It was around 7:30, and I was hunched over a bathtub with two splashing, naked, little girls in it. Aspen, our 2-year-old spit water at her 7-year-old sister, Norah. So Norah took a cup from the side of the tub, sucked it in, and spit water back. The whole time I scrambled to put an end to it all and reminded them that we don’t drink bath water — which is something none of my kids have figured out yet. In fact, sometimes when we visit the pediatrician, and she asks if my kids are getting enough water, I think about these moments in the tub, and confidently say, “Yes.”
My 9-year-old son, Tristan, was behind me, arguing to only brush his teeth for one minute instead of two minutes. Everything with him is a negotiation right now. But I didn’t really have time to negotiate because my hands were full with the water spitters, who kept spitting water and laughing despite my threats of being grounded for life. All the while my wife sat on the sofa playing iPad Yahtzee.
And you know what, if someone walked in on that scene, in that moment, when I was flustered and alone wrangling my kids into bed, they’d probably view my wife as lazy. But the fact is, bedtime is her time. Until about six months ago, she was home with the kids all day, all week, all month, 24/7. She recently picked up a part-time job at our kids’ school. But still, she’s the primary care giver. I work two jobs. At least two, sometimes three, times a week, I get up before my children and come home after they are in bed.
So when I am home, I get all three kids ready for bed while mom takes a break. It’s only an hour or two, although she deserves more. I’m not sure when this all started. I’m not sure when I began taking the wheel around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. It’s just been the reality for a long time. And I will be the first to admit, getting three kids under the age of 10 ready for bed is a lot like wrestling wet baby seals into pajamas. And in the moment, I swear a lot. I roll my eyes. I argue with my kids. I ask them to calm down, settle down, slow down. I get frustrated. I get tired. I often break a sweat chasing them down. But the reality is, getting my kids to bed is probably the most fatherly thing I get to do all day.
Not that going to work and bringing in an income isn’t fatherly. It is. But in 2016, it takes a lot of money to make ends meet, particularly with a family of five. Which translates to a lot of hours outside the home. So having this set time, where I get to be 100% Dad, is pretty important to me.
In fact, some of the best memories I have with my children happened while getting them ready for bed. Each night, I get on all fours and plod down the hallway with my middle daughter riding me like a horse. She usually places a blanket over my back like a saddle and pats my head, calling me a good daddy-horse. And I don’t care how big or bad you are, when a sweet little girl calls you a good daddy-horse, you go “Neeeeiiiiiigh” in your best horse voice.
Then I go back down the hall and pick up the littlest one.
When I’m home, my son insists on a warm hug from me before going to sleep, and I love that. I love that he feels that kind of comfort from my embrace.
I love sitting at the edge of my youngest’s bed each night as she calms down and gets to sleep. I love the way she pats the end of the bed, telling me where to sit.
The funny thing is, in the moment, it all seems more chaotic than what I’m describing. Bedtime includes a lot of yelling and pushing and arguing and ultimatums. It isn’t until I reflect back on my evenings with my children that I feel warmth in my heart. But a lot of parenting is like that. It’s all in hindsight.
Most importantly, me getting our children to bed gives my wife a much-needed break. Being the primary caregiver to three children isn’t one job. It’s a million jobs rolled into one: cook, driver, scheduler, argument negotiator, butt-wiper. It doesn’t include breaks or paid vacation. It isn’t something you can put aside by stepping into a breakroom. The fact is, a mother deserves time to just sit and not be clawed at. And ultimately, that’s what she gets while I get the kids ready for bed.
I know several couples with this same arrangement. Dad gets the kids ready for bed while mom takes a break. And in so many ways, it’s wonderful for a marriage. It shows appreciation and compassion for the stay-at-home parent while granting the working parent the opportunity to connect with their children.
To be perfectly candid, I know that this essay will be published on a site that is predominantly read by women. And I know that some dad is going to be tagged in this sucker with a wink emoji. And that dad is going to read it and feel like he’s being asked to do one more thing when he’s already got a million things to do. His list of things is incredibly long. He’s going think about long stressful days at work and how the moment you get home you just want to unwind.
And to you, the husbands reading this because your wife asked you to, I want to say that I don’t want to take that away. I don’t want to give you one more thing. I get it. I’ve been there. But those moments with my children after a long day at work are some of the most wonderful moments I’ve ever had in my life as a whole, not just as a father.
Even though, at the end of the workday, I want to take a break more than anything in the world, it’s the next day that I really appreciate the time spent getting my kids tucked into bed for the night. I think about them, their frustration, and crazy remarks, and silly smiles, and I feel the warmth that only comes from spending quality time, in the thick of it, with my children. It’s a damn good feeling. So give your wife a break and take over tonight.