5 Ways to Help Your Husband Be More Involved with the Kids

5 Ways to Foster a Relationship Between Your Husband and Your Babies

Do you worry that your husband won’t bond with the baby? Does your husband seem to ignore the kids? It’s a common complaint.

Here’s the scenario: He works outside the home all day. You’re home with the kids (including, let’s say, a baby or two). When he gets home, he thinks that his job is now done. He lies on the couch and watches TV, or gets on the computer, and feels like it’s her job to put the babies in bed, make dinner, and care for the children.

That’s the scenario I presented in the Reader Question of the Week on Saturday, and quite a few people took a stab at it (interesting discussion; you can follow it here).

I’m a little concerned, though, that some people’s attitude was this:

He works hard all day. He really is exhausted. You’ve split the labor and decided you’ll do the childcare; now live with it.

I understand that sometimes we have to say that in regards to housework. Sure, we’d like him to help out more around the house, but if he won’t, the best thing to do is to get more organized yourself and figure out ways to make the housework easier on you, even if he never pitches in. In fact, I wrote a whole book about that (To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother).

I know you can’t change your husband, and I do think that sometimes you have to let things go.

However, I’m very uneasy with people’s rush to that conclusion in this case, for one simple reason: A baby is not housework. A baby is a person who needs two parents. It is not right for the mother to do all of the childcare and for the father to have very little interaction with the kids, because this is not good for the father or for the children. This is not just a matter of her workload, although that is definitely a consideration. More than anything, I believe, this is about the health of the family.

It is not right if both parents work outside the home; but it is also not right even if the mom is home full time. A child is not a task to be checked off a list during the day; a child is someone who needs a relationship with his or her parents–both of them. I get women emailing me, saying: “My husband thinks if he’s takes the kids he’s “baby-sitting”, like he’s doing me a favor. He forgets they’re his kids, too!” That is not a good dynamic in the family, and if that is your dynamic, I encourage you to do something to change it.

So with that in mind, I thought I would tackle the topic of how to help your husband develop a relationship with your children. I don’t have 5 ways to “make” him, but I do have 5 ways to change the dynamic so that he is more likely to be involved:

1. Allow Him to Set the Tone and Have a Say

When a baby is born we women become different people. Our focus changes. Our hearts change. Even our hormones change! And because we have such a strong bond from the very beginning, especially if we are breastfeeding, it’s easy to give the impression “I know what I’m doing and you don’t, so let me show you the right way to do everything.”

When my oldest daughter was born I hugged her close, and held her gently, and sang to her. My husband picked up this newborn baby and started bouncing her vigorously. My heart rate went up. I wanted to grab my baby from him and tell him he was hurting her.

There was only one problem: he was a pediatrician. He knew more about baby wellness than I did. And so I bit my tongue. And sure enough, the first time Becca ever smiled or giggled was when Keith was bouncing her. He knew what he was doing.

Had he not been a pediatrician, I likely would have told him to stop.

We need to resist the temptation to say, “I have the right to call the shots with how we raise the babies.” Don’t squeeze your husband out.  If you want them sleeping in your bed but he doesn’t, listen to him. If he wants to implement an earlier bedtime so you can have some couple time, listen to him. If he wants to get the kids on a schedule (or if he doesn’t want the kids on as much of a schedule), discuss it. Do you want him involved with the kids or don’t you?

If your babies are no longer babies, but are toddlers or even older, this still applies. Talk to him about what he wants your family life to be like. If he’s withdrawing, say to him, “what do you envision for our family? How would you like to organize the kids and the parenting?” Have that conversation! Honor him, and you’ll find his relationship with the kids is much better.

2. Allow Him Room in the Baby Days

Many men have trouble bonding with the baby because there’s very little for them to do. The mom feeds them; all the dad can do is rock them or change a diaper. Thus, many men find babies intimidating. If that’s the case, give him grace. In many families the husband really steps up to the plate around the time baby #2 arrives, and baby #1 is now a toddler and can actually talk and do things. Don’t start berating him for being a bad dad in the baby’s early days; involve him, but understand that the early days often are mom’s time.

