Dr. Samantha Rodman helps an overwhelmed dad with perspective and a few new ideas.
Disappointed Dad writes:
I’m a 33 year old dad of a 4 year old girl, and I feel the same as you mentioned in I’m Just Not That Into Toddlers, Including My Own. Since I’m a father and man, it seems to be not as shameful, but whenever my daughter is around, I feel like a slave. I work 8 hours a day, and on my way home I think “that’s over,” meaning my time has ended to enjoy myself without rushing… Eating, thinking, everything… She is always asking me: “Daddy, when will you finish eating? I want to play with you right now!”
My daughter is very active and I try to do things with her the best I can, and to be a good father and husband…While I’m with her, I think, I could do so many other things for myself, which I really like, that aren’t just sitting and watching television. I feel terrible, because I love her, and I know she needs this time. When she was 6 months old, and later 1-year, and then older, I kept thinking, in a few months it will be easier, but every time I’ve thought that, I’m wrong.
At the moment, it seems to be easier, as my daughter can spend time by herself. She can play with toys or draw for 10-15 minutes, but later she asks for attention. However, I don’t need to play with her. She can do it herself, but I have to sit by her and watch… Oh my God! I hope you understand me…
I’m happy that I’m giving my time for my own and the only daughter I will have, and I can watch her grow up. Please, help me to convince myself that I’m not a completely bad person, father and so on… I’m not bad, I just feel that I’m losing my own time, because I have to spend this time for my child… and I don’t like it… will it ever change?***
Thanks so much for writing in. I am sure that many people feel like you do and just don’t have the nerve to write in about it. I myself have felt a lot of what you feel, but the distinction that I think worries you is that I do enjoy my kids in some phases (e.g., baby, older preschooler), and also that I like the one-on-one time best. You seem to have never enjoyed much time with your daughter, and you have nothing but one-on-one time, which also poses its own challenges. But since you did not enjoy her in any phase, it’s hard to visualize a time in the future when your perspective will magically shift and you’ll start enjoying parenting. Hopefully some of my advice will help you to accept your limitations but also get some joy out of the experience of loving and parenting your daughter. It is great that you wrote in, which shows you’re motivated to improve things, so let’s begin.
Your daughter at 4 is definitely old enough to play for more than 10-15 minutes on her own, and really on her own, not with you sitting there watching. The fact that she can’t do this may be due to one of several reasons:
- She is lonely. She wants other kids around and she has none.
- Someone, maybe your wife and maybe even you, has trained her to always expect that one of you will be there to play with her, so she doesn’t even understand that it’s possible to play on her own
- She behaves in a particularly needy way with you because she senses that you don’t enjoy time with her. So, in her way, she continues to try to basically woo you, wanting more and more from you because she is never satisfied with what you give her.
How then can we increase the quality of time you spend with your daughter?
I completely understand that you don’t want to play pretend games or watch kid TV. I don’t either. The best times I have with my kids are on stroller walks, taking them for brunch or coffee, doing art projects, reading to them, making up stories with them, or watching stuff I personally like on TV with them, like some game show called Bet on Your Baby, or the documentary Fed Up, or a documentary called Babies, or stuff from the National Geographic Channel, or musicals, or basically anything that isn’t R-rated but also isn’t children’s programming.
So, what do you enjoy doing?
A four year old is old enough to go to a restaurant, go to the beach, learn to sail, learn to ski, learn most games, learn an instrument, watch movies that aren’t boring for you (try some documentaries or sports), go to concerts, bike, skate, etc.
What did you like to do as a child yourself?
She can be taught anything that you liked, and you may get some joy from playing with her in ways that you used to enjoy yourself. You need to stop thinking that your daughter is so alien from you and only likes “kid things.” She is a person, and she wants to please you, and she wants to connect with you, and as such, anything that makes you happy to spend time with her will be her new favorite activity.
One possibility is every single day you try something new that you yourself would enjoy doing, and see what she can learn and what she also enjoys. Your daughter will know this time is coming, and she knows it is quality time, so she will be less likely to be following you around after that asking for more and more time, because she may feel satiated, having experienced time with you when you’re fully emotionally present.
I emphasize that you need to give yourself realistic goals. Try to start enjoying, truly enjoying, 10-30 minutes per day with your child. You should do a mutually enjoyable activity right after dinner, whether this means you take her out with you to the park and play frisbee, or take her to a bookstore and look at books, or watch football on TV, or play Monopoly (yes, she can learn Monopoly at this age).
This should be called Daddy-Daughter time and it is your daily special time. After this, you’re done. Not completely done, you obviously keep taking care of her, you hopefully switch off bedtime and bathtime with your wife (if not, start doing this, because you feel more invested in your child when you’re actually doing the daily work of caring for her), but there is NO MORE PLAYTIME with you.
Make this clear, in a kind way, with your daughter, and also with your wife. You are an adult, you do not need to be a constant playmate. Say something like this, “We are going to try something new. Every single day, we will have special Daddy Daughter time, and Daddy is going to have fun with you and show you new fun things. After that, it is time for Daddy to hang out with Mommy and for us to get you ready for bath and sleep.” During the special time, you do something you BOTH like, but spearheaded by you, as I discussed above.
Your daughter needs to cultivate a skill of playing on her own. It’s possible you’ve felt guilty about your dislike of spending time with her and therefore have been hesitant to broach the idea that she needs to engage in some solitary play. But if you have your special time with her each day, you can feel a lot more comfortable telling her firmly that she can play with whatever she wants, but it will be on her own, because you now have other, adult things to do for yourself, around the house, or with your wife.
I hope this advice has been helpful. Please keep me updated and let me know how it goes. I think you are a good dad for writing in to deal with this. Some guys would just emotionally check out and not think twice about it. But you are choosing to work on the issue. Kudos to you. You are very important to your daughter, and it is important for you two to really know each other on a deep level. This doesn’t happen watching TV on the couch and wishing you were somewhere else. Take charge of your life and your parenting. Think about what being a dad means to you and what you want it to look like for you and your little girl. I wish you all the best of luck in reshaping your relationship.
Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Appreciates This Guy’s Honesty and Effort.
***Disappointed Dad’s letter has been edited for space.
Photo: daily sunny/Flickr