Dear Mr. Dad: My job requires long hours and frequent travel, which means that I rarely ever get to spend as much time with my 5-year-old daughter as I’d like to. What can I do to log some quality time with her, besides playing with dolls?
A: Let’s start with the myth of “quality time.” There’s really no mystery. The truth is that any time you spend with your child—as long as you’re focused on her and not your phone or computer—is quality time. A trip to the bank can jump start discussions about allowances and money. At the grocery store, you can talk about nutrition, the importance of reading labels, and comparison shopping. Listening to the radio in the car can help you learn about her favorite musicians (and might introduce her to yours). And, if she likes to play with dolls, you need to suck it up and join the tea party.
That said, one of the best opportunities for dad-daughter (or dad-son) bonding is when there’s something to fix around the house. Thanks to your work schedule, you probably have a nearly endless list of things that need to be installed, painted, replaced, tightened, tweaked, or upgraded. Each one of those projects is a perfect opportunity to do something fun with your daughter. Even though she’s only five, she can still help you find the right items at the Home Depot, hand you the right tool from your toolbox, or hold the flashlight while you’re fixing a leak under the kitchen sink. As she gets older, teach her how to hammer nails, use a screwdriver, take measurements, pour a quart of oil into your car’s engine, or maybe even drill a hole or cut a few pieces of wood.
Keep in mind that doing projects with a young child will require some extra patience on your part, and will likely mean that each item on your list will take a little longer to finish. But the benefits to both of you are immeasurable. Her face will beam with pride after she does something that’s small potatoes to you but is a huge accomplishment for her. And depending on the project, that sense of pride—and of being valued by you—may last for years. Best of all, she’ll be learning useful skills that will last a lifetime.
Knowing her way around a toolbox will also be a big help when she eventually buys a car or moves into her own apartment. And one day, while she’s installing a shelf, putting up blinds, insulating her basement, or doing something else, she’ll remember that you’re the one who taught her how to do it.
Not the handiest guy in the world? No worries. You can still enjoy time tinkering together. Being older than your daughter—and having better hand-eye coordination than she does—gives you a distinct advantage, at least for a while. And if it turns out that she has an aptitude for tools, your skills will improve as you try to keep up and the two of you spend more time together on various projects.
For those readers who have more than one child, resist the temptation to get more than one at a time involved in helping you. Besides making projects harder to manager, the last thing you want is for a fight to break out in a place where there are a lot of sharp objects around. Have one child help you this time and let the rest of them know that they’ll get to be the star of the show next time.
Previously published on Mr. Dad
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