There are so many hard things about your husband working long hours or studying his brains out. The maintaining of the home, taking care of your kids, and almost everything else in your life falls on your shoulders. I hear you, it’s tough!
However, one of the things that is hardest for me is how little he sometimes gets to see or interact with our two boys. Sometimes the kids go two or three days without seeing DrH at all. It can be so hard, especially for my toddler.
I quickly realized that I needed to make my kids’ connection with their dad a priority, both for their sake and for my husband who misses them like crazy when he is gone. I started doing little things here and there to strengthen my boys’ relationship with their dad. Some ideas worked (and some totally didn’t) but I’ve learned some things to help my kids stay connected to their dad when he is working long hours.
1. Visit Him When You Can
If your husband is scheduled to work past your children’s bedtime or is stuck at school studying for a test, visit him! When my DrH was in test prep mode in medical school we would sometimes bring him dinner and eat with him at the school. Or sometimes we would bring lunch and have a picnic with him outside while he took a break from studying.
Now in residency we try to meet him at the hospital when we can and either eat dinner at the cafeteria (if we feel like braving hospital food) or we bring him dinner. My kids love it and it gives them a chance to see their dad at least once before bedtime. It also gives me a chance to see my husband earlier in the day when he isn’t in his zombie i’m-so-exhausted mode, which is his usual when he gets home.
So try to visit him and bring the kids along! Bring him dinner, meet up for ice cream, whatever it may be. I understand that with your husband’s schedule it sometimes isn’t possible, but try to make it work when you can!
2. Phone Call/Skype
For those times when visiting him at work or school just isn’t going to happen, have the kids call him or Skype him. Even if your husband is working an insane shift, usually he is able to find at least 10 minutes to step away and take a breather. Ask him to take that time to call you so the kids can talk to him. They will love talking to their dad and telling him about their day or what’s going on.
My 3 year old will tell his dad all about the train tracks he is building and what he is planning on building next. Building and playing with trains is something he loves to do with DrH, so even though DrH can’t be there sometimes to play it gives my son a chance to still connect with him over something they both love to do together.
3. Teach your kids about why Dad works
I am a HUGE believer in this one! Talk to your kids about WHY Dad is gone! When your kids wake up and say with disappointment, “Is dad at work again today?”, don’t just respond with “Yes he is, I miss him too!” and end with that. No, take the time to tell them WHY he is working so much and why he is gone so often. Even very young kids can start to learn and understand what it means to be a provider for a family.
For example, I tell my toddler all of the time why Dad is gone. When I first starting doing this I would explain to him that daddy is a doctor and he needs to take care of people who are sick or hurt. But I didn’t stop there. I would tell him that daddy goes to work to take care of these people so he can make money. Then I would explain how everything we have in our life – our home, our clothes, our fun toys, our yummy food – how we have it all because Dad goes to work and makes money so we can pay for all of these things. And that is why Dad is gone at work all of the time – he is busy making money so he can take care of us.
I explained this to my son so much, especially at the beginning of residency. And now my son, who is only 3 years old, is starting to understand WHY his dad goes to work. Yes, it is to take care of the sick and hurt patients. But it is primarily because his dad loves him enough to work hard to take care of him and the rest of our family. Most of the anger and frustration my toddler was feeling about DrH working so much are gone now because now, on his own toddler level, he understands why.
4. talk positively about dad around your kids
I love doing this because it makes my kids think about their dad throughout the day, even when he is gone. While your are playing, cleaning, or running errands, just talk about why you love DrH or how he makes you happy. Talk about how he is so good at playing chase, or helping with homework, or making people laugh, or fixing things around the house. I’ve talked my husband up so much around my kids that anytime something breaks in our house and I try to fix it, my son will say, “It’s ok mom. Dad will fix it when he gets home. He is VERY good at fixing things.” He already knows that Dad is the go-to fix it person while mom….. Well, isn’t.
So talk positively about Dad around your kids throughout the day. Pretty soon your kids will pipe in with reasons why they think Dad is pretty awesome too and you’ll all be thinking of him and loving him, even while he is away.
5. Make Dad’s Work Part of Your Play
Another way to keep your kids connected to Dad when he is working long hours is to make what he does for work a part of your play! Talk about what Dad does at work and then act it out. Then play doctor, policeman, fireman, teacher, mechanic, whatever it is your husband does. Dress up like them, have little props, and act out your own story. Or draw pictures of what he is doing at work or watch a TV or documentary about that career. Your kids will feel more connected to their dad because they’ll start to understand, on a kid level, what their dad is doing all day while he is away. Plus playing with your kids is just way more fun than cleaning your house.
6. “Dad Will be SO Excited to see/hear about this!”
Anytime your kids do or make something that they are so proud of, say, “Dad will be SO excited to see this!” or “Dad will love to hear that you did that!” It will remind them that even though Dad is gone, he is also proud and happy for them when they strive to grow and achieve, just like you are. It will also help them to look forward even more to when they get to see him next, because they can tell/show him all of their accomplishments and achievements. I love how sometimes my son will run to DrH when he gets home and just blabber to him nonstop all about what he’s been doing because he knows Dad will be so excited and proud of him.
Another thing you can do is to have your kids help you make little presents or surprises for him. They don’t have to be anything big since we are all so busy anyway. Just little things – have your kids color a picture for him or have them help you make his favorite dessert. Then talk about how excited Dad will be about their surprise.
One time while DrH was working night shift the kids and I went to the hospital, found his car, and left some treats in there for him to find when he got off of his shift. Not only did DrH love it, but my son absolutely loved doing something fun for his dad and anticipating how much his dad would enjoy it.
7. make dad’s time off count
When you husband does finally have some time off, make it count!! Plan activities that will strengthen your family relationships. And they don’t have to be big outings (although those are certainly fun!) – they can just be simple activities at home. Do what your kids love to do and involve Dad. Or even better, plan time for your kids to have one-on-one time with Dad. That will definitely help strengthen their relationships with him.
Like I said, I know it’s hard when your husband is working long hours and he is missing out on spending time with the kids. But it is still possible for your kids to stay connected to their dad. It’s definitely worth the effort.
I hope my tips were helpful to you. If you have more tips on how to keep you kids connected when dad is at work, please comment below!
**Picture from Pixabay