3. Connecting

Everyday moments of connection have just as much value as special events and outings in spending time with your child.

Within ‘Connecting’, the Fathering Fundamental:

Connecting: make time for your kids

Spending time doesn’t have to mean you have to do something special, all it means is you give your child your undivided interest and attention.

Find time every day to just be with your child. Those will be the moments you both remember forever!

Time together can be doing things like regular day to day activities like gardening, cooking or other chores. This can be just as enjoyable for children and a time for communication and fun together. The everyday moments you spend with your child have as much value as the special moments.

If you can, aim to spend a few minutes one-on-one with each of your children every day – for example, getting them up in the morning, or reading a story together at bedtime. Soon it will become an integral part of your day and theirs – a habit that will strengthen your relationships with your children.

If daily habits are too difficult to create, aim for weekly routines such as cooking breakfast on a weekend morning, walking the dog on certain afternoons, or watching the Friday night footy match on TV.

As your children grow, the nature of these routines will evolve – the important thing is to keep up the habit of spending time together.

One-on-one trips (no other adults, no other kids), such as camping, hiking, road trips to local or interstate destinations, or even occasionally journeys overseas, are a valuable way of spending time with your child and showing them they are special. Involve the child, and their mother, in the planning of such trips.

Ask yourself

  • Do you consider the individual needs of each child?
  • How much time did I spend one-on-one with my child today?
  • Did I have a meal together with my child?
  • What great memories have I recently made with my kids?

“My high points with the kids were not so much the sport or speech nights when they won awards and praise from their peers, but all those occasions when we are just sitting at the table in the evening with the family together being happy. (As we spoke, Daniel and Georgia were doing the washing up behind us and laughing and joking with each other. He quietly pointed over his shoulder and nodded and said, ‘That’s what I mean – when the kids are happy in the family.’)” – Jim McCluskey, medical researcher, doctor and professor.

“I love having one-on-one times with the girls, going out for dinner at a restaurant or for a milkshake, or playing soccer together. The simple things often end up being special times with them.” – Father of four and Australian National Test Cricket Team coach and Justin Langer.

Connecting: tune in and engage

When spending time with your children, try and reduce these distractions as much as possible so you can stay focused and engaged with your kids.

In today’s society, there are many distractions and other things that can prevent you from enjoying the present moment.

Ask yourself

  • Was I really engaged or distracted with calls, texts, and emails when I was with my child?
  • Am I truly present when I’m with my kids, or am I distracted by all the noise in my life?

Dad Dates:

A ‘dad date’ can be anything.Think a special meal, a walk, shopping, a trip to the park, the city, or a show. Spend that date time just listening to them. Be deliberate about creating these special times, e.g. write such plans in your diary.

  • You could take each of your kids out regularly for ‘dad dates’ (no other adults, no other kids), e.g. a dinner, a movie, special lunch or breakfast, beach walks, park, city, show or shopping trips.
  • Take each of your kids on one-on-one trips (no other adults, no other kids), e.g. camping, hiking or road trips.
  • Block out time in your calendar or diary for dad dates – don’t leave it to chance.
  • If something happens to cancel the planned time together – reschedule as soon as you can.

At times, despite the best intentions, you will have to miss an arrangement you have made to spend time with your child. The way you as a dad respond to such incidents sends a strong signal to your child.

  • If you can see that circumstances mean you are not going to be able to meet a commitment you made to your child, let them know ahead of time if at all possible.
  • Don’t give excuses – “I missed the train”, “The meeting finished too late” – your kids don’t want to know why you are late, they just want to know that you really regret not being there for them.
  • Don’t buy gifts as a payoff for not making it; just reschedule as soon as you can.

Connecting: make it a habit

Habits and routines help you fit in those important connecting moments.

Life for children in the new millennium can be really busy. Just keeping up with what is happening when can be a difficult job.

Bruce Robinson on Quality time

“I’d like to talk about the notion of quality time. Sometimes people imagine that as long as you’ve got quality time with your children, that’s enough.

It’s been shown that it does not work – quality time only happens on a foundation of quantity: you cannot engineer time to talk to your kids, it happens better spontaneously in what we call teachable moments.