3. Ask Him to Do Specific Tasks

Now it’s time to understand some basic differences between men and women:

Women’s basic motivator is relationship. Men’s basic motivator is competence and accomplishment.

It’s like the Men are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti thing: for women, everything has to do with everything else. If we have kids, and we’re working, or we’re at church, we’re still thinking about those kids and how all of this relates to those kids. A guy, on the other hand, is going to tend to ask, “what am I supposed to do next?” He wants to focus on one thing. That doesn’t mean that women can’t operate on tasks; many of us want to get more organized, and making lists can help (here’s a great resource for that). But on the whole, most of us think in terms of “looking after the kids”, not in terms of “getting a whole bunch of things done”.

So for us, if a friend says, “can you take the baby for me for a few hours while I run to a doctor’s appointment?”, we know what that involves. To a guy, on the other hand, if you say, “can you take the baby for me for a few hours”, he doesn’t really know what that means. I don’t mean that guys are idiots, either; I just mean that’s not how they operate. They operate in terms of tasks; if there is no task before him, then it’s okay if he sits on a couch or gets on the computer. And “a baby” is not a task. We incorporate the baby into our lives, but he doesn’t in the same way. He’s not wrong; he’s just wired differently.

And so I think many of us approach our husbands in the wrong way when we need help. We expect him to know what “take the baby” means, and to be able to do it well, maybe while still getting some housework done (that’s what we do, after all). He has trouble visualizing what it means.

If you were to say, on the hand, “would you mind reading Amy three board books while I make dinner?”, he can do that. If you were to say, “Would you mind taking  Johnny to the hardware store with you on your errands so that I can get some vacuuming done,” he can do that. If you were to say, “Would you mind giving Becky her bath while I clean up the kitchen,” he can do that. Those are tasks.

In fact, it will be easier for your husband to jump in if your day is not just “carrying baby around while I try to get everything done”, but is instead divided into tasks. We read to the baby from 4-4:30. We have a bath at 7:00 and read at 7:15 and bed at 7:30. We have snack at 10:30. Etc. Etc.

If you want him to “take the baby” at other times, make it easier for him to do. Get a baby carrier so he can walk around with the baby. Stick to a schedule so he knows what to expect. Have lots of things on hand to do with the baby or the toddler.

It may also be a good idea to give him one specific task that he owns. Perhaps he always gives the kids their bath every night. That way he has  some special time with them and they can bond. Be aware that if you start this the baby may resist. Babies often play favorites, and mommy is often the favorite. Push past it. Do it with your husband for a time, and slowly ease out. Give the baby the time to adjust. But don’t give in, saying, “oh, well, I don’t think this will work.” After a week or so babies often change their preferences anyway. Wait it out.

5 Ways to Help Your Husband Have a Relationship with the Babies

Other dads enjoy more active things. My daughters both teach swimming lessons at the Y, and my oldest daughter’s favorite class is the parent & tot class. She sings songs and they do actions and lots of fun in the water. And over half the parents are dads. Perhaps your husband could have a specific activity he does with the baby every week–like swimming or gymnastics–to help give him some dad & baby time, and to free up some time for you.

Having him “own” an activity, rather than expecting him to just “help with the baby”, is often easier for him to get his head around.

4. Stress Family Activities

If your husband is unwilling to do even that, don’t give up. Remember: your kids need their dad. Often dads get closer to kids the older the kids grow, but you can start being part of the solution rather than the problem when they’re young. How about just planning more family activities? Instead of getting on your computers at night, start taking walks as a family after dinner every night. Get a gym membership and go swimming together. Go camping as a family in the summer. Encourage activities where you are all together. Time with dad will happen then, and the more relaxed down time he has with the kids, the better his relationship with them will be.

