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Taking Care of the Kids While Mom is Away

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Father and child care - reading a book together
Courtesy of Getty Images
I always cringed when I mentioned that I had cared for the kids on a Saturday or a weeknight while our kids' mom was away, and people asked me how the "babysitting" experience went. What? "A babysitter cares for the children when both the parents are away. It’s not babysitting for her when I am gone all day to work! I'm a dad, not a babysitter." Fathers and child care do not have to be mutually exclusive terms!

That is a familiar refrain from most dads who are not the primary caregiver for their children but may be spending some time with them at home while mom is away. But, let’s face it - sometimes the kids feel a real lack when their mom is not there, no matter how much fun dad is. In my experience, if they fall down or get into a battle with a sibling, there is nothing quite like the comforting hug of a mother, no matter how hard we try.

Making the up close and personal fathering experience a positive for you and the kids takes a little forethought and work. So, here are a few ideas from experienced dads on how to make that daylong, evening or weekend child care experience a better one for you and your children.

Plan to get on their level. Sometimes dad forget that their little ones are really little (meaning shorter than we are). Remember that the time you spend with them needs to be on their level. So plan on spending time sitting, kneeling or just being close to their eye level.

Not just television. Some dads are tempted to just plant them in front of a DVD or a television program and then do dad’s own thing. What a wasted opportunity! Plan on some activities that they would enjoy, including creative play, reading books, or playing with toys. My daughters loved more than anything sitting in front of our large dollhouse and playing with dad. There was a dad in our doll family who got his personality from me! So some well planned and thought about activities are the best way to make fathers and child care a successful venture.

Make mealtimes easy. A little planning ahead for meals can make a big difference. Either plan to go out if you can afford it, or have something you can just throw into the oven or the crock pot. Or, if your kids don’t mind spending time with you cooking, then get them into an apron and have at it. Cooking for breakfast can be fun that way.

Sell yourself. Kids have a sixth sense about an adult who is in panic mode. So, don’t panic. Project confidence. And help them to see what things will be the same as when mom is home (all their toys are here; they will sleep in the same bed; they can have their special blanket) and what things will be different (Dad will play with you; Dad will help you get in pajamas; we will have French toast for breakfast). Then help them see the fun you will have together.

Be yourself. One of the great things about having two parents is that they are not the same. So don’t just imitate what their mom would do; be a man and enjoy you own father and child care experiences. Don’t be afraid to take them to a man place for a change. My granddaughters’ dad takes them to The Home Depot on the occasional Saturday to do a project together. They love it and have an experience with their dad that is different than what their mom provides.

Volunteer. If your partner has plans, offer to be the parent while she is gone. When you have volunteered to the be primary caregiver for a while, the kids will sense your commitment and enthusiasm. If you are a reluctant father, they will sense that too.

Taking care of the kids while Mom is away can be a wonderful experience and can build positive memories. A little preparation and a positive mental attitude will make all the difference in that regular father and child care experience.

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