The Do’s and Don’t-Do’s of Weekend Parenting

Keith & Bunny
Dad to two Keith Harrington and Mr. E. Bunny

Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. And for weekend-only parents, the rules of parenting can be even more difficult to figure out. Time with your kids is limited, so it’s easy to fall into the “Disney Dad” trap, showering them with gifts and over-the-top experiences to make up for lost time. Divorced dad Keith Harrington shares his do’s and don’t-do’s for weekend-only parents. These rules apply to week-long parents, too!

Tales of a Weekend Warrior 

By Keith Harrington

Dealing with my kids — on weekends only — is a lot like shopping at IKEA. You get to the store, and it is massive. You don’t quite know what you are going to get that day or which department you are going to be focusing on. So you kinda browse around to see where your day will take you. Things pop up. You see needs and possibly have a meatball. And you just hope to get out of there alive!

Some of the IKEA items look the same but are different in build, which makes them unique. Now when you focus on one item, it does come with a basic set of directions  –  and oftentimes, a picture. You may see the picture, and it still doesn’t click in the same way it clicks for other people. The instructions might as well be in Swedish, because reading about how to connect a “fluggenherffen” with a “herfendorfen” seems to make a lot more sense.

So you try. You give it your best shot. You hope to make it as close to the picture on the instructions as possible. But at the end of the day, you get what you build. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes you just ask for meatballs (because you know what you’re going to get).

The instructions might as well be in Swedish, because reading about how to connect a “fluggenherffen” with a “herfendorfen” seems to make a lot more sense.

As a guy who has his kids on the weekends, there’s a lot to figure out. How do you make sure you’re doing the right things in raising the kids when you have a whole lot of parenting to do in the short amount of time you have? Weekend parents are like one of those concentrated balls of detergent. It may be small, but it is mighty.

Because you are trying to cram a lot of things into just hours, you may fall into the trap of trying WAY too hard. You end up doing extra-super-fun things with the kids, regardless of the expense. You go to the movies. You go to the funhouse. You go to the zoo. You go to T.J. Funtoozlers for dinner every night. You go and go and go. Then you realize that your two-and-a-half days are up. It’s time to bring the kids home, and that you spent zero time actually talking with your kids. You were so busy spending money that you failed to spend quality time with your children.

You can’t be fun-time guy all the time. You can be a partial fun-time guy, but you need to be a parent first.

When I was taking my co-parenting course following my divorce, they called it being a “Disney Dad.” You do all these extravagant things every weekend to try and be “the favorite” with your kids. First off, trying to push yourself as the “favorite” parent is forcing your kids to take sides. You just don’t do that. Second, if you spend all of this money, your kids will expect it all the time. Hearing, “Let’s go here and here and here!” on a weekend you plan to just have some quiet time is akin to hearing, “Are we there yet?” when you are taking the family across country in the Family Truckster.

Now I am not suggesting that you can’t do big trips, dine out, go to the Red Sox game, etc. I am actually going on a big vacation in a couple of weeks. It just shouldn’t be a crutch.

Plus, there are so many things that you can do that are free or pretty cheap that are a heck of a lot of fun too. You can do art activities at homes. Play board games. Just go to the beach or park for an afternoon. Watch a movie together on a blanket in the living room.

At the YMCA we belong to in Marblehead, Mass., there are lots of activities for me and the kids to do on the weekends that are included in my membership. We do things like free swim. The kids can hit the pool even in the winter. There is open gymnastics, when the kids can bounce around on the trampolines. They also have community days and movie nights. There are also sports leagues and camps you can sign up for. I know some people say that the Y is kind of expensive, but many offer discounts based on income. However, with all of the fun activities you can do as a family, it is well worth it.

Weekend parents are like one of those concentrated balls of detergent. It may be small, but it is mighty.

You can even find ideas from your friends on Facebook or Twitter. (I used to use my MySpace account, but all of the activities were from 2003.) One of the events I found this past weekend was the annual Easter Pancake Breakfast at the senior center where I teach basic English. It was a neighborhood-sponsored event that had it all: face painting, candy bags, the wonderful magic of Stephanie Beach, a visit by Mr. E. Bunny himself –and of course, pancakes! Lots of pancakes! Like putting the flippity in flapjacks.

Gwen & bunne
Keith’s two children and Mr. E. Bunny

This has become a new tradition for my family. My daughter, Gwen, was actually the unofficial MC of the event during the raffle, reading numbers and congratulating the winners. (She was like Monty Hall.) So we had this wonderful day filled with fun and activities. The grand total? $18. And all of that money went to a local neighborhood association that helps our community.

Of course, my favorite memory of the breakfast was last year when Gwen won one of the raffle prizes: a 25-dollar gift card to a local Vietnamese restaurant. I would tell you what she thought of the place, but she never went. I did. It was fantastic. I have a picky eater and getting her to try pho would be like me trying to breakdance on a bed of cobras. It sounds good in theory. Really, though, it just isn’t going to be pretty.

The lesson: You can’t be fun-time guy all the time. You can be a partial fun-time guy, but you need to be a parent first. Real memories aren’t made by spending a ton of money, thinking you are doing the right thing and being a good parent. Their memories will be spending the time with you coloring or learning or baking cookies or just being pushed on the swing — much like your memories of them will be shaped by that spray-painted macaroni necklace you got for your birthday.

If you work hard, try your best, and give your heart and soul, you can be a successful weekend parent — even if it doesn’t come with a clear set of instructions. And if your kids don’t turn out like you thought they should, well, I know where you can get a few good meatballs.

Keith Harrington is a former writer/producer at CNN, HLN and WMUR. He is the father of two and currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, and around Fenway Park.  You can reach him at productionstvk@gmail.com
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