When our first child was born, I lavished her with one-on-one Daddy time. Every night we read, played on the floor, or, once she was old enough to stand on a stool at the kitchen counter, cooked dinner together. (Okay, I cooked; she ate stuff. But we bonded.) These days I come home each night to a more hectic scene, with that little girl now 4 and her brother approaching his first birthday. Sure, I serve up bottles, brush teeth, and read bedtime stories as needed, but I feel guilty that I can’t give Jack the same undivided attention Lily got. We asked the experts how to make sure no one is shortchanged.
1. Learn the head fake
Reading time can be equally stimulating for both kids: Just plop the baby in your lap and make eye contact and funny faces as you read a book to the older child (or children). Early language skills are developed simply by listening; it doesn’t make any difference whether the story is about Harry Potter or Sam I Am. “Reading to babies is overrated, particularly to a baby younger than 9 months who can’t turn a page or focus on words,” says child therapist Carole Lapidus.
2. Change more diapers
Bathing, diapering, and tucking in is crucial to bonding, says family therapist Jeremy Schneider. “Playing together is nice, but it doesn’t fulfill a basic need,” he explains. “The best way for fathers to make the most of their limited parenting time is to demonstrate that they’re a primary caretaker.” It also reminds your kids that you do more than just play tickle monster.
3. Make them take turns
Don’t feel guilty about giving one child something to do on his own while you focus on the other. Schneider, the father of 4-year-old twins, says that taking turns with Daddy serves two purposes: First of all, it helps his children learn to share. On a deeper level, it teaches them that it’s okay for someone they love to have separate relationships.
4. Take him with you—everywhere
You don’t have to be focused on your infant at all times. Just strap him to your chest while you futz around at the hardware store. “Whether you’re carrying your child in a Baby Björn or just in your arms, he receives a lot of attention and easy kisses that way,” says Brian Kantz, author of Stay-at-Home Dad. Stay. Good Boy. “Even when his maniac sibling is jumping off the walls, a held baby is a content baby.”