There’s nothing Nick Lachey loves more than daddy duty.
However, when career duties call, the 98 Degrees singer, 45, has found the “formula that’s worked the best for everybody,” including his wife Vanessa and their three children (Phoenix Robert, 2, Brooklyn Elisabeth, 4, and Camden John, 6) when it comes to packing up his life and hitting the road — solo.
“The first time that I went on tour with 98 Degrees — maybe five years ago now, when we toured with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men — I brought the family out, and at that point Camden was the only kid we had,” Lachey tells PEOPLE about the comparably trouble-free task of traveling with one child, at the time.
“We’ve found it’s really easier to not bring them out and let the kids have their routine,” he adds. “Now [Camden’s] in school, and the kids have sports practice and in the summertime they have camps.”
“So it’s just easier to let them be in their routine, and then for us to go and do five or six shows in a row and then shoot home to see the kids for a couple days on our days off.”
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Though Lachey finds it important to unplug from technology during family time, he relies on the “smart era” to be a part of his children’s nightly routine when he’s not able to be in their presence.
“Nobody likes to be away from their kids — it’s not the ideal scenario — but we have to do it sometimes,” says Lachey, who relies on Caribu, an interactive video and reading application that gives him the ability to engage with his children while on the job.
“Reading books is a huge part [of our routine],” he continues, revealing his children’s favorite stories include characters from Thomas & Friends, Sesame Street and Barbie. “I could get off stage on the east coast and read Brooklyn her bedtime story.”
“Cam is just starting kindergarten and learning how to write and make his letters, so literally with the app I’d be able to come off a day and work out letters with him and teach him how to write his letters and help him do his homework,” Lachey adds.
And whether it’s saying “goodnight” or being the first face they see when they wake up, Lachey says any type of “one-on-one” time is “pretty special.”
“I’m typically the one that wakes up with them and gets the day started, so my time with them in the morning is really important,” he says of his favorite time with his children. “Nighttime also — the whole bedtime routine.”
“Just because it’s Daddy time in the morning, it’s really special,” he adds. “I usually take Cam and Brooklyn to school when I’m not working, so that one-on-one time you get with them is pretty special.”
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While Vanessa previously opened up about Phoenix’s respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) diagnosis that left him hospitalized shortly after his birth after being born 10 weeks prematurely, the dad of three says the greatest milestone of all is simply “watching them grow.”
“They’re becoming little people and developing personalities,” he says. “They’re all so different, which is the fun part about watching them evolve and seeing who they’re going to become.”
“I’m loving watching their interactions — to watch Camden and Brooklyn play with each other and conspire together, [and] the relationships that they have with each other is very cool to watch evolve,” he says, adding the family’s “big” milestone was Camden starting kindergarten last year, which he found “more intimidating to us than it is to him.”
Although trying to find his balance as a devoted dad and a traveling entertainer may be the hardest thing he’ll ever have to do, Lachey can only hope his “sacrifices” are a leading example for his children’s futures.
“It’s important to work and it’s important for your kids to see you work,” he tells PEOPLE. “Fortunately, I’m someone who loves what I do — I don’t want to stop doing that — but with that comes certain sacrifices that are just innate to the business.”
“Touring is what I do and being away, unfortunately, is just a part of what we do as entertainers, so it’s important to do that and to show your kids that example, but at the same time you don’t want to be an absentee parent,” he continues.
“It’s finding the balance — being gone enough to still do what you do and not feel like you’re giving up on what you love, but at the same time being there for your kids.”
While making every choice in life with his children at the forefront of his mind, the responsibilities that come with fatherhood are things Lachey would never wish to do without.
“Every decision you make, you’re shaping a young life, so I never want to make the wrong choice,” he says of facing hard parenting moments nearly every day. “You just have to trust your instincts and gut as a parent, and trust you’re doing the right thing.”
“It’s a big responsibility, but at the same time it’s [something] I would [never] trade in the world,” he adds. “It’s the most amazing experience ever.”