Tag Archives: questions

FLASHBACK – 4 Ideas To Improve Your Bedtime Ritual

At the ripe old age of “I’m almost 10” it happened.  My son has asked me to stop laying down with him at bedtime.  He’s a big boy now and it’s time to go to bed alone despite all the zombies outside his window and a forecast for a 50 percent chance of sharknados.

But I’m still in control.  I inform him I will be laying down for a moment to read to him, scratch his back for 10 seconds, and say our prayers.  I confidently assure him it will be quick and painless and I’ll be out of the room in no time.

Rewind four years to when we started this discipline.

I’m thankful for lots of great advice from professional psychologists who worked with me and my son during our transition to a single-parent home.  To a person, they instructed me to maintain and improve upon his bedtime ritual to both provide comfort and promote a strong emotional connection.

His primary therapist insisted recreational book reading happen in bed because, in her experience, it enhances the emotional connection between parent and child.  An added benefit I discovered was an overall easier time falling asleep because of the consistent and safe routine.

So, here are four things I’ve learned about bedtime:

* Bedtime stories (not associated with school) need to be read in bed.  It’s a safe and comforting place to bond during reading.  This, somehow, enhances emotional bonds between father and child.  I don’t understand and don’t have any metrics to prove anything for certain, but I know my son’s emotional state was stable when I did this consistently.  He had his moments (and me mine), but it must have helped.

* Just suck it up and scratch their back.  After a long day (still anticipating folding laundry and doing dishes before I could turn in) the last thing I wanted to do was lay in some awkward position and scratch my son’s back while propping up my arm on a pillow so it didn’t fall asleep.  But I knew it mattered.  A lot.  Touch is so important with our kids and a lot of us dads forget.  So just do it.  Scratch their backs and give them a good night kiss.

* Invite questions and conversation.  Your kid will benefit from being in an emotionally safe place where they feel connected with you because they will be more likely to share their feelings and engage in some amazing conversations.  Depending on your circumstance, your kid may experience some deep hurt, fear, and guilt – what can it hurt to let them know you welcome their questions or want find out what’s on their mind?

(DISCLAIMER)  I have tried the question thing with mixed results.  I told him he could ask me anything and I would answer honestly…even if my response was “I don’t know” or “we will need to talk about that when you’re older” or “that is a grown-up issue between your mom and me.”  He occasionally pressed to get details about our divorce, but I stuck to my script (more on this concept to come in another post).  Sometimes he said he didn’t have any questions or want to talk.  That’s fine – it’s an invitation, not a requirement.

* If something has to get done before you go to bed, try to get it knocked out before the bedtime ritual.  Your day probably began 15-16 hours before it’s time to lay down with your child.  You will, occasionally, fall asleep.  You will barely function after your brief, pre-bedtime nap.  As they get older, this gets more important because their bedtime is closer to yours.

Connection with our kids keeps coming back to communication, time and touch.  So, invest some energy into your bedtime ritual.  It will make a difference.

If you miss a night here and there, don’t worry about it – just be as consistent as you can and know it will pay dividends.

As for me, I’m going to get this bedtime ritual in as long as I can, even though it’s abbreviated.  Plus, you never know when a sharknado will strike.

Will You Please Remarry Mom?

When will my kids be ready for me to date again?

Several months after my divorce, my son and I took one of our routine trips to the zoo.  I bought a membership to the Phoenix Zoo because I could take up to three kids, and my son always enjoyed having friends go with him.

But on this particular Saturday, only he and I went.  And as we entered the Savanna, teaming with giraffes and zebras, he asked if mom and I would get married again.

Photo by Jason

Photo by Jason

No matter the circumstance of the divorce and the feelings your ex may stir up inside, having an innocent child ask this question in hopes of the family reuniting and returning to the “old normal” can really turn on the guilt (and sympathy for your kid).

I stared at the giraffe for a few seconds, giving me time to could come up with a wise and comforting answer.

“No, buddy.  We won’t get married again.  Look!  Do you think that poop is from a giraffe or a zebra?”

Not exactly Dr. Phil, but I figured it best to answer and quickly divert.  It worked.

My son had asked the same question several times over the preceding months.  I answered in a similar fashion, trying to be consistent and empathetic: following up the statement with a touch or a hug.