5. Keep Your Husband as Your Main Relationship Priority

Finally, let’s not forget that one of the best ways you can help your husband bond with the kids is to make sure you are also bonding with your husband. When babies first come, men often get jealous. Mom bonds with baby and forgets about dad. We may think that’s immature–the baby needs us now! Stop focusing on yourself! But actually I think he has the proper perspective. What children need, more than anything, is for their parents to have a stable, close relationship. When the marriage is strong, the children will thrive. When the marriage is at risk, children sense it. So never, ever sacrifice your relationship with your husband for the sake of the kids. There are seasons where the kids must come first (I have two readers right now who are in hospital in another state with their children undergoing medical treatment. They’re separated from their husbands for months on end. Please pray for them). But these seasons are rare. On the whole, your marriage comes before the kids.

If you institute a strict bedtime with kids so you have time with your hubby, and keep your sex life active, your hubby will feel more a part of the family. If you don’t, he may retreat. Is that right? No. He should fight through it anyway. But it is human nature. He will tend to go to places where he is appreciated and affirmed.

It’s really quite simple: if you want your husband to spend more time with the kids, make sure that you are also spending more time with him. Prioritize sex. Prioritize getting the kids on a schedule so you do have some alone time. Consider his feelings. And you may find that he becomes a more active dad!

Let me know your thoughts: how have you encouraged a relationship between your husband and your young kids? Is there a particular area your husband has taken over? Let me know in the comments!

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Comments

  1. I was working when we had our first child while my husband went to school. He took care of our son while I was gone and it was the best thing that could have happened. This required my husband to learn how to do things without me. And he was amazing! (and still is). He can get babies to calm down when I can’t. And if i left a chore list, he would complete everything on the list. While our roles are reversed now, and we have 3 1/4 children, he is still excellent.

  2. ButterflyWings says:

    Love this article and love the photo of the dad in the swimming class.

    I feel very blessed – even though my exhusband went out of his way to avoid spending any time with our daughter, even when I was sick and in hospital and he was unemployed (while I was working and studying), my second husband loves spending time with my daughter.

  3. Thanks for this Sheila! It’s a really good overview. I’m not a mom yet, but am excited to be, and it’s really good stuff to be thinking on.

  4. I agree! This post was very timely for me. My husband has fears about me putting our kids first if we are blessed with them. I get very attached to kids even if they are not my own; which is a good thing as long as I put my husband first. Your five points were so helpful to preemptively think through!

  5. The asking — that’s a huge one. If you read and study about male/female instincts, you learn that women simply pitch in to help when they see a need. Men don’t want to overstep a boundary or offend, and so they wait to be asked. Sure, we can assist them in learning to just jump right in, but naturally, they don’t (not all men fit this mold, of course).

    I spent our children’s early years wondering why I got little to no help from my husband, and wanted him to just KNOW to do things. Now, I understand that he had no idea I could have used the help — and it makes all the difference when I ask. It definitely does. How, when and why I ask matters, too. Same as it would in the reverse situation.

    The relationship priority is the downfall of many families. Kids first — the mantra of the late 20th and early 21st centuries … wrecks families. It almost eliminated my family, and making the necessary changes not only didn’t hurt, it felt GOOD. It makes everything smoother to focus my children on the leadership of their dad (not using him as the heavy, but as the final say), and to depend on him instead of shouldering everything alone. What a life it is when you don’t live every minute for children.
    Amy recently posted…Ten Ways to Love: Forgive without PunishingMy Profile

  6. Great advice! I really cringe when I hear a new mother “bossing” her husband around or diminishing his involvement with the baby — talk about tearing down her house with her own hands…
    Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life recently posted…Parenting for Lazy People: The Napping House, Part IMy Profile

  7. Sheila,

    As a pastor I think this is some of the greatest advice to give to any new parents. This may be one of the best post you have written, especially point number one. It all builds from there. It will be going in my suggested … possibly required … reading for my pre-marital counseling sessions. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Michael! And if I can put in a good word for “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex”, that’s awesome for pre-marital counseling, too! :) It’s my prayer that more pastors will recommend it to their newly married/engaged couples, because if couples can get this right right off the bat, marriages will be so much stronger!

