Family Man - The 5 Commandments
years ago, I was getting a little woozy as I stared at the proof
pages of a magazine I was editing. It was 4am. I had phoned my wife
five times that night, promising to come home soon with each call.
I really did love the work I was doing, but not seeing my kids for
the whole day left me feeling empty.
worst of the calls involved hearing my newborn wailing in the background
as my then four-year-old got on the line to say, "You're not
even going to cuddle with us tonight?"
had been prepared for missing an occasional night with my kids.
I wasn't equipped to miss the three I missed in that week alone.
In just a few days, I had broken most of the important rules I set
for myself as a father. I did start changing my ways (and eventually
got a different job), but here are the "5 Commandments"
that led me - and can help you -- to the promised land of involved
You Shall Keep Your Promises to Your Kids
often, we worry that our employers or clients will fire us if we
don't put them first when they ask for more of our time than we
expect. Even more often, we think that we can make it up to our
kids for the times we break a promise to be home at a certain time
or take them out to play catch. That thinking is wrong. The reality
is, the employer or client usually won't fire you if you set limits
(often they respect you more). Your kids, on the other hand, will
lose faith in you if it happens too often.
son used to hover around my home-office, waiting to play with me
at my work cut-off time. After a couple of days of doing that, he
stopped waiting and went to his room to play alone. When I was ready
for him, he told me, "Daddy, I want privacy. Shut the door."
That hurt. So, now, I try to put work on hold and play with him,
rather than miss my opportunities.
your promise to your kid and you won't regret it. You can always
catch up with the client after bedtime or schedule another time
to follow up. Use modern technology (emails and faxes) to work overtime
for us and help keep our kids happy.
You Shall Not Beat Yourself Up
can do all the right things and still seem to "fail" with
our kids (like when we come home with a great Chinese food and our
kid says they no longer like Chinese food). Children don't give
us grades and they give us raises. So there really is no consequence
for small mistakes other than their grumpiness. Roll with the punches.
If you yell at them or come home late, don't write yourself off
for long. Get back on track because you'll get a lot of extra chances.
go through periods where I raise my voice to my kids too often at
night. I feel awful, but I do it because I'm out of control. Rather
than not deal with them and their frustrating bedtime ways, I work
on my expectations and approaches, tinkering every night. I also
accept small victories - I'm happy for the nights I don't yell and
even happier for the nights they do almost everything I ask.
You Shall Establish a Rhythm
is like exercise. If you don't jog regularly, your muscles forget
where they should be and cause you pain. Give yourself a few assignments
per day that involve helping your kids and you will get in their
daily rhythm. Strive to have moments with them morning, noon, and
night. Try serving breakfast each day or every other day, driving
them to or from school regularly, and reading to them or checking
their homework each night.
not a morning person, but I started making the occasional lunch
for my oldest son. It's small stuff, but I do it in the morning
and ask him how he liked the lunch later. In this way, I stay in
his rhythm in the morning, the afternoon (when he's eating it),
and at night.
another idea: If you leave before the kids go to school, put a note
in their lunch or call them from work before they go. Phone calls
do not replace being there, but they can certainly keep you more
in the loop than if you disappear from their lives for the day.
You can also email them in the afternoon while they're doing homework.
You Shall Hug a Lot
are notoriously stereotyped as undemonstrative. That's generally
correct. If you are this way, consider the cliché of a hug
a day. Kids need touch for security and love. Getting a hug - maybe
more than one and throw some kisses in there, too - means so much
to a child in a cold world. You are their reliable source for validation,
so give it. Here's a tip: when you can't think of anything to say
or do with your child - whatever they're age - give your child a
hug. They may sometimes push you away - as my six-year-old now does,
especially around his friends -- but what counts is that they know
what you mean and it means the world.
You Shall Take Time Off
time is what matters. Being focused on nothing but your kids for
more than a couple of hours allows you to know them in a well-rounded
fashion. So take a vacation, at least two solid weeks a year. And
take occasional days off, maybe even once a month. My buddy Sang
just had his first child and was stressed out over the fact that
he couldn't see his kid during the day except on weekends. I suggested
he take one day off each month or every two months. I also recommended
he run home for lunch once a week or twice a month. In the scheme
of things, it's not much time from work and - now that he does it
-- it means a lot to him to be with his child just a little more.
know for certain that, if you follow each one of these commandments
to at least some small degree, you will be a better father.
Keer is a syndicated columnist, teacher, and on-air expert on fatherhood.
His Family Man column appears in publications across the
country, including L.A. Parent, Boston Parents' Paper, Bay Area
Parent, Long Island Parenting News, Metro Augusta Parent, and Sydney's
Child in Australia. Keer's concurrent column, Today's Family Man,
is found at his online fatherhood magazine, www.FamilyManOnline.com.
He also writes for Parenting magazine, the Parents' Choice Foundation,
and Parenthood.com. On television, Keer has appeared on morning
shows and cable specials. He is the father of two (with one on the
way) and husband to Wendy, a professor in child-development.