By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
In the late 1990s there was an interesting study on stay at home dads (SAHD). They compared SAHM with SAHD to see if there were any differences in the way they handled everything.
In short, they found, obviously, that SAHD are different than SAHM. Some of the main differences include
- SAHD tend to do the same household chores at home as a SAHM would, but they also continue to do more stereotypical male responsibilities like mowing the lawn, etc.
- 63% of SAHD felt isolated compared to “only” 37% of SAHM
- When dad is at home, working mothers knew their children’s schedules while when moms are at home, working fathers rarely know their children’s schedules.
But one of the most interesting findings was when children get hurt or wake up in the middle of the night. If that happens with a SAHM, 80% of the time the children will go to her. But with SAHD, the children are as likely to go to the mother as they are the father. Despite working full-time, many mothers are able to develop an attachment bond strong enough with their child to soothe them when upset.
This is important because many working fathers complain that the obstacle to building a strong bond with their children is time. I think this study suggests that is not so. It is the quality of time that is more important than the quantity. If working mothers can build that bond, why can’t working fathers?
The key is to understand two main things. One, the time you have as a working father with your children must be spent interacting with them. Time in the same house is nowhere near the same as time spent together playing, reading, etc. Second, there are ways to make the most out of the time you have with them by meeting their essential physical and emotional needs.
Children, even babies and toddlers, understand when people are helping them with what they need. If they need a diaper changed, they begin to associate the person who changed that diaper to someone who is meeting one of their needs. The same applies to things like eating, sleeping, and bathing.
Working mothers tended to switch into the more “traditional’ role of being a mom when they got home, by meeting those basic needs of her children. If working fathers can take on the responsibility of those basic needs when they come home from work, they would most likely be able to build as much of an attachment bond as working mothers did.
If you’re a working dad, change your clothes when you get home and give your children a bath. Help them get undressed and get the bath ready for them. Play with them while they are in the bath and help dry them off and get them into their pajamas for bedtime.
If you’re a working dad, help feed them. If they don’t need your help anymore, sit with them, eat with them and ask them about their day. Listen to what they want to tell you about it and ask them questions until they have nothing left to tell you about their day, their time when you were not around.
If you’re a working dad, try putting your kids to sleep. Develop a special ritual together, including things such as reading, soft music, and cuddling close together, and take them to bed as many nights a week as you can.
If you’re a working dad and your children wake up in the middle of the night, try being the one to soothe them back to sleep – especially if you put them to bed. Pick them up out of their cribs or their beds, hold them, hug them, reassure them that everything will be okay and after they have calmed down, put them back to bed.
Working parents have to work a bit harder during the time they are around to build the kind of special bond many of us want with our children. Working moms seem to do it very well and there is no reason to believe working dads can’t do it just as well. The important thing to remember is that the work, the investment in time and energy is absolutely worth it for you to have a unique, close relationship with your children.