My 5-year old cries when I’m not home for dinner and my girlfriend and I don’t know what to do.
MOLLY: This question came from a Dad in Michigan. He added that he has twin 5-year old daughters and he works a second shift at night. This means that often he is not home for dinner. One twin cries inconsolably when he’s not there but the other twin doesn’t seem to mind when he’s gone. He added that this behavior “is starting to really disrupt the family.”
Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom): It sounds like the 5-year old is missing her dad and maybe isn’t clear about when he comes and goes because of his work schedule.
MOLLY: Maybe he could make a chart?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, I think that would be helpful because she’s five and she could certainly understand a chart. He could give the times and maybe even draw a picture of a clock. For example; “On Mondays, this is when I get home and onTuesdays I come home at this time…. ” He will want to do it in a fairly concrete way.
MOLLY: So that the child can check it herself and be reassured when dad’s coming back?
DR. RUTHERFORD: She’s obviously very anxious and we don’t know exactly why.
MOLLY: Should he talk to her about that and ask why?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, I think he should. He should ask her: “What is it that makes you so upset when I have to work late and miss dinner?” It sounds like the twin sister is – at least on the outside –having an easier time with his schedule, but I would encourage him to include both girls in that kind of discussion and also involve them both in helping to make this chart.
He should also explore some of the more obvious issues like is the girlfriend overwhelmed by taking care of two kids by herself and how is her relationship with the twins. He doesn’t mention where the mother of the girls is in the picture; if the twins feel abandoned by their mother then they may be nervous that dad could do the same thing.
This dad should make time to spend with each twin individually when he can so that they feel connected to him even when he’s out of sight. Even though only one is acting out her anxiety, they both need time with their parent. He’s obviously working long hours but as a concerned parent he must find a way to carve out some time to spend with his girls to solidify their sense of security and safety.
He might also explore using a transitional object. This could be a teddy bear or other toy that sits in Daddy’s chair and “has dinner” with the family when he can’t be there himself.