Family Life

How working dads can help at home

Are you or do you know a working dad? Are you a new dad, or a grizzled veteran of work/life balance? I’m a working dad (and a millennial) and I strive for engagement at home. I’ve had success in helping my Stay At Home Mommy (Engine) with a new baby, and a lot of failure too. Here’s how you working millennial dads can help out (and avoid being smothered in your sleep).

It might come as no surprise, but…

Working dads eventually go back to work.

The big day has come and gone. Baby is home and you’ve used up whatever paternity leave or sick time you had bestowed upon you from your corporate masters. (Good for you if you actually got paternity leave!) You stayed home, helped out with chores, perhaps you took over some of the activities that your wife usually handles. This is all great.

Except that when you return to work this routine will fall apart the second you step out the door.

Perhaps not the second. Your wife might even be relieved that you’ve gone back to work and the routine can go back to normal (but not really); Mommy Engine was all good when I went back… for about 3 weeks. Eventually exhaustion will catch up and oh poo; the morning chores like floor sweeping and tidying up the toys? Probably not going to get to those. The dishes in the sink from  last nights supper that nobody got to because the kids decided to stay up until 11? She might get them done, but chances are pretty good that it will take her most of the morning. Other odds and ends? Getting the other kids up and fed? Feeding the pets? Feeding herself? She’ll  be lucky to brush her teeth when the kids are awake.

That’s not really my problem…

Oh, but it is.

Anything that you are not doing to help your wife is a problem. There is something that you failed to carry out that increased her workload, however minute it seems. Maybe you left the garbage next to the trashcan and forgot to take it out. Sometimes that leftover quinoa just doesn’t make it to the fridge… Or maybe it could be something huge. There was a time (and I now realize how much of an ass I was so be nice, okay?) when all I wanted to do when I got home from work was hop on the computer or the X-Box.

“Hi Mommy, Hi kids! Great to see you, but man I had a rough day at the office, woe is me! The working dad! Now, let me unwind by myself for 3 hours and I’ll get to you later. Oh? You didn’t get what done? Well, what did you do all day?”

Sound familiar?

Okay. So if you do shit like that your wife will hate you. Don’t make your wife hate you. You have a challenge to face, especially if like me, you can’t wait to get home and grab a beer (or a coconut). Simply put, here’s what you need to do: Give your wife a break. Get home and take the kids out of the house, engage with them, sweep the floor, do those dishes, or put them away. Then grab your beer. You may have a full-time career, but you’re a full-time parent and husband too. Your wife can’t do it all.

Make time to make her time

Nothing is more upsetting to a mother who has engaged with an infant (and a toddler) all day than her husband coming home and kicking his feet up. It took me a long time to figure this out. Priority #1 when you get home is to relieve Mom and take over so she can go have a shower in peace, or whatever she wants to do with the free 5 minutes you just bought her.

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Never say: “I’ll get to it.”

Seriously. As I write this I have I have a cluttered kitchen table to tend to. I think Mommy Engine has mentioned 3-4 times today, but I’m still getting to it. As soon as I make progress on this post. It’s past 10pm, and everyone else is in bed. I have time to myself, but I am sacrificing sleep to do it. My SO can’t even poop in peace during the day, so I think I can live with the sacrifice. With that in mind, find whatever you can do to help, and do it. Talk to your wife, figure out what she needs. Communicate.

To figure it out I sat down with Mommy Engine and asked her what she needed me to do. The biggest thing she could think of was having me feed and water our rabbits in the morning. It’s a 10 minute job, but it’s closer to 45 (or more) with a 3-year-old (who may or may not want to help on a particular morning) and an infant in one arm and it’s something she cannot easily do when I am absent. Some other things that she finds helpful are a final tidy up before bedtime; cleaning up any remaining toys, doing a sweep of the floor, filling the dogs water dishes, and scooping cat litter… small stuff she used to handle before the baby.

Easy. Make it part of your wake up and bedtime routine. I’ve been diligently (almost) scooping the litter box when I use the toilet first thing in the morning, right before my shower. I’ll need to get up earlier to take care of some of the other things, but hey, she doesn’t mind diaper duty during the night so it’s not a huge deal. I’ll feed the rabbits while coffee brews instead of hopping on Facebook. We found a way to make it work, and that’s what you as a working dad need to do.

Appreciation takes many forms

If I had selflessly given my first wife a hand, instead of complaining about all the things she didn’t get done while I was away at the office… well, I’d still be divorced, but at least the dishes would have been clean. Your wife will most definitely appreciate your efforts, even if she doesn’t always show it. Chances are you’ll see it in her demeanor toward you. (Self involved Daddy Engine couldn’t figure out why M.E. always appeared irritated with him.) It took me a while to figure out that she needed my help and I was missing the signals. Attempting to stay on top of the chores and engaging with the children, giving her time to unwind upon my return from work has been essential in strengthening our family. You can still have your own time, but you can’t prioritize it ahead of the wife and kids, find another time for it (like after everyone else goes to bed). You’re an essential part of the parenting team. You need to be in the game.

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Anything that gets them to bed sooner.

Got any other tips to help working dads give their families some help? Leave them in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Daddy Engine to get the latest updates!

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