‘Fed up in Maryland’ Asked:
Do you have any suggestions on how to get my husband more involved with our boys? He is great at playing video games with them and taking them to the latest movie but he does not do anything else with them without me initiating or suggesting it. He is a sports fanatic and they play a different sport every season but other than taking them to practice When I need him to he doesn’t play with them. It’s been this way basically since they were born. I thought it would get better once they were older but it hasn’t. He didn’t have a father when he was younger and then had a neglectful step father. When we would talk about it before we were married he definitely wanted kids and wanted to give them everything he didn’t have. He is so much better than his step father was to him, but still leaves a lot to be desired. I just want my boys to have a loving present father and a real relationship with their Dad and I don’t know what to do. It’s to the point where I feel we are leading separate lives.
Dr. Zoe Answered:
Getting fathers to engage with their kids can be a treacherous trip down disappointment lane. Although times are certainly changing and some dads are extremely involved, there are still the stragglers who haven’t gotten the memo that dads are doing this thing now.
Here are some tips to help a fed up mama:
1. Ask him what is his preferred way to engage with the kids (other than video games or movies). I’m sure you have your idea of how they should be connecting, but it’s important that they connect on their terms. I would have liked my husband to connect with my kids over science or sports or playing outside. But they connected via music. My husband loves old R&B and Blues. Some of my boys’ fondest memories of their childhood are listening to and singing songs with their dad.
Release the idea that is has to be a certain way and help explore with him other ways he can connect with his boys.
2. Encourage the small steps. Sometimes we don’t want to encourage a very small step in the right direction because the effort was… small. We don’t want our partner to think that we are happy with such little effort.
But there is this psychological phenomena that when you praise small things, the recipient is more likely to increase the behavior and go bigger next time. It may feel weird to praise him for little things that he should be expected to do anyway, but try it and see how he engages with them more the next time.
3. Don’t criticize. Resist it! I know he’s probably not doing it right or enough, but criticism does the exact opposite of positive reinforcement. It extinguishes behavior. The fastest way to get him to quit trying is to criticize his efforts.
4. Go MIA. Part of why he doesn’t have to connect with the kids and put in much effort is because you are doing it all! Schedule time away—maybe a weekend once a month where he has to take care of the kids all on his own. I said all on his own—without you prepping meals or getting their clothes together. Let him get a little dirty in the parenting game.
You are accomplishing two things here. He will appreciate you more and he will have to connect with the kids.
5. Get him educated. You mentioned that he didn’t have a good role model for a father, so he has no idea how to be one. Google parenting books for dads in the season where your children are. Look up some podcasts for dads and share these with him.
Share it with positive energy. It won’t work if your energy says, “I think you suck at being a dad and you need to read this book because it will fix you. Oh, and you must be accountable to me about it, too.” He won’t even open the book because it will remind him that you think he’s a failure.
Share with an energy that says, “I love watching you be a father to our kids. I came across this (book or podcast) and I thought of you. I thought you might enjoy these.” He might knock you down trying to consume that material.
This is a tough one and I know it can be a pain point for a mama who wants to see her sons have a rich relationship with their father.
Speak it, encourage it, don’t criticize it. Give them space without you. And reframe what it looks like to you, and you should get more frequent and better quality interactions.
You’ve got this. It just takes a little grit and grace.
Don’t miss more from Dr. Zoe on this topic, in this video!
There Is Hope and Healing for the Fatherless
Why This Kind of Dad Makes a Strong Kid
Establishing Healthy Boundaries in the Grit and Grace Life
Share This Free Gift With Your Daughter’s Dad
I Might Be a Good Mom, Can That Make Me Be a Bad Wife?
This Is Why You Need a Self-Care Day (And What to Do)
Ask Dr. Zoe – How Can I Break Gender Roles in My Relationship?
And don’t miss these popular articles for strong women:
5 Truths About the Best Kind of Beauty
When a Strong Woman Is Quitting, But Not Failing
How a Woman of Grit and Grace Wears Her Faith
This Is What I’ve Learned 17 Years After My Miscarriage
Now Is the Time to Ignite Your Confidence
My Really Different Kind of Family
You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: What Makes a Great Dad? How Can You Encourage It? – 093!