Ask me anything about being a dad of three toddlers

 What's it like having three toddlers? How do you go about having two involved parents? How do you get a guy to be more active in parenting? I answer all that and more. | instafather.com

What's it like having three toddlers? How do you go about having two involved parents? How do you get a guy to be more active in parenting? I answer all that and more. | instafather.com

What should a new dad know about parenting? How do moms get more involved? Why did you put highlights in your hair in college? (Everyone was doing it, OK!?!)

I’ve got answers to your burning questions about fatherhood and all things #dadlife in advance of Father's Day! I was thrilled to do an Ask Me Anything session over at amafeed.com all about parenting. So many questions came in after my session was done I thought I'd answer them here!

What is the best way to educate men who believe that fatherhood is being a breadwinner and bringing money into the family with no other obligations?

I’ve got two parallel thoughts on this one, depending on what the situation is.

The first is that you marry who you marry. If your husband has always been super traditional, has never shown interest in anything that doesn’t directly relate to him, and has a dad who never played with him as a child and spent all day at work, yeah, you might be in for it. But you knew that, right? Just the same, if you have always made your career a priority, have always wanted a family but never been keen on taking care of kids, and came from a family full of female breadwinners, it would be a lot to ask you to change everything you know.

There are many wonderful families who keep that traditional model in place - dad works, mom takes care of the house. If you are expecting a 50/50 split, my hope is that you have made that clear from the start so that the two of you didn’t get married assuming the other person would drastically change.

But what if none of that is happening? What if there’s nothing that should be holding him back? Let’s say it makes the most sense for him to keep his job and you work less to take care of your kid. But he also now just assumes that since he has a job, he can wipe his hands of any other responsibility. That, of course, is not how it works. There is no world in which a job (unless you’re like an FBI agent or a trench digger or something) is going to be that much more exhausting, especially mentally, than taking care of a newborn baby. That’s what you need to emphasize. You are not saying that what he does at work doesn't count. It matters! And you aren’t asking for him to entirely run the household, too. But when he gets home, you need to be able to tap out for a bit. And on weekends, you both need to take breaks. Otherwise, you are going nonstop - babies and toddlers do not believe in paid leave.

Money is a huge part of the equation, but only part. If he says that because he is making money, he doesn’t have to do anything else, ask him if money changes diapers. Or does the dishes. Or puts kids to bed. No? It doesn’t? Then him making money can’t be the only thing he contributes. If you are not earning any money, I know that can be more difficult than if you are still holding down a part-time job. But realistically, if he wants the best of you as a mom, he has to give you a chance to recover.

What should parents do when they disagree on a decision regarding their child? How should they resolve that situation?

Rock paper scissors.

If that fails, figure out what the disagreement is truly about. Is it how you are potty training or is it more about a fundamental difference in how you want your child to turn out? It’s one thing to argue about the merits of going no diaper for a weekend. It’s another if one of you insists on potty training this weekend, and the other wants to wait until the kid naturally picks up what to do. One parent wants to push their kid to achieve on a timeline, and the other believes in letting kids progress on their own terms. Can you see how that can spill over to how you want them to perform in school? Either method could work, but it’s helpful to know what you are really arguing about. If it’s not a big deal, then one of you will need to drop it because it’s not worth the argument. Pick your battles.

Why do you think men and women have such different approaches towards parenting?

You could take the end of that question and make it about a lot of things: “toward relationships… toward money… toward sports … toward The Bachelor.”

We do things differently. And thank God, right? I am really thankful my wife is around to give a different viewpoint and different approaches. For single parents, that’s a lot of pressure! You have to be the expert on everything and see all the different angles.

Rather than worry about the differences, embrace them. If the mom is more nurturing and the dad is more

How different was it having twins compared to having one kid at a time?

Jim Gaffigan has a great joke about this. “You know what it's like having five kids? Imagine you're drowning. And someone hands you a baby." That’s how it can feel sometimes when you go from one kid to three.

We have gone to Target and had people stop in their tracks and stare at us, holding hands the entire way across the aisle, and look with the same mix of reverance and confusion you would offer if you saw a unicorn riding a bear.

Coincidentally, a unicorn riding a bear is not that far off from what it's like taking more than one toddler to Target. Have we abandoned our cart and left the store. YOU BET.

