Practical Dad

Tackling Major Projects With Kids Around

Fatherhood is a juggling act with one ball consisting of job responsibilities, another consisting of household duties and the third consisting of spending time with the kids.  But sometimes one ball has to be substantially larger than the others and you have to take greater care to assure that the children's ball isn't the one being dropped.  There's not always much that can be done with the job, but there are things that you can do to keep the kids in the loop when you're contending with the household projects.

What should you remember about kids and household projects?

  • Children have no sense of time and schedule, so plan your work and be realistic about what you can accomplish.  Expect questions and constant interruptions, even if your mate is there to help keep things under control while you work.  The speed with which you might have accomplished a particular project or task is lessened with kids around.
  • Children have no sense of risk or danger and you have to be aware for them.  Are power tools unplugged when you walk away?  Should you actually remove the drill bit lest the kid plug in the drill?  This not only tacks on additional time but also means that you might not be concentrating entirely on the project at hand.  If you really do need to pay close attention to the task - or if the hazards are potentially fatal - then arrange for the kids to be gone while you work.  Setting studs to a concrete floor with a nail gun?  Then consider removing the second-grader from the house.
  • If your kid wants to help, what are your expectations and can he meet those expectations?  There are no absolute correct responses in this judgment call and if necessary, check with your mate to see if they make sense.  Smaller kids usually don't have the attention span, let alone skill level, to seriously participate but they will check in and out and if there's something that they can do to help, then they do have a sense of accomplishment.  Even if you've done 98% of the work.
  • Be prepared to talk alot more than if you were working with another adult.  Safety is crucial and you're going to have to talk as you explain what you're doing, or how the girl should handle some equipment, or where the boy should stand while a task is being accomplished.  Bear in mind that even teens will tune out as they think about other things - mostly involving sex - and you're going to have to repeat yourself.  
  • Remember that you're under a microscope and they'll learn from you do as well as what you say.  Cut yourself?  Do the requisite first aid, even if you would have previously ignored it before the kids came along.  Teens usually lack good judgment and if Dad ignores first aid, then he'll probably do the same when it's actually critical that the wound be cleaned and treated. 
  • If the kids are older, talk about the plans with them and especially talk about the safety concerns of working with particular tools.  One of the last things to develop with the adolescent brain is risk assessment and if they actually hear you talking through hazards and safety, they'll at least hear that things can go wrong. 
  • Understand that you're going to have to repeat yourself, or did I mention that already?
  • Even if a kid takes on a project as their own, expect to have to stay involved so that the project is finished.  Attention spans wander and they can lose interest if someone isn't there to keep them on task.  In this household, Eldest took on the project of reclaiming a 9' X 15' fish pond late last summer.  The project was 85% finished before Autumn - with school and activities - forced a suspension and although I've mentioned it several times in the past two weeks, the reality is that I'll have to help put things back on track for the project's completion.  It isn't that she can't do it or doesn't care, but larger and longer projects require some planning and maturity that most teens haven't mastered yet.

 It's stressful enough having a major project hanging over your head, but some forethought can help keep the balls airborne.  And the kids will actually get something out of it.

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