  8. Great advise.
    My husband loved the baby carrier more than I did. He used it on the nights I went knitting to strap the baby on while being on the PC playing games. We’re expecting baby #3 any day now (Yes, please pray I go into labor ASAP, since I’m going crazy and making every one around me miserable) and he already mentioned how he is actually looking forward to doing this again.
    One of the things he enjoys now that the girls (6 & 4) are bigger is reading stories to them. This is not something we really do together as a family, since I read to them in Dutch to boast their vocabulary. So every Shabbat afternoon is story time with Abba.

  9. From very early on my dh was in charge of bedtime. I suggested it,( maybe even demaned at first) stating that I had been with them all day and taken care of their every need up to that point. It became their routine – brusing teeth, bedtime prayers, time for him to tell him his life stories and listen to them. My husband developed a secret handshake with each of the kids that they did at bedtime each night. In fact, my daughter used this secret handshake as my husband gave her away at her wedding! When my college boy is home from school they still share the handshake when either one of them heads off to bed. My husband also spent time with the kids skiing and backpacking and hunting.

    • That’s really beautiful! And that’s exactly what I’m talking about. It can build such precious memories when he handles one part of parenting exclusively. It’s a special bond then, and you’ve shown exactly why!

  10. One thing I’ve learned that goes along with this is that I have to allow him to do whatever he wants to do with the kids. I can’t criticize him for playing video games with our kids or playing the music too loud. He might do things differently than I would, but at least he’s interacting with them.
    Lindsey Bell recently posted…For When You Blow It…AgainMy Profile

  11. Yes, yes, yes!!! You hit a home run here Sheila!! We have been married 14 years and have 6 kids so obviously this has been a major thing to figure out in our home. Thankfully, my husband has given me much grace as I have failed, and I have tried to do the same for him. Our hearts want to be right and that is the major thing. I will be sharing this post!
    Alicia recently posted…Romance Every DayMy Profile

  12. siminoz says:

    Really liked this one too, Sheila (actually I like them all! But this one was especially well articulated).
    One of my frustrations years ago when I was a younger mum and working with other young mums was the “mummy tantrum” that many mums would have towards their husbands not helping out the second they walked in the door. These mums wanted to down tools the instant their husbands came home so they could sit around and criticise the way he did things with the children.
    My wise mother always suggested having a buffer between hubby coming home and asking him to help (specifically, like you said, with a particular task), to allow him some mental space between work and home.
    Once hubby has had time to switch over into ‘daddy’ mode, he is more likely to engage with the children. Now they are teens it is still the case. Sometimes he walks in and they rush to him with requests and questions to answer! He needs time, though, before he can fully turn his attention to them.
    Being organised with afternoon/evening routine helped enormously with juggling tired cranky children, and tired hubby. I did always try to have dinner ready for the same time each night. I did always do bathing an hour before dinner, with playtime in bedrooms after bath so I could finish dinner.If daddy came home in time to help with bath, or to play with the children – great. If not, they were still happily occupied in a normal activity which required less one-on-one interaction from me while I finished up dinner. After dinner was usually ‘daddy time’ with teeth brushing and stories and bed while I cleaned up. And consistent bedtimes for children too (so important), so that we could have some down time together in the evening. Routines were invaluable to keep things going when they were small, for so many reasons!
    Now they are older, evenings look completely different – but that’s another story for a different post ;-)
    siminoz

