A buddy of mine has a toddler daughter and baby son. He works long hours as a programmer but craves time with his kids. I suggested he put the kids to bed and he told me his wife was being a “baby hog” – she had her own ideas about the kids’ bedtime routine and didn’t trust Daddy to drive. I asked around and found that this phenomenon is not uncommon.
I want to make a plea to all you moms out there to let go of bedtime. If Daddy isn’t inclined to want to go solo, ask him to take it for a week and see what happens. The sacred time might change Dad’s whole view of life. It did for me.
The first time I fed my 1-year-old son a bottle, he and his 3-year-old sister were visiting me overnight for the first time after a divorce (caused in part by my obsession with my career). In that darkened room, I rocked my boy as he suckled from a bottle and his body slowly went limp with sleep. I took him into the crook of my neck to quietly burp him, inhaled the smell of my boy, and felt his tiny heart beating next to mine. In that moment I realized what I had been missing in my life.
For years afterwards Seamus and his big sister Kerry had a bedtime routine of PJs, brushing teeth, books, and cuddling. When I eventually got remarried and had another son, Cole, I became the designated bedtime specialist. Though my kids are now 17, 15, and 6, bedtime is still a special hour in our house – my favorite time of the whole day.
Here are some reasons why giving Dad bedtime is a good idea:
- Breakdown. Many men have a hard time getting in touch with their own intuitive ability to parent. Bedtime is the perfect time to break down these internal barriers. The feeling of your child cuddling next to you while you read a picture book out loud is powerful enough to soften the hardest heart (that would be mine).
- Big body. Over time I’ve realized that having more surface area on which to lay a sleepy head is a big advantage. If you learn to sway your hips or rock in a chair, a baby will sleep in Dad’s arms like no place else.
- Male bonding. Kids need “alone time” with their dads. Moms have unique gifts to bestow on children, but so do dads. Let them. Dad won’t do it the way you would, but that is the whole point.
- Doing instead of feeling. As dads we really like to do stuff, and we tend to like the structure of routines. At bedtimes there is a lot to be done, and the routine gives a child of any age a sense of comfort that allows him or her to get to sleep. The routine is something that we as dads can make up on our own and then hide behind when we aren’t ready to feel too much. The day will come – or at least it did for me – when there is a deep stirring in the soul, an “Oh, yeah now I get it!” moment with tears of love and joy dripping down our pathetic faces in recognition of how much we adore the very feeling of our children. But until then, we have a chance just to get to work.
- Mom is tired. Bedtime is the perfect time for Mom to relax while Dad takes over. My wife likes to watch The Bachelor while I am getting my son Cole’s PJs on and reading The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts down the hallway.
- Carryover. If Dad develops a bedtime routine, the bonding that happens during that hour is likely to spill over into the next day. The feeling of looking down and seeing my son and realizing I always wanted to be a father and was missing it changed me forever. I know many men who feel the same way.
- A better marriage. By allowing Daddy to bond with your children, he will love them more, you will love him more, and he will appreciate you more. Who knows – you might even decide to have sex a little more often after watching your man do his thing with the kids.
Good parenting is not a competition, and involved dads don’t replace moms – they underscore moms’ importance. Not depriving your child the chance to bond with his or her dad, even if it takes a little urging on your part, could very well lead to a healthier and happier family.
So dads, fill up your bottles, pull up a rocking chair, and make sure the big kids brush and pee before reading Dr. Seuss. Remember that kids are intuitive mirrors; if you relax they relax, and when you go to sleep, they go to sleep. So just breathe deeply, grab a hug, and snuggle in.
And ladies, for goodness sakes – let them!