As the oldest millennials turn 40 this year, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the changing landscape of families and specifically, the role of dads. The father’s role has evolved a lot over the years, and I believe some of the biggest changes have come under the millennial generation. Fathers are expected to (and should) do more than prior generations. The increased balance in the labor force has enabled and required fathers to step up and do more. Even though millennial fathers have come a long way, I believe there is still more room to grow. I want to share my experience and what has helped me build my own ‘Dad Instincts.’
SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE
Having gone through a divorce myself, I’ve had time to reflect on past, present, and future expectations of being a Dad. We often hear the term ‘Motherly Instincts, ’ which is a credit to mothers being around their children most of the time. Mothers nurture children from birth to adulthood and are there every step of the way, and this consistent relationship develops the ‘Motherly Instinct.’ Mothers can feel and sense when their children are sick, happy, sad, and all other emotions that humans have. Fathers were historically the breadwinners. We grew up with the notion (either through our household experience, TV, or movies) that men work all day, come home for dinner, sit in the lazy boy chair with a beer or drink, and relax as they watch the news or sports the rest of the evening. That is not the reality of today’s world. Both the mother and father play equal parts in the household.
I’m blessed with four amazing children, ages 3-11. I believe I’ve been a much better dad the past few years as my ‘Dad Instincts’ have slowly developed. What has changed? As part of my divorce, I have my children 50% of the time. I have to do it all when I have my kids, from changing diapers to cooking (which means usually ordering dinner) and bedtime. I was used to being more of a ‘Weekend Dad’ the prior 8-10 years. I was busy working and focused on my business and probably wasn’t as present as I would have liked to be with the benefit of hindsight. On the weekends, I could mostly turn off and focus on being a Dad, but this wasn’t enough to build ‘Dad Instincts.’
It’s exhausting to work all day, come home and be a dad to four children. At the beginning of my transition, I felt overwhelmed but I figured it out over time. Most nights I get my kids to sleep and I’m asleep five minutes later. Habits and routines develop, kids are enormously resilient, but this requires parents that are present and not overly distracted. It is easy to let electronics raise or babysit our children, and I’m not perfect because I fall into this trap from time to time. However, I find the more present and around I am with my children, the more I can sense and feel how my kids are doing. I know I still have a long way to go, but the changes I made in my life and routines have enabled me to develop these more profound relationships with my kids.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ROUTINES & STRUCTURE
With the rest of this blog, I want to detail some of the routines that I believe have enabled me to develop ‘Dad Instincts.
For you: The first is a structured schedule to organize your day. My typical day is almost always the same; it starts with my morning coffee from Starbucks, work, and hit the gym by 4 or 4:30 pm. I believe the structure keeps you working ‘smarter, not harder.’ I find myself most productive with my mind in the mornings and with my body in the afternoon/evening. After a long day of work, many of which can be very stressful, the gym is my release. It helps me burn off calories, stress, and refocus before coming home to my kids. I find this helps eliminate bringing my work home, and I’m more present when it’s time to put my dad hat on.
For your kids: Second, I find it important to develop a routine during the week with your kids. Kids tend to thrive with structure and routine, and my kids are no different. Most nights, I get home by 5, and there are about 3 hours before bedtime. I like to break the night into 3 parts: dinner, games/entertainment, bedtime. Our dinner routine requires everyone to sit at the table and put away any electronics. We pray and then discuss the day. I receive a daily email from my 3 year old’s school that details her school day as to what she ate and what she worked on at school, so I like to read this and discuss it with her. I find this also helps the older kids give a little more detail about their school days. From here, we clean up after dinner, and then (assuming homework is complete) we like to play games or activities together. This is fun and helps to build the extra connection during the week. After our family activity, its’ time to start the bedtime routine. I begin with bathtime for the youngest, and once she’s done, I let her get ready for bed. We read together and tuck her in for the night. And follow similarly with my other children.
Without structure and routines, it would be challenging to accomplish these tasks. I encourage dads to schedule out days of the week where it is their night to handle evenings and bedtime. In addition, I would encourage Dads to take a few long weekends alone with their kids. I believe doing both have multiple benefits. First, it gives your spouse some time to recharge and re-energize, which allows her to be a better mother. The second benefit is developing your ‘Dad Instincts.’ You will look forward to this time alone with your children, and so will they.
I believe millennial dads have been much more present than our fathers. Unfortunately, we tend to let technology control us sometimes, making it hard to turn off when we are home with our kids during the week. Setting these routines and being intentional about organizing your day and evenings with your children will help build stronger, healthier families that develop happier children.