Being a stay-at-home dad is tough — not so much physically but psychologically. Society still has the expectation that only moms stay home with kids, and after spending so many years preparing for a career, there are a lot of obstacles and stereotypes to overcome. Based on my five years at home with the kids before rejoining the workforce, I put together a list of 10 things you can do this Father's Day (and any day, for that matter) to show the stay-at-home Dad in your life how much you appreciate everything he does.
1. Give him a break. In my five years as a stay-at-home dad, there were times when the monotony was too much to take. Sometimes all I wanted was a day off (I mean, there are only so many arguments Papa Bear can lose to his 3-year-old Peanut Bear before he wants a break). Reward his hard work by letting him hibernate, recharge his batteries by relaxing in the backyard, or escape for a round of golf.
2. Be arty and crafty. If you're anything like me, arts and crafts (and I don't mean just coloring) aren't really the best thing to do with the kids. (It's honestly like torture for me and I don't know why.) I do, however, enjoy receiving special projects from the kids. Have the kids express how much they appreciate dad with a collage or shadow box. My wife did this once with the kids and it was funny to learn what I looked like through their eyes. My then 3-year-old son saw me as Superman because of all the dry wall I was lifting to finish the basement. Of course, that's the same year he soaked me with the hose while I was carrying that same drywall, so he clearly wasn't afraid of all my powers.
3. Have the kids do their part. This is a simple one that can be used all year long and is specifically for all the older kids out there looking to make Dad a little happier: Clean up after yourself! Dad's life gets a whole lot easier when the kids make an effort to make their beds, put dishes in the sink and take dirty clothes to the laundry room.
4. Picture it. If you're the kind of family that takes pictures every chance it gets (we don't, but grandma doesn't go anywhere without a camera), go through those stacks of photos and create a scrapbook for Dad. Or, find 12 great photos of Dad with the kids and make a calendar that can be displayed on the fridge. Have the kids write notes to include in the calendar for a more personal touch, and don't forget to include birthdays and anniversaries. (I know I would appreciate that, since I'm the absent-minded one).
5. Plan an afternoon with friends. Dads, more than moms, I think, don't get to see their friends as much when they're home during the day. Many other dads work daytime hours and schedules rarely match up. When I was home, I had no time at all to see my buddies and very little time to even chat on the phone. The only time I saw them was when we invited them over for the kids' birthday parties, and you know how little time there is to catch up when you're playing host. It would be nice to reward dad by planning an afternoon barbeque with his friends and their families. Make sure the kids are there, because nothing makes a dad happier than being able to brag about his offspring.
6. Get him a grill. No, don't grill him. Buy him a grill. Some dads are good in the kitchen, but most are great on the grill (insert manly grunt here). If you buy him one, make sure it has a side burner. Why? It comes in handy when you're watching the kids outside before lunch or dinner and you need to cook their favorite mac and cheese at the same time. I didn't have this luxury when I was home all day, but now that I do, it's a pleasure on the weekends.
7. Send a message in a ... baby bottle? I'll admit that when I was home with the kids, I wasn't the most motivated individual when it came to household chores. In an effort to make me more motivated, my wife left me her To Do list every morning. I was irritated, but when there were little messages left on it like, "I love all you're doing" and "The kids are really enjoying their time with you," it was nice to read. So make an effort to say something nice to Dad with little notes you can tuck away in his favorite coffee mug or the baby's bottle. It carries a lot more weight than that annoying To Do list.
8. Hit the road. All dads tell their kids stories of their own childhoods. How about really showing them, while also showing dad a good time? Stories take on different meaning when kids can associate them with a place. Plus, dad will appreciate the fond memories you've evoked in him. Take a ride past his old house and school. Then, if you've made it through the trip in one piece (we wouldn't have), have dinner at a diner or restaurant where dad used to hang out. Of course, if things get out of control in the back with the kids, do what I do: Turn the speakers on just in the front, turn the radio up to block out the noise and keep driving. Sooner or later (usually later) they stop.
9. DVR it. Spend the extra $5 a month and get a DVR. Why? It lets dad multitask. Dad gets to record the shows he likes to watch whenever there is a free moment, and to pause important games while he's tucking the kids into bed. Dad can also record the kids' favorite shows so they can watch SpongeBob or Dragon Tales when he needs a few minutes of sanity (or just a moment to fold the laundry without one of his kids unfolding it — can you tell what I used it for most?). I don't know what I would've done without my DVR. It's arguably the best invention ever!
10. Have a night with Mom. My wife and I really enjoyed the times when her parents would take the kids for a night or even just an afternoon. It gave us the chance to catch up and it really helped me de-stress. An adult conversation is nice to have every once in a while! To make the time extra special, make it a surprise. Send him out for an errand and when he returns to a kid-free house, almost nothing will make him happier. While this is arguably the best gift you can give, it is also the most dangerous. In our case, it led to our youngest child!