Routines of Fatherhood
Observations on Basic Patterns of Family Life
Jemell, whose two daughters are three and four years old, is the one responsible for his family's morning routine. He wakes up with his wife at six to help her out the door in the mornings, by making her breakfast or ironing her clothes. Once she is successfully on her way to work, Jemell wakes up his daughters to get them ready for the day. He washes faces, brushes teeth, and helps pick outfits before taking his older daughter to preschool. Jemell is able to spend the entire morning with his family since his job as a coach requires his time in the evenings rather than mornings.
Like Jemell, when both parents work and the dad's job begins later than the mom's job, dads typically shoulder the entire responsibility for getting children ready in the mornings. Ryan describes this experience: "My wife leaves and typically, the kids are up by then, so I have to, I get my daughter some juice and some breakfast and get her dressed for the day, get her cleaned up, change the diaper, and get her ready. And I have to get my son, Brandon, I have to feed him his bottle, change him, get him dressed, get him ready for the day, make sure their bag is packed for daycare with their lunches and yogurt, breakfast, whatever they're taking with them. Then, if everything goes just perfect, we're out of the house by ten 'til eight. The earliest I can drop them off to daycare is eight a.m. So on a perfect morning, we're out of the house, daycare is about two miles away, I can drop them off there at eight and that gives me time to go to the gym before I have to be to work around nine o’clock."
While most dads leave before their wives, Jemell and Ryan are not alone in their morning responsibilities. Even dads with early morning commutes are involved with the children's morning routines. In fact, almost 90 percent of dads who live with their young children help with bathing, dressing, or toileting them at least several times a week (Pew, 2011). Nick reports that he "look(s) to get out the door as fast as I can," but he is still involved in his kids' morning routine because he "help(s) them shower, get ready for the day, get dressed, and what not." Isaiah, who has four daughters ten and younger, wakes up at six thirty each morning to get the kids ready for the day and takes them to school. Andrew, who has to leave for work by seven, still makes time to wake his boys up and gets them dressed for the day. Sometimes Evan has to leave for work before the rest of his family wakes up, but on the mornings when he is able to go in later, he says I "help get the kids off to school and see them eat breakfast and drop them off to school, and then go to work after they're gone."
Dads with the opportunity to work from home are able to orchestrate their schedule more seamlessly between work and family time. Ben describes his mornings as "A typical day that I work from home, I would get up, have a morning devotion, start my computer, do some work with it before the kids get up, then I will, you know, help get them breakfast. I'll usually take a shower unless I'll walk to school with them." Kyle has a similar experience, stating, "In the morning, we usually get up around seven o'clock, and our two other boys are home schooled, so a lot of times my wife will go ahead and get them started in the morning and I will get breakfast going for the boys and myself and my wife. And we typically get the lunch started for them… At about eight forty, I'll usually take Noah to school…I'll come back and, after dropping him off at school, usually at around nine o'clock or so, and then either I will work on some schooling with the boys, either with science or history or math, or I will go in, into my office, which is just down the road a couple miles, or I'll go into my home office and work, typically from around nine to, you know, lunch time."
The high degree of involvement of dads in morning routines means that dads, rather than just moms, are looking for answers in how to deal with the frustrations of trying to get kids ready and where they need to be for the day. On the way to drop his kids off at school, William, who works evenings as a police officer, describes, "As I'm driving to school, my second grader, which (is) my daughter, I have to catch up on all the latest gossip, so I'm always a day behind, and my son is usually pestering her and I'm yelling at him to stop so I can drive." Henry says that "our most challenging time of the day is in the morning. Just because the, Alex is very hyper and he goes from zero to sixty in about two seconds, where as Logan you have to wake up slow, if not he gets real grumpy and defiant. Um, so it (morning) is challenging at best."
Of course, not all dads help get their children get ready for the day. Some dads find that the mornings are valuable time in helping them strike the right balance between the demands of work and family, which will be examined in the following section. For other dads, getting the kids ready is just not a part of their routine.
