Do you ever wish that your husband would step up and do a little more with the kids? As a father myself, it drives me crazy to read and hear mother’s comments about how they feel like they are raising their kids alone when their husband is right in the other room. Part of me is frustrated because I know the importance and value of a father in the life of his children and part of me worries that I’m one of those dads that could definitely be doing more.
I’d like to reassure all the Moms out there that most Dads want to be great dads and husbands. They don’t generally look for ways to be an absentee father. Most Dads want to be the best Dads they can be but sometimes don’t know what to do or they feel like they are already doing it. Sometimes we need a little gentle push to make the improvements that we need to make.
What you can do to get your husband more involved with raising the kids…
1. Forget the hints. Spell it out for him: Don’t make it a mystery or guessing game. Men are no good at that. Talk about it directly with him. Men don’t generally pick up on hints very well so instead of making passive aggressive statements like, “That diaper sure stinks” and then giving your husband the evil eye, you can assertively but gently say, “Honey, I’m wiping the table, will you please wipe our child’s bum and change his diaper.”
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2. Get rid of the words “never” and “always:” Avoid absolutes like “never and always.” These words are almost never true. I often hear women say, “My husband never helps out with the kids” or “He is always just watching TV.” While your husband may spend a lot of time watching TV and very little time helping bathe, diaper, play with and discipline the kids, “never and always” are probably a huge distortion and exaggeration of reality and they breed discontent and anger in relationships. Try to identify areas where he does contribute and build from there.
3. Break it down: Make a written list or give individual instructions rather than rattling off six different things for him to do. Again, I’m not making excuses for men, I’m just telling you how our brains work. We struggle to remember, and we feel overwhelmed by a long list of “stuff.” If we can break it down and take it one thing at a time, we do okay.
4. Define roles, set boundaries (Create a plan together): Have a short weekly discussion about what responsibilities you both have and how you can help each other meet your goals and fulfill your responsibilities. Identify together what each of you can do to contribute to the home and raising the kids. Depending on your family, how you and your spouse define your roles and responsibilities may be different than others, but regardless of how you break down the work load, it’s helpful to have a clear understanding of what each of you will do and what responsibilities you will share.
5. Discuss limits on TV and Technology: I’ve heard more complaints of men having “affairs” with the television and video games than accounts of actual infidelity with another woman. Kill the TV. One of the best things I ever did for my marriage was to opt out of television in our home. We have a TV set that we can watch movies on but we do not have endless programming that can run across the screen at any given time. Now, this is probably not something every husband and wife are willing to do, but it can decrease distractions and jealousy and increase family togetherness to identify a “no tech/no TV” time each day that allows you to focus on each other rather than on a screen.
6. Make a specific effort to recognize, value and thank him for what he does do: Make him feel needed and appreciated. Let him do things wrong. Realize that your husband may do things differently than you do. He may make a mess when he changes a diaper or take 3 times as long to put jammies on the kids than you do. Just watch, smile and say thank you.
7. Encourage him to play with the kids: Dads are built to play and rough house. Not only does it come naturally but it’s fun. Instead of jumping right into the to do list or “honey dos,” encourage your kid’s father to go run around outside with the kids, go for a bike ride, sit on the floor and play Legos, wrestle or have a tickle war. Play allows Dad an unstructured, fun way to contribute and give Mom a break .
8. Read or listen to a parenting or marriage book together: I’ve found that reading something that teaches good relationship and parenting skills together can provide a way to breach sensitive topics without it feeling like either spouse is nagging, complaining or attacking the other. It doesn’t have to be long, drawn out sessions. It could just be 15 minutes, a couple times a week. Sometimes guys are threatened by the idea of someone else telling them how to parent their kids. If this is the case, you might simply let your husband know that you started reading a particular book to help you be a better Mom or wife and would like to read it out loud with him in the evening for a few minutes. Guys seem to be more open to self improvement books than parenting or marriage books most of the time. I think parenting and marriage books often feel to personal and “preachy” to some Dads. There are some great books out there that teach positive relationship, parenting and marriage principles without being called a marriage or parenting book. One of my favorite books in this category is called, “Leadership and Self Deception.” It poses as a leadership and business book but is really all about relationships.
9. Find time to spend together without the kids to nurture your marriage relationship: Go on a date. Plan a baby sitter and do something fun and adventurous with your spouse. Bring back the sparks from when you first started dating your husband. Stop all of the important things you are doing from time to time to just give him a kiss or hug. Treat him with kindness and respect. Contempt never won anyone to a cause. The closer you and your husband feel emotionally, the easier it will be to discuss issues that arise and to solve problems together.
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10. Get outside help. Get a counselor: Having a counselor help you through a marriage conflict is not necessarily a sign your marriage is failing or even that you couldn’t resolve the problem on your own, but sometimes it can help to have an objective third party to help put things in perspective and see solutions you wouldn’t otherwise see.
When starting a conversation with your husband about any of the 10 points listed above, it is important to first, empathize with their observable need, second, express your need, and third, bridge the gap with a win/win solution. Men don’t respond well to nagging or attacking remarks, but they like to feel needed. A positive request might resemble the following example:
- Empathize with their observable need: “I’ve noticed you really like to watch TV when you get home from work.”
- Express your need without attacking his actions: “I would really like your help with getting the kids ready for dinner and bed.”
- Bridge the gap with a win/win solution that helps meet both your needs: “Could we DVR the programs you want to watch so that we can help each other with dinner and bedtime, and then you could watch your shows after the kids go to bed, or we could watch them together?”
Moms, your husband really does want to help. He really does want to be a great Dad and Husband and you can help him to bring out his very best qualities and use them in his own unique way. Try to remember the positive, TRU principles that we try to apply with our children and apply them also in your relationship with your husband. That doesn’t mean to treat him like a child but rather to treat him with kindness, understanding and respect and invite and encourage instead of correct and degrade. Look for ways to let him know how much you need him and want him to be a engaged part of your life and the life of your children then watch as your husband, his relationship with the kids and even your relationship with him starts to blossom and grow!
Question: What does your husband do that you most appreciate?