More than a half-million readers know our friend Jay Payleitner as the guy who writes practical, easy-to-read books for dads. Finally, he’s written one for moms. (About time, Jay!) From Moms Bringing Out the Best in Dads, here’s an excerpt you can enjoy and pass along to your wife.
Make your home a place that kids want to be.
A place that’s fun, comfortable, and kid friendly. A place where parents are in proximity, but not intrusive. A place that’s safe, but not vanilla. Make your home a hangout.
Put a Ping-Pong table in the basement. Provide access to ESPN. Get the latest karaoke games for your Xbox or PlayStation. Build a fire pit in your back yard and maintain a stash of Hershey’s bars, graham crackers, and marshmallows. Establish a rec room that’s not filled with breakable, stainable, or irreplaceable stuff. Have a game cabinet filled with some new interactive games as well as classic board games. If there are any musical genes in your family, put a drum kit in the corner. Maybe let your teenager decorate the game room and choose some of the trappings.
When a crew of hungry teenagers comes over to hang out after a game, plan for homecoming, or do a group project, send out for pizza. Stockpile junk food. I know one dad who fills a basement freezer with five-gallon containers of ice cream.
All this might take a chunk out of your household budget, but it’s an investment that pays back a hundredfold. The dividends include stronger family relationships, deeper conversations about hopes and dreams, and peace of mind because you know where your kids are. Not to mention the impact you can have on the lives of some of those kids hanging around your house.
Mom, when you make your home a hangout, you’re increasing the likelihood that your husband will be actively involved in the lives of his growing children. You’re already involved yourself. You can name several of your children’s friends. You have been closely watching your kids grow up and grow out of things. It’s routine for you.
Dads want to connect with their kids.
But since dads often feel like they’re out of the loop, they might try to reconnect with their teenagers in a bigger way out of desperation. Which means a well-meaning dad may arrange for a big family surprise … that falls flat. I know a dad who ordered a Lego Millennium Falcon kit for $200, only to discover his son had long abandoned his Star Wars phase and hadn’t played with Legos in more than a year.
Similarly, you can imagine a father realizing he only has a couple years left before his teenager leaves home and sadly discovering that he’s waited too long. He might get all excited when he arranges for a fishing expedition, a trip to the American Girl store, or tickets to a boy band concert, or passes for a weekend convention focusing on his son or daughter’s favorite hobby. Then he finds out it’s an interest or hobby they’ve outgrown.
That wouldn’t happen if your teenager is regularly inviting friends over to your house. The result is that you—and your husband—will know what your kid cares about. Proximity does that. And you will have saved your husband some embarrassment and frustration and given your entire family a great gift.
The goal is to establish a comfort zone in your home so kids have just enough privacy to feel like they can talk, laugh, share secrets, and make lifelong connections. Still, you should be able to enter or pass through that space without too much of an apology. If you bring a bag of Dilly Bars or a bowl of popcorn, that makes it even easier.
One more word of warning: If teenagers are hanging around, your husband may begin to relive some of his own high-school years and start to believe he’s one of the guys. It’s probably okay to let him interact momentarily. You can even encourage him to join the young people when they’re tossing around a football or Frisbee. Let him wander out to the firepit or into the rec room just to say hi, but suggest he remain standing and spend less than a minute or two there.
To make sure he gets the idea, remind him of why you’ve chosen to make your home inviting to kids. Without insulting him, you can say things like, “Remember, you’re not sixteen anymore,” or “Sweetheart, let’s give them their space.” You might even tell him, “I love when Logan brings his friends home. Part of me wants to go eavesdrop on everything they’re talking about”—to show you understand how he feels.
Finally, after the last teenager leaves for the night, don’t interrogate your own child with a barrage of questions about the gathering. As you all clean up, the most you can hope for is a conversation that provides two or three tidbits of information about teachers, coaches, homecoming, prom, youth group, college plans, or who’s dating whom.
That’s more information than you would have had if your house was not a welcoming hangout.
Jay Payleitner is the best-selling author of more than 25 books, including 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad and Don’t Take the Bait to Escalate. And a frequent speaker at men’s events and retreats across the nation. Track him down at jaypayleitner.com.
(This blog post is an excerpt from Chapter 33 of Moms Bringing Out the Best in Dads, Harvest House Publishers © 2022.)
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Is your home welcoming to your kids’ friends? Do they tend to gather at your house, or somewhere else? Why or why not?
- Talk with your kids’ mom about this. How can you make your home more inviting to your kids’ friends? What changes can you feasibly make?
- Ask your child, too: “Do you and your friends feel comfortable hanging out here?” “What would make our house better for that?”
- Rate your own awareness of each of your kids and their world using the questions here.
- And take this self-scoring profile to assess your fathering in this area.