Balancing Work and Family
Matthew's wife stays at home with their two children and he is one of the few dads who is not at all involved in their morning routine. Unfortunately, he doesn't see his family much in the evenings either. Matthew explains, "This job keeps me so busy and I do, you know, sink my teeth in so much that it robs my family time. For me, like tonight, I came home at nine thirty, it’s almost ten, so I poke my head into my son's room, he (is) sleeping in there and, you know, and Esther (his wife) is worn off by that point and, I just kinda come in and, you know, basically go to bed and I get up in the morning and I go back to work, and that's, so, I don't know. My son usually gets angry if that happens, like he'll be, probably be angry at me all day tomorrow. Like I'll come home and he'll, he don't want to talk to me like, you know, like a grudge or something, it's kind of funny."
Matthew is far from being alone in feeling like his work is pulling him away from his family. Isaiah feels like Saturdays are "a day where I should be spending more time with the family," but he usually has to spend Saturdays at his retail job. Nick describes that when he gets home from work he tries to "see the kids if they’re awake. Kids usually go to bed between seven thirty and eight. Try to get home to see them. I don't like the fact of just laying eyes on them as they're sleeping in bed. I'd rather interact with them and talk to them about my day, talk to them about their day, ask them what they did at school." William, a police officer, says, "As far as my job, it’s very demanding… You have to have a passion for it. It's definitely something that I wouldn't recommend that you do if you not willing for the family to make sacrifices."
So why does Matthew, whose son won't speak to him when he comes home too late, maintain these work hours? As Matthew reflects, it is partially because his job is "affording us other luxuries" and partially due to the way that "it's definitely fulfilling in me, my, you know… desire to be needed."
Other dads feel like the mornings provide them the answer to creating an acceptable balance between the demands of work and family, which is why they don't help get the kids ready like the other dads in the first section. Jake explains, "I do my workout thoroughly in the morning, not just because I'm an early riser, but because after I get out of work, my time is not my own for the most part. That's when my family time starts when I'm not at work, which is fine. I'll sacrifice getting up a few hours early to get my workout in so I can spend my time with the kids after."
Similarly, Joseph, a teacher, feels like he has found a way to create an acceptable balance between the demands of work and family by preparing for his classes early in the mornings. He explains his choice to leave the house at 5:30 a.m. by saying, "I choose to do that early in the morning because I know when I get home, I'm not gonna want to do my work. I'm gonna want to spend it with my family because I only have a limited amount of time during the week."
Ben, who works from home, finds that although it has its challenges, this provides what is for him an ideal balance between work and home demands. He explains, "My office is in my home, so that's very rewarding, because I can spend a lot of time with my family and my kids. One thing I've always said is I'll never get that time back, especially when they're little. So as trying as it is to work from your… office home, it's…also very rewarding for that reason. Because I can stop and take a break, and spend time with my children."
Regardless of the balance dads strike between family and work demands, all of them are aware of the importance of family dinners. Those who don't regularly eat dinner with their families know that they should be doing so.
Jake, who begins his workout at four or five in the morning so that he can devote his attention to his family after work, is intentional about family dinners when they happen, but in reality the family doesn't always sit down together. He gives a detailed explanation of both the kids' activities being the biggest barrier and the intentionality with which they try to talk with their boys when they do have dinner together. "When I get home from work, generally we will try to catch dinner. Sometimes, we eat in shifts with James and Cole's activities. James probably has baseball practice two to three days a week, maybe, you know, a couple of games and a practice but generally he's tied up two or three days a week. Cole will have practice or a game one or two days a week. So our time is pretty tied up with their activities and we try to gear our life around them because we get them involved in certain things. We've had a limit because we had James in soccer and baseball and it was just too overwhelming and we are never home. Important time is to have family dinners where we will sit down at the table and we'll just discuss everybody's day. We'll start with Cole,'How is your day? What did you do?' And if we can get a response out of him other than nothing, 'We did nothing at school,' it’s a great thing. We're, you know, encouraging him to discuss it, make sure he’s involved despite being five years old. We want him to feel involved in it. And James, also we ask him about his day, what he studied, what he learned, what he read, what he did in every class, what he had for lunch. Generally, he'll, you know, start out with, 'We did nothing.' And then we have to work from there to get out that he did spend eight hours at school and he actually did something and accomplished something."
