The following is a post from RPC Patrick Mondragon, US Navy, recipient of NFI's 2013 Military Fatherhood Award. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.
- Try to eat dinner together as a family as often as possible. I always try to make sure that I’m home by dinner and we all eat together, almost always. There are occasions where I’ll have to work late, but we try not to make that a norm. And when we eat dinner, we turn off the television and spend good quality time talking about our days.
- Take at least one day off from work each month. Use this day to take and pick up your kids from school. You can also use the time while your kids are in school as a date-day for you and your wife. See a movie, have lunch together, go shopping, etc.
- Take at least one family vacation each year. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but more deliberate. Be faithful about this.
- Spend one-on-one time with your kids. Have a Father-Son day, or Father-Daughter day. Try to get each child one-on-one though. This allows you to learn more about your children, allows them to open up to you, and makes them feel special.
- Turn chores into family time. Let your kids help you wash your car, take them on errand trips to go pick up your dry cleaning or get groceries. Involve them in the process.
- Get Outdoors. Do fun things outdoors. Take the family camping, go swimming, play sports or go for a bike ride.
- Make sure you deposit enough into the “family bank account.” I’m not talking about money, although that helps too. What I’m talking about is the emotional bank account. We all know that being in the military means deployments and time away from our families. This is what I call making a “withdrawal” because it takes away from the family. These withdrawals are often unavoidable and there is nothing we can do about them. We can, however, make plenty of deposits so that we don’t end up in the negative. By deposits, I mean spending quality time with the family, telling them you love them, leaving them sticky notes, taking your kids to school, spending quality time with your spouse. You never want to be in the negative, but rather the positive.
- Make time for your spouse. This is so important because if you and your spouse are not in sync and are not truly happy, your children will definitely notice. Don’t think you can keep it from them, they notice everything! They are so observant. It’s important to make investments for your spouse as well, and get quality time with your husband/wife. Have a mini vacation, attend a marriage enrichment retreat together, go away for the weekend and arrange for someone you know and trust to watch your children. This will pay dividends in your marriage and will keep the love alive.
- Give plenty of encouragement to your children. Assure them they are doing well, compliment them when they do something right, reward them when they deserve it. Make them feel special, appreciated and important. This also builds their sense of security and confidence.
- Laugh often. Tell funny jokes, tickle your kids, play fun games or sports. Don’t be so serious all the time. Of course, there is a time and place for everything, but by having a sense of humor and laughing often, you help your kids feel secure. This also helps them develop many things like sense of humor, gift of gab, public speaking and more.
- Take your kids to work. Try this at least once. Let them visually see where you work and what you do. Give them a tour of your base, including your office. Introduce them to fellow employees. This helps your children understand what exactly it is that mommy or daddy does during the day.
- Be involved. Know when your daughter has a report due, how they did at tennis practice, which of their friends made them upset or hurt their feelings that day, how they like their teacher, etc. Be active in their school.
- Attend Important Events. Examples would be your kids Open House night, school field trip, back to school picnic, award ceremonies where they are recognized, first day of school, speech or spelling contest, school sport championships or big games. The list could go on, but I think you get the idea.
- Read a bedtime story to your kids. Now I understand that there is a time limit for this, and you probably won’t be reading them bedtime stories after they are 11 or 12 years old. But when they are young this is so important. For one, it’s great bonding time. For two, it makes them feel special. Three, it’s a great way to end the evening and four, it develops their reading skills and can make them enjoy reading. As your kids grow older, instead of reading them books, you can spend 5-10 minutes talking with them before they go to bed. Lay in bed with them for a bit. Ask them about their day.
- Learn together. Take your kids to museums, historical landmarks, nature centers, zoos and more. Make it a point to learn one or two new facts about something you didn’t know before.
- Make videos for your kids. This is mainly for when you dads are deployed. Make a few recordings even before you leave on deployment. For example, if you know that you are going to be deployed over Christmas, or Easter, or your kids birthday, make a video recording for this special event ahead of time, and then you can have your wife play it for your kids at the appropriate time. Buy special books to match the occasion and you can read those books to them. Take advantage of the United Through Reading program while you are deployed. If you really want to get the full-circle effect, have your wife videotape the kids watching your video, and then send that back to you. Then you can see their reactions to your recordings. We did this when I was deployed on the ship, and it was so rewarding.