My son (and, frankly, I) had more healing to do before contemplating dating.  Here are a few of those thoughts specifically related to my son:

  • He did not need to know if and when I decided to date.  This may be a function of your kid’s age and maturity, but I saw no reason to bring my son into my dating life.  If I had a date, he had a sitter and just knew dad was going out.  I did not provide details unless he asked, and then I told him I was having dinner with someone he did not know.  Usually, the conversation ended there.
  • When one date turned into multiple dates, I continued to keep it quiet.  Someone gave me some great advice…do not introduce your kid to someone you date (or their kids) until well into the relationship because if it ends, your kid may go through the equivalent of another divorce.  It is possible to have them meet and interact, even on a regular basis, but keep the relationship platonic in front of the kids.  The thrill of dating, especially when it begins to get more serious, can make you want to bring your kid into the relationship to check compatibility and just enjoy everyone being together.  But be sensitive to how your kid will react if it ends – another loss.
  • He needed me to be continue being a dad.  Enjoy dating, but be sure to set aside one-on-one time with your kid every day and make him a top priority.

How have your kids reacted to you dating or getting remarried?  What did you do to break the news?

“Ts” Of Single Fatherhood – Talk

“Hi, son!  How was your day?”


“What happened at school?”


“Anything happen you would like to talk about?”


Sound like a familiar conversation when you pick your kid up?

For our purposes, we will acknowledge conversation between father and child benefits both the father and child.  We will acknowledge the importance of verbal communication for the development of our kids from a social and emotional standpoint.

Photo Credit: Alkavare via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alkavare via Compfight cc

If you have had experiences like the one I shared above, we need to move beyond the “why” and get to the “how”.

OBSERVE:  When do you like to talk to others and when do you like to be left alone?  Do you want peace and quiet before breakfast?  Until you get to work?  Do you need some time to decompress after a long day and collect your thoughts without engaging in conversation?  Well, our kids have similar preferences.  Learn yours and learn theirs.  Use that information to determine the best time to engage in meaningful conversation.  Many kids do not want to talk about their day at school immediately after leaving, and instead would like to listen to music or shoot some hoops – not a good time to actively engage.  Instead, figure out when they are most open.  For many, it is at bedtime (see my post about bedtime rituals for some thoughts on this).

ASK QUESTIONS:  Would you rather get a lecture or engage in a dialogue?  Often, we equate talking to our kids with telling our kids what we think.  Instead, observe which questions pique their interest and elicit a response more than a simple “yes” or “no”.  Sometime our kids need to hear from us in the lecture format, but talking to them involves a two-way dialogue.  Properly worded questions can sometimes teach more than any droning lecture because they encourage our kids to think about choices and the reasons behind them.

INVITE QUESTIONS:  We used to have a time before bed where I told my son he could ask me any question he wanted with the promise I would give an honest answer.  When he would ask about the divorce, I honestly told him it was not appropriate for me to discuss and went right into my “broken record” explanation.  When he would ask a question about an aspect of science I did not know, I told him I would do some research and get back to him. Sometimes he had no questions and sometimes I knew the answer.  Encouraging our kids to ask questions seems to make them more comfortable with talking – at least it did with my son.

LISTEN:  In those moments you want to really talk to your kids and connect, give them your attention when they talk.  Let the phone keep ringing.  Do not check your text messages like Pavlov’s dog when the alert sounds.  Turn off the television.  Engage in eye contact and repeat what they said to you so they know you listened and understood.  If our kids sense we do not pay attention to them, why would they talk?

DO SOMETHING ACTIVE WHILE YOU TALK:  Throwing a football, going for a walk, or swinging at the park can be great ways (especially with boys) to connect and converse.  They still have your attention, but there is just something about walking and talking….

Because we regularly play the role of dad and mom, we need to redouble our efforts to connect with our kids in conversation.  They need to express feelings and ask questions, but they may not if the foundations of regular communication do not exist.

My son has recently shared some concerns with me on his own, with no prompting and seemingly out of the blue.  I have told him how appreciative I am he asked me and thanked him for trusting me with something bugging him.  I do not believe he would have asked had we not developed our communication skills.

Having said that, I still get “fine” and “no” when I pick him up from school.  And then he turns on the radio.

When do you find your kids most willing to have a good conversation?