Across the board, activities are the largest obstacle to family dinner. Kyle summarizes this state of affairs with "we eat dinner as a family pretty much every night, unless there is something going on, like soccer practice or cub scouts."
Yet even when activities are a barrier, and as Ryan says, "we don't have an organized 'sit-down-family-around-the-dinner-table' diner most weekdays," the nights when the family is together are special, even if in a less traditional sense. Ryan describes one of these non-traditional family dinners. "Today is Tuesday and we had Taco Tuesday, there’s a… taco place down the street that has eighty-nine cent tacos on Tuesdays. So we did all sit around the table tonight and have dinner, and enjoy a little family time and discussion, that was nice. So Tuesdays are good for that."
If a single member of the family is absent, the rest of the family will often still eat together. Joseph's wife tries to eat dinner with the family before she leaves for work, but Joseph says, "It’s about five o'clock, we have dinner. We do that together even when my wife works."
When the absent member returns, somebody will usually sit down with them while they eat. As a police officer, William misses the family dinner since he works from three to eleven p.m. Yet even when he can't join the rest of the family, his wife makes sure to spend time with him while he's eating dinner. When William gets home, his wife has a hot plate for him and he says, "She sits there next to me (to) make sure I eat all my vegetables, and then I eat every little bit of it."
Despite busy evenings, traditional family dinners are still common. Cameron reports that, "we try to focus on dinner….and just being there for one another." Evan describes, "When I get home, I see the kids, make sure they did their homework, make sure my wife has everything she needs for dinner…We usually eat as a family." Henry explains, "We always have dinner together, the boys take turns saying the blessing for, for the evening meal. We use the…dinner time to find out what was, how everybody’s day went, what challenges they had, what good things they, they had to talk about."
If his wife works later than he does, the husband is typically responsible for fixing dinner. Andrew's routine is, "While waiting on her (his wife), I fix dinner and help the boys with the homework, get all that done, and…I'm usually the cook at the house. Kitchen's my office. And then, you know, sit down, we all sit at the table, say prayer, have our dinner and talk about things (that) went on through the day."
Most men will help with fixing dinner if it isn't already prepared when they get home from work. Daniel says, "When I get home from work, it's usually walk right in the door and get started on helping with dinner, or if Kayla's got dinner ready for us, that's awesome. But usually that's the way it goes (wife already has dinner ready) cause I get home so late, about 6:30." Isaiah also reports, "After work, (I) head home, get some dinner going if it…hasn't already begun."
The evening goes quickly between dinner and bedtime for most dads. Just as with morning routines, if they’re home, most dads are actively involved with getting their children to bed.
Ryan, whose young family does Taco Tuesdays, has a special bedtime routine with his daughter, Mckenna. "She lays on the couch with me and drinks her milk. I warm up her milk for her. It's kinda my fault I’ve spoiled her like that. But every night she falls asleep on my chest or on my lap on the couch and then I'll carry her up to her bedroom to go to sleep. So that's kind of a nice daddy-daughter thing that we have and, hopefully, we'll have for a long time until one day, she gets too big and tells enough daddy. But 'til then, I’m gonna enjoy my evening with Mckenna."
Ryan isn't the only one who has a specific piece of furniture where he spends time with his kid before putting them to bed. Jake, whose family gears their schedule around the kids' activities, describes his evening routine with his children. "Generally we're home by eight, eight thirty, then it's bath time, shower with the kids, finish up any homework that we need to get done, and then it's bedtime. Generally we'll read Cole a story, snuggle with him on the big chair in the living room and bedtime for him. And then James, maybe get him some T.V. time, and then he's off to bed.'
