First the disclaimers: I use 'son' because this column is based on personal experience. We have a son (and not a daughter), who will soon turn 5. I assume that the rules are pretty much the same for a daughter because I've seen friends spend quality time doing similar things with their daughters. Secondly, the city that you live in may or may not have the same options, so you might have to get creative. And finally, the standard disclaimer: you may have 50 ways or 5 ways or might not agree with what I've said; after all, parenting is a very personal thing and the style changes from person to person.
Now that that's out of the way, let's get on with the fun part. Someone once told me that I should halve the money and double the time I give to my kid. Now I don't know if that's the best parenting advice I've ever gotten, but if only life was quite so simple. We live in tough and competitive times. Very often, time is a scarcer resource than money. We balance our careers with our personal lives and at varying points of time, both go through good and bad days. Long nights at work and tough schedules are commonplace as we struggle to feed our aspirations. Things are different now from our parents' times, the pre-liberalisation India that grew at 2-3%. Today, even at 5-6% growth, office life is demanding. More so, considering the ongoing slowdown.
When both parents are working, the challenge for both to be able to spend enough time with their children is even tougher. But if the father works full-time and the mother takes care of the child, the rules are a bit different. Fathers need to make that extra time for their kids. In my case, my son would be sleeping when I left for work and also when I returned. Eventually, I quit my job and became a full-time father.
Here are some of the things that I find to be a lot of fun while spending time with my son:
This is an obvious one. But sometimes, the challenge is in finding a place to play. Hopefully, you have a park nearby or a podium in your building where you can take a football or a cricket set and play with your kid. I've found wrestling to be of immense therapeutic value, but that's because my son can get very physical. And man to man, it's good to be rough sometimes (Disclaimers apply: my son is almost 5 years old and is well-rounded, if you get what I mean). Then there are indoor games like chess and board games. You know the drill on this because it is the easiest of the lot. Video games are a nice way of bonding with your kid, but obviously you don't want to make playing those a habit because they're easy and addictive. Try cycling, walking or running instead.
There's nothing like talking really. It's the best way to spend time with your kid. Talk to him about what's happening at school. Talk to him about every possible thing on earth. Your kid needs to know he's always got your ear. Play a game like '5 things I learnt today' and when he does give you 5 things, reward him. Sometimes, just simply listen to your kid. Kids love babbling, play along. Talk to him about his friends, the people he likes, doesn't like and why. Talk aimlessly. If you live with your parents, sit with them and your kids and talk. That's three generations worth of conversation. Listen to your mom tell your son about what you were like in school. There's no end to this, really. You can just go on and on.
Beyond the obvious picnicking that you will do anyway, unscheduled short trips around your home can also be fun. Take him to your gym. No, don't take him on the floor, just show him the outside and tell him what happens in a gym and how it's a good thing to be fit. Go for a movie. Answer all his questions without caring about everyone around you going "shhhh.." . Go to a coffee shop and spend time together. Open the bonnet of your car and explain all the parts that you can understand. Or the next time you take the car for servicing, take your son along. Dismantle your cycle and put it back again with him. You know everything, but your kid has just begun learning. We all know that kids ask the weirdest questions. They can be fun and they can be taxing, but they're worth it. You might just have to keep Google open constantly, so be prepared.
Daddy's Day Out
The playschool my son went to had a 'Dad and Me Messy Play Day'. And boy was it messy! All the daddies and their kids in one room with a lot of noise. It involved a lot of throwing and spilling of paint and colour on paper to make designs that no one understood. Take it a step further. Get the daddies in your group together for a day at the beach. It should be strictly daddies. Go out and get dirty in the sand and mud. Go for a group jog or cycling trip. Just get a whole lot of fathers and kids out there playing together and having a good time. Take note though, this does not include calling the boys over for a beer and watching a cricket match at home with the kids on the side. No. This is quality time.
Okay, I cheated. This one is for the mommies who do all the hard work without a complaint. Send your wife for a long, luxurious spa and foot massage. Let her take off to spend time alone or with friends. Send over a bottle of wine. Pay in advance and tell the restaurant to skip the bill. Spare no expense. Your kid's mother is also your wife, and believe me, she needs time off from both those roles.