I always believed, as involved fathers go, I was pretty high up there if you were to grade my level of involvement. As soon as I walk in the door from work, I herd our almost 5-year old children to the dinner table, sometimes even remember to set it, too. We talk about their day, I give them their medicines and vitamins. I get them changed into their pajamas, take them to the bathroom, and even take them to bed five nights a week. When they wake up in the middle of the night upset, I’m the one they call. On the weekends, I spend almost every moment I can with them, even often having special time with them, just the three of us. I have even spent entire weekends just the three of us when my wife has gone away. I couldn’t imagine how I could be more involved, to be honest.
Well, I am learning, now that my wife has started working full-time, that there was a whole area of their life I was not at all involved in: their school.
My wife, Gem, stayed home to be with our kids after they were born and it was easily the best decision we made in terms of our children. Who better to be with them than someone who has the most incredible capacity for unconditional love of anyone I have ever met? During the first couple of years when they didn’t have school, she spent all day with them, and I really felt it was my job when I walked in the door to try to take over some of the primary parenting roles so she could get a little break. Of course, my getting involved also served to build a strong relationship with my children – something we both felt strongly about.
Leaving every morning was very hard for me – and for some time hard on my kids – and I learned when I walked out the door to put them in a special corner of my mind so I wouldn’t feel too guilty about leaving and could focus on work during the day. When our kids started going to preschool, I had very little to do with it. Gem would take them every morning, pick them up every afternoon, and when I got home I got to hear how their day went. I was not involved, because it wasn’t necessary or really at all possible for me to be involved. I couldn’t take them to school without showing up to work two hours late and couldn’t pick them up from school if I went to work. My lack of involvement in school meant that I didn’t know what was involved in them going to school.
With Gem now working full-time, there are mornings where she has to leave early or nights when she comes home late. I love my wife deeply, but obviously she can not do everything, and I have found myself needing to step my game up a notch in order to meet the new challenges in our family life.
I have been making more dinners – certainly not one of my strengths, I have to say. But I am trying and learning. I try to remind myself the only way I will get better at it is if I do it more. I have been making their lunches as well and dealing with the notes from teachers, requests from other parents, and all of the stuff that I had no idea went on inside their backpacks every single day.
It is weird to not be so confident as a father again, to be unsure and uncertain like I was several years ago. When they were born, I had no confidence as a father and was always afraid I was doing something wrong. You can imagine that doing everything twice for my children helped me to get past that pretty quickly. But now I find myself once again entering uncharted territory, delving into something that has been done so well by my wife. While she does it with ease, I am stuck trying to figure out if they need one or two snacks or if they need juice (which I forgot to give them this morning). If I had to do it everyday I would get good at it pretty quickly, but I do it only a couple of times a week, if that much, and I don’t have the hang of it, yet.
But I am trying to be kind to myself, to understand that every time we do something new, we’re not perfect at it yet. Plus, my not doing it perfectly is better than my wife having to do everything herself. Besides, in another few weeks, I will probably be packing lunches like a pro, like my wife.
Until then…I hope nothing I do leaves them too hungry until they get back home.
Image credit: Lori
Jeremy Schneider is a fatherhood expert, syndicated columnist, and therapist specializing in parenting, relationships, and helping people overcome depression. Learn more about Jeremy at jgs.net.