones in the task of watching Dad as he is involved in general maintenance around the house. A small chair, placed at safe distance while Dad changes the oil or the fixes the brakes on the car can encourage conversation between the two of them. (This means sitting and focusing skills must be a regular practice in your child’s day.)
- Recruit your husband to do some pre-activity training with your children such as:
- how to offer a good firm handshake
- how to greet someone at the door and what to say
- practicing looking someone in the eyes when greeting them
- teaching them to observe and ask questions without clamoring to talk themselves
- how to properly thank someone who has just given you a gift
- with your older children, how to handle a job interview
- Ask him to lead the family in devotions. Devotions, especially from Dad, are important. Our kids tend to value the things that Dad values. You can help by picking a book to begin with that is simple and short like Leading Little Ones to God. Keep it close by so it is handy when the family is gathered. This devotional is designed for preschool and early elementary ages. It has a short story, Scripture, simple follow-up questions, and a very brief prayer.
Why is this dialogue even important? It takes both a mom and a dad to raise a child. From my observations, it appears that engaging with children in a creative fashion is sometimes easier for moms than for dads. I am not saying moms have an exclusive corner on this market but if engaging hasn’t been modeled, it is difficult to generate for either parent. (I personally default to accomplishing tasks rather than being creative and fun, something I’ve been working on). That’s where we come in, Ladies: we can temper our own expectations and lessen the pressure on our husbands.
Dads, God is your Father and He will look after you as you navigate interacting with your children who spend most of their time out in the world or with their mother. Please understand, she is often as burdened as you.
Our goal is to raise biblically responsible, morally responsive children. As parents, we have a mandate to speak truth into our children’s lives and cultivate a love for God in their hearts. “A wise teacher makes learning a joy” Prov. 15:2 tells us. Children first get a taste of God’s love from you, their parents, as you engage and spend time with them. The fruit of this time commitment is not seen immediately but as truth is given “line upon line” and love is shown over the long haul, our children will begin to long for and invest in the things that are important to us, eventually moving from the realm of being our disciples to being God’s disciples.
Patricia Lentz has been married to Tim for 38 years. They have 5 children and 5 grandchildren. Patricia and her husband have been using and teaching GFI material for over 25 years. She spends her days counseling young moms, writing, and traveling to spend time with her grandchildren.