I remember, with a smile on his face, Tim Costello told me how he tried to do the quality time thing when he was mayor of St Kilda and running – well, Melbourne, basically – and he said pretty soon when he came in the door his kids noticed that what he called the “quality time look” in his eyes, and they scattered like cockroaches when you open a drawer!

You have to have quantity with kids and then you get those teachable moments. Create quantity time and those quality time moments can happen. – Professor Bruce Robinson

Too often we expect every interaction with our children to be a magical moment. And when it isn’t we feel like we are missing the boat. There is no need to be more, have more, do more. All your children want is time…with you!

Do you have a family calendar? If so, can this be put on-line so that you can share in what is happening when you are away from the children, either working or travelling or because you are separated from the children’s mother? This will make it easier for you when having a telephone or video chat – the children will feel special because you know what activities they have on and can ask about them.

An online family calendar will also be of real assistance when you are with the children – you will have a head start in keeping up with what is on when and you can plan around key activities and not miss out.

Plan few minutes one-on-one with each of your children every day – for example, getting them up in the morning, or reading a story together at bedtime. Soon it will become an integral part of your day and theirs – a habit that will strengthen your relationships with your children.

“As a young father I was Dean of St John’s College in the University of Queensland, and had to dine with the students between Monday and Thursday. It was a very formal affair, all male and all gowned. On Fridays, however, we would pick the children up and head off to the beach and get fish and chips or pizza on the way. We’d muck around in the car, playing games or singing. We discovered Elgar and Neil Diamond on those trips. I saw them as ‘mini holidays’ at the end of every week. It wouldn’t have been the same if we’d stayed at home.” – Peter Carnley, retired Australian Anglican bishop and author

Ask yourself

  • Do I try to make the most of the incidental times I have with my kids?
  • Do I make myself available and approachable whenever I am around my kids?
  • Do engage with my kids in everyday activities so there is opportunity to connect and chat?

“Both my parents gave us to understand that we were the most important thing in their lives. It takes some doing, some living, to achieve this. I suspect that, as contemporary parents, we all tend to expect too much – to have every cake and eat it, too. We’re at the mercy of our social and material ambitions. Often our kids come off second best to this compulsion to be bigger, richer, groovier. That’s why I cringe when I hear that yuppy phrase ‘quality time’. So often it’s guilt time, obligation time, getting in with the missus time, paying my dues time, being seen to be a good father time. There are men of my generation who spend even less time with their kids than their fathers did.” – Tim Winton, author and playwright

“I almost view with contempt this notion of quality time. I think it’s just a baby-boomer cop-out. To have quality time you’ve got to have quantity time, because you never know when your kids want to talk to you. You can’t appoint a time for quality chats. I’ve found in my relationship with my children that sometimes just out of the blue they’ll want to talk, whereas at other times they prefer to wait.” – John Howard

Connecting: practical tips for dads and father-figures

  • Dad Dates!
  • Cherish the everyday moments together at home.
  • Make time to relax at home together as regularly as possible.
  • You can’t force quality time with your children, but you can make opportunities to connect just by being available in day to day activities.
  • Spending everyday moments together has just as much value as the special moments
  • Often the quality moments happen right in the middle of the most mundane tasks. They are simply the result of being in the right place at the right time.
  • Really ‘BE THERE’ Put away the phone and connect with your kids.
  • You never know when your child will decide that now is the moment they want to talk.
  • Listen to them and get to know about them as an individual. Their thoughts, their ideas, their wishes, their likes and dislikes, their friends and their dreams.
  • Be there for the difficult times. Make it clear that you are available anytime your child needs to talk. Let them know that they can call you in times of need.
  • Make a special effort to be there during their tough and emotionally difficult times.
  • Learn to recognize what constitutes a crisis time for your child. What stresses them out? Find a way to be there and support your child during those times.
  • Teenagers especially need you to know you are there for them, even though they may appear to be pushing you away
  • Being together through thick and thin builds a stronger family unit.
  • If daily habits are too difficult to create, aim for weekly routines such as cooking breakfast on a weekend morning, walking the dog on certain afternoons, or watching the Friday night footy match on TV.
  • As your children grow, the nature of these routines will evolve – the important thing is to keep up the habit of spending time together.

“Dads need to be around at times that matter – crisis times such as exams, relationship breakdowns and important transition times.” – Jim McCluskey, medical researcher, doctor and professor.