With twins, the diaper changes seemed endless in the early years. My wife, a superhero, nursed them both for months on end; it was almost a surprise to see her with a real shirt on. And at night, as soon as one baby goes down, the other way wakes up. When someone says they know what it's like to have twins because they had "Irish twins" - two kids born a year apart - I want to laugh in their face and then hand them my kids and leave.

So yeah, it's different! One kid means you can put all your focus into them. That doesn't always mean it's better. With more than one, you stop worrying about the little things. You don't have time for it. You get much more economical with your time.

 I also get to see my son take care of his “babies.” And I get to soak in the girls playing with each other. And of course, there are the matching outfits.

It’s not apples to apples. It’s apples to a circus.

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What is the key to successful co-parenting?

It depends what you mean. Co-parenting is often the term people use when they are talking about a divorced couple who has a child together and so they need to figure out how to split up parenting duties/sharing time with their kid. I don’t have that background, but for those I know that are dealing with that, communication seems to be paramount. That and keeping the needs of your kid above anything else. I'd love to hear what has worked for you, if that's your situation.

But if you mean splitting parenting duties up 50/50, like how my wife and I approach it, it’s all about expectations. She doesn’t hope I get involved. She expects it. Setting a low bar leads to low output. But in the end, it’s still on the dad to rise to the occasion. It can be very helpful for a mom to say “Here’s what I need/here’s what would be helpful.” But dads can and should just jump in and figure it out on the fly. It’s not like there is a manual. Just start doing things. Nobody would allow moms to just sit around and say "Nobody asked me to do anything! Why's that my job? Now go get me a beer!"

Do parenting books actually help when they're so different with so many techniques? How can parents decide which is the right parenting style for them?

Let me use an answer similar to what I said for a similar question in the earlier AMA feed.

Any parenting book is, at its core, a review of what has worked for that particular family, and then they show you how you can get similar results. Just like a financial advice or a relationship book, not every technique will work with every person. My wife and I like to use the envelope method to help save money for certain big financial goals. At least I assume that's what we do. I hand her money and she says she is "putting it in the envelope" but the more I think about it, I'm wondering if these envelopes are real. Hmmm. 

Some people research each of the popular parenting styles and pick one, almost like you're going to Subway and are choosing a sub. That can work - you weigh pros and cons. But the thing you can't ignore is that parenting is a natural extension of who you already are. Parenting styles can be less about finding an approach and more about being acutely and painfully aware of what you are good at and, more importantly, not good at. How does what you want to do impact your kid? How does your approach balance out what your partner is good at and wants to do?

My wife is super patient and empathetic. I'm very optimistic and go-with-the-flow. Depending on the situation, one of us might be a best fit. My wife really dislikes being up late at night, and I don't mind it, so getting up with the baby made more sense for me while she made sure to get up early in the morning so I could sleep. She's better at calming our kids down. You don't have to be everything to everyone.

It's just as important to know what you don't want to do. We didn't want to "cry it out." We didn't want to spank. We didn't want to be quick to punish. We didn't want to put our kid in a bouncer all day. So, while those are many of the qualities of "attachment parenting," really, it's just a set of criteria that happened to reflect what came natural to us. We don't wake up each day saying "Time to start attachment parenting! Come here, children. The attachment has commenced."

You see what works or doesn't work, and then you adapt. Please adapt. Don't be rigid or you will drive yourself crazy. We were too loose about nap time with our son (letting him lead us on when he wanted to sleep). That resulted in many long, long afternoons. We had to be stricter with our twins, and that worked.

Has your wife ever asked you to become more involved in parenting? Did you think you were doing enough before she asked?

I don’t remember my wife ever saying “You need to pick it up, slacker.” She did such a smart thing early on by constantly bringing me in on decision-making and information gathering with our firstborn that it was natural for me to be fully involved, even if I'd be the first to admit she is the one who keeps everything working.

Still, I never feel like I am doing enough. That’s not false modesty. That’s coming from a guy who watched his wife push three babies out of her body and then feed them for a year using that same body. There isn’t a good way to even that out.

Want to read more? Check out my full Ask Me Anything feed on involved parenting and fatherhood. And if you have a question, hit me up!