Many bedtime routines involve the dad reading to the children, often Christian literature. Kyle explains his homeschooled family's routine, "I'll read them a Bible study before they go to bed, or we'll do some more History work from school that maybe we didn't finish up, and they usually get to bed around seven or seven thirty on school nights." On the evenings when Matthew is able to get away from the office before his son goes to bed, he takes turns with his wife reading Elijah a bedtime story. While his wife reads the story, Matthew holds their infant daughter.
In addition to reading, Joseph uses bedtimes as an opportunity to talk with his kids. "When it's night time, that's definitely the time where we really talk about our days. We'd make a point to ask each other how is your day and what did you do. We'll frequently split up if my wife isn't working. She'll be with one child for bedtime and I'll be with the other child and then we flip flop the next day. And they tell us each about their days, we tell them about our day as well, and read a bedtime story."
Others transition their children from evening activities to bedtime with prayers, a shower, or the television. Cameron says, "Soon as they get their homework done, we let them watch a little program on Disney, and they kind of head to the bedroom around eight forty-five to nine. And that's pretty much Monday through Thursday."
Even William, whose job as a police officer means he's not home until eleven p.m., is the one who puts his youngest son to bed since this son doesn't have to wake up for school. "My baby boy, I take him upstairs and I put him to bed. I give both my oldest a kiss goodnight."
Once the kids are in bed, the parents have time to spend with one another before doing it all again the next day. Most dads anticipate the variety the weekend brings.
Weekends provide an opportunity to do all that dads would like to fit into the week. Cameron, who wishes that his family lived closer to where he grew up, uses weekends to bring his wife and three kids to stay with extended family from Friday evening to Sunday evening. "I like to go home because, basically, my children also see my father, my grandparents; I can keep my children in their life…Every two weeks we travel two hours up north…very boring ride…Sometimes we…like to drive down to the city, look at different stuff, all the nice buildings, the basketball stadium…that type of thing. But, mainly, when we go home, we kind of spend time with our family. I enjoy playing PS3games with my cousin, Anthony…relax and spend time with my father and my grandmother, to where I just sit down and talk to my father. We watch sports games, we play some cards, play dominos…my grandmother, when I get home, she has me in the yard, working in the garden, cleaning the driveway, doing some type of manual work, which, I can appreciate it, because I want to pass that along to my children as well."
While most families don't spend their entire weekend at the grandparents, weekends provide a wonderful opportunity to spend time with extended family. Describing a typical weekend, Kyle says, "a lot of times, we'll have relatives that'll have a birthday party and go to Tampa for a birthday party in Orlando or, you know, something that's going on with either my parents here, down at Fort Myers, or relatives that are… in other parts of the state, and we'll travel and do that." Ryan explains that with their weekend time, "Sometimes we’ll go up to Joanna's (his wife's) mother's or father's, it's about an hour and a half drive north." Joseph describes Sunday afternoons, "We might go by my in-laws, or even by my mom."
Sometimes only the kids will go to the grandparent’s home and the parents will get time to spend with one another. Jemell, who works in the evenings as a coach, doesn't ever have to put his young girls in daycare, but with the hand-offs, he also doesn't get to see his wife very much through the week. He shares, "If my parents, or the grandparents, want the kids, then me and my wife usually take their time, to, you now, have our time since we'd be so busy during the week with everything going on. The weekend is usually our time to have a date or a movie night, or, or just lazing around and do nothing with each other."
Weekends are also the primary opportunity most dads get to see their friends. Evan describes his tradition. "Saturday nights are usually game night here at the house. I…have a group of friends, anywhere between two and eight people come over (to) the house and it's usually adult board game night. Most of the people are anywhere between the ages of, say, twenty-five to fifty-five, depending on who's showing up, but that's board game night here at the house. Usually before that happens the kids want to play a couple of board games, so…they play a game or two and then they let the adults play, or they watch, or they attempt to play."
