Family Trickle-Down


To a degree, it was understandable that Rob wanted to disengage after work. His time on the job was stressful and pressurized, so when he got home afterwards, he didn’t have much energy left over. That’s the noble version of the story, at least. The harder truth is that Rob was selfish with his time and lazy about family stuff. Once he was set free from work, he didn’t feel like tackling the work of home. He didn’t want to play with his three kids or get into conversations with his wife or be relied upon for much of anything. What he wanted was to head out to the garage and have a smoke.

Or maybe he’d play computer games for a while, or take a nap. Or—his favorite option—he’d head out to his workshop and putter around for a while, letting family evening after family evening pass without much of any input from Dad. It was a nice little rut that Rob was in, sleeping and playing and spending time in his shop. For the most part, he had life all to himself—exactly the kind of escape he thought he needed. Who wouldn’t be happy as a clam?

Well, Rob’s wife Heidi, for one. Her husband’s conveniences came largely at her expense, after all. He had more free time, she had less. He yelled at the kids, she had to fix the problems later. He played, she worked. He slept, she didn’t. It had been that way for a long time, and the lopsidedness of it all was taking a toll. Rob and Heidi’s relationship was straining near the breaking point. At times, it seemed their marriage was hanging on by a thread.

To further complicate things, Rob’s relationships with his kids weren’t too impressive either. With all his time alone, he was barely involved in their ever-changing lives. If you would’ve asked one of them what he did at home, the answer wouldn’t have had much to do with fathering. So, the family went on like that for a long time: Rob sleeping, wife and kids somewhere else. Rob at the computer, marriage on the rocks. Rob in the garage, kids out of sight.

But then one day, a friend challenged Rob to spend more time with his family. Surprisingly enough, Rob not only took the challenge, he took it seriously. Step one was to quit smoking, which removed his primary excuse for leaving the house. Rob quit cold turkey. He also made the choice to have a better attitude after work, to build up the tone in the house rather than tearing it down. He started spending time with Heidi. He began helping with the kids, even playing with them. As a family, they had game nights and even planned a camping trip.

Only a few months later, theirs was a different life. Everyone was affected. These days, Heidi will tell you that, in general, she’s less edgy than she used to be, because she respects the efforts Rob is making in their home. She doesn’t get frustrated with him like she used to, either—she even looks forward to him coming home, which in turn makes him want to change even more.

The kids are happier too. With their dad carving out a real role for himself in their family, they’ve recognized that the whole arrangement just feels better. It’s so good, in fact, that they’re making their own adjustments. One wants to stop picking fights with his siblings. That motivation, he says, is simple: Dad made the house happier; maybe I can too. It’s the trickle-down, you see. It’s contagious. When one person is willing to budge, often the others will too. The point here is simple: what kind of trickle do you need in your family? More importantly, are you doing anything to get it started?