  13. Yes! This is how I feel too. We have a 10 month old and since he was born I began to figure out each of these points. I’m not perfect at it, especially in letting my hubby do “his way” instead of “my way” at times, but it does make a difference. Typically, when my hubby gets home from work, he’ll take our son and hold him and play with him. He’ll help with (or do) bath time and getting our son ready for bed. On weekends he gets up with him and takes care of the morning feeding, diaper change, and play time so I can get some more sleep. He is a great father and is really good with our son. I’m very blessed. :)
    Sarah @ The Biblical Family Blog recently posted…Tell Your StoryMy Profile

  14. My husband has always been very involved with the care of our three kids, and I really do appreciate how much he does. His father was not very involved in the care of him and his brother growing up so it’s pretty awesome that even though he had no idea what he was doing, he has really made an effort to learn. But when I was pregnant with my first baby, an older woman gave me a piece of advice that has always stuck with me and I think it has had enormous influence on why he is so involved: Whatever your husband wants to do with the baby (childcare-wise), let him do it and don’t comment. The more you comment or offer suggestions on how to do it “better”, the less he will want to be involved because he will feel inadequate and the more he will back away from involvement with those tasks. I can get all worked up because he isn’t doing something the “right” way, but really, for the majority of childcare tasks, what’s the worst case scenario if he doesn’t do it right? If he doesn’t put the diaper on right, well, then he’ll have to change the baby’s wet/dirty clothes. If he doesn’t feel the baby on time, well, then he’ll have a fussy baby. If the baby doesn’t go down for a nap on time, oh well, I can take a few extra minutes to put the child down or we’ll just deal with an irritable child for one day. Although I certainly would choose to have the diaper on correctly or a nap schedule followed or that the kids don’t eat cookies for snacks, is it really going to hurt them? Do I really have to make a comment and criticize it? Things like that just aren’t worth fighting about. Plus, I’ve found that leaving him alone has allowed him to form his own parenting style and unique relationship with the boys. They know he will take care of them, but his style is different than mine and the kids love both. We talk about our kids and parenting quite a bit to make sure we’re on the same page about the important things, but for the most part, we just let each other be ourselves.

    I can also attest to the fact that babies are hard for men sometimes. Some men love newborns, but others just feel awkward. My husband has just never known what to do with a baby although he would always change diapers, rock them, let them fall asleep on his chest, etc. But when we had our second baby, childcare duties naturally separated into me always caring for the baby and him always caring for the older child. For a while, I worried that the new child and my husband wouldn’t bond, but it was a temporary thing. The same thing happened with our third, but that time I wasn’t so worried about it. I knew that eventually, they would spend more and more time together. Having that experience helped me to not nag him about holding the baby or criticize how he spent more time with the older kids. It all worked out for us.
    Elizabeth@Warrior Wives recently posted…Let’s Chat: Does Having Kids Wreck a Marriage?My Profile

  15. Great post! I think everything you mentioned is such a good reminder. My husband & I only have one daughter (9 months old :) ) and I have to say, at first, he had NO idea what to do with her. She’d be crying and he’d be almost paralyzed by it… like, what do I do, why won’t she stop, I’ve tried everything! I learned that I actually had to teach him what to do with her because he doesn’t have those mommy instincts. I don’t mean teaching him how to do a diaper, bathe her, etc., but stuff like “this cry means she’s hungry.” “This cry means she’s lonely.”

    And my husband still had a huge advantage over some new dads, namely that he got to bond with our daughter before anyone else did, thanks to a drug-induced alien abduction that I got to experience immediately post-delivery. :) Even with that unique bonding time that I missed out on :( we went through a really rough patch where he didn’t know what to do with her and felt like she spent her entire existence screaming at him for being a lousy dad. Of course, in reality, she was just hungry/tired/lonely/bored/whatever. It’s really tough being a dad. But now I think that he’s her favorite person ever! I am just so proud that HE is my daughter’s daddy and my husband!

    • “drug-induced alien abduction”–oh, that sounds awful but funny at the same time!

      I’m so glad you have such a wonderful man!