While Joseph doesn't spend time with his friends as regularly, the time he does have happens on the weekends. "My friends from college and even one of my friends who I've known since grade school, we try to get together maybe once every two or three months, and when we do that, we shoot for a Friday night so it doesn't interfere with family weekends and so forth."
Most dads anticipate the time they will get with their families on the weekends. Ryan, who works six days a week as a motorcycle mechanic and rarely has traditional dinners with his family, describes what happens when he gets home Saturday evening. "So Saturdays, especially in the summer, really nice. I’ll come home early and maybe we’ll barbecue dinner in the yard, or maybe we'll take a walk down the street to get a slice of pizza, or there's an ice cream parlor on the corner that we like to walk to…there's a burger place down the street that we like to go to also. And Saturday night…usually Mckenna likes to ride her bike around the block. A lot of times, we'll take a lap or two around here, around the block on our little bicycle with her training wheels, play in the yard, we have a slide and some things, little games that she does around the yard. So Saturday evenings, a lot of time they are a lot of fun, a lot of family fun."
The time the family spends together can be a lot of different types of activities, as Evan explains, "Saturday could be anything, could be clean the house day, it could be go out to the park day, it could be family day, birthday, and anniversary, or whatever, usually there's something that (we’re) doing, if not we take advantage of that by trying to (go) out together as a family, could be just to a zoo, it could be to a park, it could be pretty much anything depending on weather and what not, but we usually try to do stuff, especially in better weather."
When the older kids aren't with their biological father, Daniel and his wife try to plan special activities to do as a family. "We try to do something like Chuck E Cheese, or we'll go, my wife is taking them to Skate Land this upcoming weekend. We go bowling once in a while. We always try to do something, so if it, so you know, make them special when they’re home with us since it's the weekend, spend a little time with them and, you know, give, and appreciate them a little bit."
Some families use the weekends to spend time going out to eat together. Ben says, "We’ll, you know, a lot of times go to dinner if it's Saturday night." William has a weekly restaurant tradition with his family that launches their fun time together. "I get up Saturday morning, usually take the kids to IHOP for breakfast, and then we leave there. We usually go get the kites, we get the football, and we go to the park. Me and my son, we throw around the football for a little while, as my baby boy runs in the field… me and my daughter usually put up a Barbie kite and play with that and try to get her to do the string, but usually the kite takes a, you know, full head dive into the ground, and I'm there trying to fix the kite most of the time. Then we let them play on Castle Park… and then me and my wife sit and talk while we push the baby boy in the swing. I really do enjoy with, the weekends the most."
Besides providing time for relationships, weekends are often the best opportunity families have to accomplish the chores that need to be done around the home, especially if both parents are working through the week. Jemell explains, "We usually do the shopping on a weekend, you know, things around the house if the house need to be cleaned, laundry, the weekend is usually the time we get those things done."
Some dads, such as Joseph, integrate time with their children with their chores. "More often than not, it's all together, and it's, it's a lot of fun. So sun up to sun down, we use that time. We might run a lot of shopping errands, maybe we need to pick up…sometimes groceries, sometimes other things. Just, just a lot of running around, but we do it together and, and often the kids complain, but it's not too long. We try to throw in a store that we know they like to look at, a toy store… to do yard work, maybe the kids will come outside, and they'll play in the swing or they'll ride their bike and I take breaks and help them with that and we laugh."
Matthew, who often doesn't get home from work until his son is in bed, also struggles with balancing the demands of life with those of his family on the weekends. "I got chores I gotta get done, and I get a, and I had to, you know, do my laundry and I have to, you know, occasionally help out my parents or something or help our Esther's (wife's) parents, or something and, you know, are nice, you know, it's (the) same as me going to work. It's, the days aren't that much different from the weekdays, you know. It always ends the same way."