- Tell your family you love them. Do this often! And don’t stop there by just telling them, SHOW THEM as well!
- Randomly buy something for them. This is fun and they will love it. It doesn’t have to be something expensive. My son Adam loves paper airplanes and things that fly through the air. The other day while taking them to the Flying Leatherneck Museum at MCAS Miramar, I saw these cool flyers where you spin them in the air and watch them fly. They were only $3 each, so I got one for each child. My daughter loves flavored chapstick, so sometimes I’ll go to the store and pick out a few new fun flavors for her, like Dr. Pepper, or Orange Cream. She loves that. She also loves to write, so while at the Dollar Store, I found a journal and some cool pens, and brought those back for her. She loved that as well.
- Read the "Five Love Languages" and "Five Love Languages for Kids". These books are a great investment and help you learn the “language” of both your spouse and your kids. Everybody has a different love language. What is your kids love language? As a matter of fact, most military Chaplains order these books, or can order them through the command supply system, and then you won’t even have to pay for them. I know that we keep several copies of this great book at my command.
- Make fun traditions for your family. A few years back, I started this cool Christmas tradition in my family that was never done when I was little. We call it the 25 days of Christmas activities. I make a Christmas activity calendar and have my kids help me. We pick out something to do every day from December 1st all the way up to Christmas Day. I like to incorporate activities and sight-seeing. Some of our favorites are making marshmallow snowmen, something I call the pillow surprise where I place a little present under their pillow, watch a Christmas movie with popcorn, hot cocoa by the fire, drive around looking at Christmas lights, listen to Christmas music while decorating the tree and more. This is so fun and our family really enjoys it. Another fun tradition we have is to have breakfast for dinner at least once per month. We will make waffles, bacon, pancakes with whip cream and all their favorite toppings, etc. Also, usually once a month we will let the kids each pick out what they want for dinner that night and will make it for them. My daughter loves sushi, so I’ll buy her some sushi. My son loves macaroni and cheese so I’ll make that for him.
- Play board games. These are great family-time things. My kids love monopoly. We like to make popcorn or have cookies and milk while we sit around the living room. We’ll have like a mini indoor picnic while we play. I’ll even get out my iPhone and put on music so we can jam out while playing. They love to do this. Recently, we bought the Monopoly City WII game. That’s really fun.
- Practice your faith. That old saying “A family that prays together, stays together” is still true today. Teach your kids how to pray, say grace before a meal, teach them about the bible. I realize this may not be for everyone, but for those who have a faith, practice it. What better way to build values in your children which they in turn will model for their future families some day.
- Teach/Model Etiquette. I always make it a point to open the car door for my wife so that my kids can see what a gentleman should do. I also open the car door for my daughter Olivia, and then I tell her that a real man/gentlemen should do the same for her as well. I teach my son Adam by asking him to help me open the doors for my wife and daughter when we go to restaurants or to stores. Then both of them learn. We practice etiquette by asking one another politely to "please pass the salt or napkins". We have them each put their own plates in the sink, they ask to be excused from the table and they make sure that everyone has a napkin before we eat.
- Let your kids plan out their day. Some weekends I’ll have both of my kids make a list of the top three things they want to do that day. Then we will compile the list, and start from the top. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive either. For example, the other weekend when we did this: my son Adam’s top three things were to draw together, play monopoly and go for a bike ride. My daughter Olivia’s was to play tag, watch a movie with popcorn and make homemade pizza for dinner. It was a busy but fun-packed day and we did all of those things. While I did this with the kids, my wife was able to go out and get a mani/pedi and have some nice “alone” time. This gave her a much-needed break and everyone had a good day. Then at the end, we all came together for dinner.
- Plan surprise events. This is a great way to switch things up. Fortunately, we live in San Diego where there are tons of things to do and places to go. Every once in awhile, we will surprise our kids by taking them somewhere fun. When they wake up in the morning, we’ll tell them “hurry up and get ready, we are going to Sea World.” They get so excited and it makes for such a fun day.
Well, that was my list of “Tips” for being a great dad, and how to maximize time with your family whenever you can. I hope you enjoyed reading these. Even more, my hope is that you might incorporate some of these things into your family routine. Take care and “GO GET EM DADS!
What would you add to this list?