      • Haha, yeah, it was bad — I don’t know what they gave me, but that big light they have in delivery rooms somehow got worked into my mind and I felt like I was being abducted by aliens. Bad! But at least my husband got to bond with our daughter! :)

  16. Asking was the number one thing that I have learned. With my first I never asked- I just assumed he would step in and help out when he was able. Well, he didn’t. He didn’t help with ANYTHING. (and my first was a VERY difficult child!) It was very frustrating to me and I got very angry and resentful inside toward him. I realized when my second that if I asked he would help. Duh. We now have four and he is pretty helpful with the older kids (2+) and will hold the baby if I ask. All I had to do was ask! I wish I would have known that the first time around. It would have saved me so much anger and stress!
    Brooke recently posted…It is Finished.My Profile

  17. I’ve had to learn to not hover and nag and let my husband do things with our kids (ages 3 and 10 months). So what if it doesn’t get done perfectly? It got done and I didn’t have to do it! I’m very grateful he is so involved. As I type he is sitting on the floor with our kiddos playing trains. It’s chaos. And I love it.
    Melissa recently posted…Random Stuff LatelyMy Profile

  18. Great advice! No, REALLY great advice. I wish I’d figured this out way before this year. One day after having enough of my hubby not helping out much and enjoying his downtime while I was irritated and wondering when I’d ever be able to get some free time and building up resentment, I confronted him on it. I didn’t blow up at him (surprisingly) but kept very calm and level headed. I had an aha moment when he basically said he thought that was (without sounding old fashioned and macho) my job. That’s what moms do – take care of the kids. I’m good at it. I just know what to do. (Still kept calm believe it it not) I told him, no it’s not. I needed help and it’s important that we do it together. He honestly had this old fashioned mentality because that’s what he grew up with. Ever since, he’s really stepped up and helps out way more. And I ask a lot more too. I always hated having to “ask” but he’s not a mind reader. I think in the beginning because it was way easier for me to just do it, it enabled him to take me for granted a little bit. And I take some responsibility for that.

  19. Excellent post! Much like “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex,” I wish I had learned this earlier in my marriage (and like the book, I’ll be passing this on to other young wives as well).

  20. When my Little was born, we both had jobs. My husband took her to daycare, picked her up from daycare, and watched her while I worked weekend and some nights. It was His responsibility to give her a bath also. I believe that really helped him build a strong relationship with her. And now that I am a Stay at home mom, she doesn’t get all that daddy alone time, but she tells him Dad can we have a day together with no mommy; or she will tell me and Ill tell him. I definitely will reccomend this post to any new parents that I know!!!!!!
    Tiffany recently posted…Amazing Power of PrayerMy Profile

  21. Lots of great advice here! One things I’d like to note {if it hasn’t already been mentioned in the comments} is to be sure to give your hubby am opportunity to “transition” from work to home. My husband, for example, HAS to shower right when he gets home. If I know that I need him to “take over” so that I can do something else {even just take a break}, I try to show him the courtesy of waiting until after his shower. I also give him a heads up if its been a rough day and I am in need of an extra set of hands when he gets home… This way, it isn’t me pushing our son at him and running away to lock myself in a bathroom or something.

    All moms-to-be should read this… In fact, I’m sending it to a first time preggo friend right now!
    Alana @ Grace-Full Intentions recently posted…The Bliss Book Club: Let. It. Go. {Chapter 6}My Profile

  22. Thanks for the comment about your husband bouncing your kid up and down, and the pic at the top with the upside-down kid. Someone we barely know recently scolded us for my husband doing that with our kid, when it’s something she absolutely loves and thinks is hilarious. He’s always careful but some people seem to think small children are made out of glass. Anyway, what you wrote made me feel better, so thanks.

  23. Thanks for the advise. Please write one on how to put your husband first before the kids if you don’t mind. Kindly give us specific examples like in the article above. Thank you Sheila.

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