Weekends aren't all work, however. Many dads look forward to sleeping in on Saturdays, even if only until eight. Kyle explains, "Saturdays I and my wife usually take advantage of not having to go to work in the morning, so we can roll out of bed anytime between eight and nine o'clock in the morning, which is not what we get to do during the week, even when I get to stay home from work from the office, I'm usually up by six thirty, so we take full advantage of Saturdays." Nick describes, "Typical weekend, try to sleep as late as I can. Kids are a little bit older now, so they can entertain themselves a little bit, maybe with morning TV, some cartoons in the morning, so you know, I may be able to sleep until about eight o'clock. That is sleeping in."
Other dads aren't given the luxury of sleeping in. Henry explains, "normally Alex is up way before the, we're ready to get up, but that's being a parent." Joseph and his wife work it out so they can each sleep. "Usually on the weekend, one day, I'll sleep in a little later, which is, you know, maybe get out of bed at eight, and then the following day, my wife will stay in longer and I'll get up."
Families with older children often devote a large portion of Saturdays to the kids' activities. Nick describes how they handle this by saying, "Kids right now are both involved in baseball, six-year-old baseball and eight-year-old baseball. So, that takes a lot of time. It's two hours for each, both on different fields in town, both at different times. If the times overlap, then my wife and I have to divide and conquer. I try to go to all the games as a family, wife and I and the other kid that’s not playing, and then we switch it up and do the same thing, but we always try to go as a family. If I do have to, if I do have to split it up between the older kid and the younger kid, one weekend I'll go with the old one and the next one, I'll go with the younger one, so it's fair to them, like, to split up my time with them."
Evan shares his experience with family activities, "we usually have some sort of event going on on Saturday, whether it"s a soccer game or swimming or kids are getting ready to start taking tennis, or a cub scouts event, or anything like that. We typically have something going on…we’ll take the whole family to that and we"ll do that event with them and then, you know, Saturday afternoons will be pretty much family time."
Jake, who wakes up early the rest of the week to get his workout in, likes to get a peaceful start to busy Sundays. "Generally I'll get up early on Sunday. My wife and James like to sleep in. Cole and I like to get up early. I get him to watch some of his shows he likes to watch. I get my newspaper and I read it from end to end. I don't bother him and he doesn't bother me. So I'll go through and even just, not even so much read the major headlines, but read the little stuff that I might have missed during the week. And then, you know, church."
For many families, Sunday evenings are an opportunity to prepare for the busy week ahead. As dads reflect on this time, they often include an evaluation of the way their family functions so well as a team. Jemell shares, "Sunday, we, you know, we go to church and maybe out to eat and then we pretty much are getting ready for the work week out up again, making sure the kids have clothes, all the laundry is done and my daughter has school clothes and stuff for the week, and my wife has her work clothes ready and my gym stuff is together. And so, getting ready for the week, It's kind of repetitive, but it's kind of routine, but…it's the function of the family and it's the way things have been working, and it works out for us. We, we wish there was more time to spend with each other… but the important thing is knowing that, you know, we are doing something for the better goal of the family."
Jake also explains this preparation time, as well as the team mentality he shares with his wife as they approach life responsibilities. "Sunday night starts, basically starts our week: lunches, baths and showers, catch up on any homework that we need to do and…We're a team, my wife and I. There's nothing that I can't do or won't do for the kids and vice versa. She does everything from, you know, dog care to, you know, working outside, working in the yard. We don't have one task that's just mine. We don't have one task that's just hers. I mean, I may cut the grass and do stuff outside, but she does the flowers…So, our family’s important and we're together. And so, sometimes we feel like we’re on a treadmill running around. But for the most part, we're doing it as a team together." This team approach is so prevalent in dads; most children are spending healthy amounts of time and developing meaningful relationships with both their moms and their dads.
Originally published August 2011
© 2011 Focus on the Family.