I love spending quality time with my kids, but the hectic pace of life gets in the way. From their school activities to my work, it’s rare that we get to do more than just pass each other on the way to our respective engagements.
But I’ve discovered one thing that lets me to carve out time with my children, and it doesn’t take (much) time or money: Reading a book together.
Reading a bedtime story every night has actually changed my relationship with my kids.
When my wife and I were first starting out, money was tight. I was in graduate school full time and also working full time when our oldest son was just three years old. I knew the time I was putting into school and my job would create a better life for him, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing out on some of his formative years. I was gone when he got up in the mornings.
By the time I got home in the evenings, there was enough time for a quick dinner and then it was his bedtime. I was torn between wanting to hang out with my son and hastening his bedtime so I could get to my homework or just relax in front of the TV. The guilt was crashing down on me for months until my son unexpectedly handed me the solution—a worn copy of Dr. Seuss’ “Hop on Pop.”
“Read me a bedtime story, Daddy?”
That night, I started the old-fashioned tradition of reading him a bedtime story. We’d sit on his cozy bed and journey into the land of imagination. We’d laugh together, talk about the characters and plot of each book, and sometimes wander off on tangents that mattered only to us.
It was only 20 or so minutes, but it connected us in a deep way.
As our family grew, and my responsibilities shifted from grad student to full-time career, I was feeling that same old guilt about missing out on really connecting with my kids. My wife reminded me about the bedtime story solution and I decided to start it up again, this time with my older son and my daughter who is four years younger.
My kids are older now and the books we read are more advanced, so we’ll usually tackle a chapter per night. I read a separate book with each child, but sometimes we’ll all read together.
I don’t beat myself up if we miss a night—it happens. My wife loves it too, because it gives her a bit of time to just relax and be on her own. While reading a bedtime story to my kids isn’t always what I want to do at that moment, it’s the sweet and special interaction that I cherish, especially when things get hectic and life seems determined to keep piling the frustrations on.
There’s a peace that comes with just hanging out in a quiet room at the end of the day, sharing adventures and ideas with your child that can’t be duplicated with gadgets and electronics.
I’ve talked to a few other fathers about the bedtime story idea, and I’ve gotten ideas for when my children reach their teen years.
One dad I know connects with his teenager by reading the same book at different times, kind of like a father-daughter book club. They take turns choosing the book, reading on their own time, and head out for a drive or a treat once a week to talk about the book. Inevitably, his teenage daughter moves from the book topic to all the stuff going on in her busy teenage life, and he gets to listen and advise.
Another friend of mine goes to the library every few weeks to select books to read to his kids. He picks classics that he grew up reading, and also grabs the best sellers that his kids and their friends are dying to read.
One dad, who is often away on business for days at a time, reads a bedtime story to his son via online video chatting whenever he’s gone.
Many things compete for a father’s attention today, and unfortunately our kids suffer as a result. Dads themselves may think more money or bigger presents will keep that bond strong. But I’ve found simply connecting over good books is one of the best remedies.
This tried-and-true practice, repeated for decades in countries all over the world, may be our best chance at being the kind of father we really want to be.
What book will you read to your child tonight?
Tyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and writer, with experience in outreach for parents and troubled teens. Tyler has offered advice and humor to readers on parenting struggles, problems in education, social media, addiction and issues with raising a teenager today.
Photo: Carol VanHook