A better dad

There comes a time in life when the umbilical cord must finally be severed, when it is time to take those first faltering steps into a new world. Inevitably there will be stumbles and falls, but the only thing that can be done is to dust oneself off and try again, learning to cope without the safety net of a mother by your side.

No, I’m not talking about the kids. I’m talking about me – and my recent sampler of life as a single parent.

I’ve had a couple of days to reflect since Heather and Kara returned from a nine-day trip to Australia to attend a family funeral. For nine days it was a boys-only household: me, Isaac (5½) and Toby (nearly 3½), punctuated by a brief stay from their grandparents. I’d never done more than about 16 hours on my own with any of the kids before, and I will admit the initial prospect of jumping straight to doing more than a week was one that filled me with more than a little trepidation. To be honest, I think it gave the boys a case of the screaming heebie-jeebies too.

But by Thursday morning, as the boys tramped excitedly into Heathrow waving their hand-drawn ‘welcome home’ signs, we had all survived the experience with all limbs accounted for and relationships still intact. In fact, I’d even say the bonds between the three of us have been strengthened.

Car for a Mrs and Miss Liew?

Car for a Mrs and Miss Liew?

So what do I take out of the experience?

Firstly, it underlined for me just how difficult it is to be a single working parent, let alone a stay-at-home one. I already knew that, but there’s nothing like walking a mile in someone else’s shoes to make you fully appreciate it. Heroes, the lot of them – what I did for nine days others have to do for years on end. All I’ve had to do is shepherd them through both ends of weekdays and see them through a weekend – easy-peasy. (Heather, if you’re reading this: it was really hard. Honest. Nearly killed me.)

The biggest change is that it has given me a huge shot of confidence in my own ability as a father. It’s not like I have been an absentee parent for the past 5½ years but I’ve always operated within a comfort zone of knowing that Heather has always been, at worst, a phone call and a couple of hours away.

It’s a different proposition when you’re in different hemispheres and one of your sons can’t sleep because they’re running a temperature (as happened on Saturday night). Or dealing with the inevitable “I don’t want you, I want my mummy” tantrums at bedtime. And breakfast-time. And drop-off time. And most other times when Toby was conscious. Handing him rapidly off to his mother was no longer an option – both he and I had to find our own way to work through it, and we did.

As pathetic as I know it sounds, in the past I haven’t created my own parenting techniques – not because I didn’t want to but because I didn’t have to – instead relying on small variations on Heather’s tried and trusted methods. I’d never had the time and space – or the need – to try out new ideas. But a period of several days has given me the opportunity to do things my way, to learn from both my successes and the inevitable mistakes, and for the boys to realise that they don’t always have to do things mummy’s way. Shock horror, I think I’ve even improved on a couple of things which I’m going to continue to do going forward.

It has also improved my relationship with the boys – in particular Toby, who has always been a real mummy’s boy and guarded with his emotions. In the past, given the choice between Heather and I, say, reading his bedtime stories, he has always shown a strong preference for his mum and in many cases only accepted me grudgingly (if at all). But over nine mum-less days, that dependency seems to have been broken. The last two nights, even with Heather there, he has been quite happy to let me read to him at bedtime in a way he never would have before, and in several other respects it feels like we’ve formed new bonds. He may gradually revert, but the point is that I now have the confidence to know that I’ve made those connections once and can do so again.

It hasn’t all been perfect, of course. I’ve made mistakes, done a few silly things and at times let myself become needlessly annoyed with them. But the good far outweighs the bad and I now feel so much better equipped to manage my boys. Where in the past I might have shied away from certain things and defaulted to Heather, now I feel more confident to take them on myself and do things my way.

The prospect of taking care of them no longer fills me with dread. In fact, I’d quite like to do it again. Maybe not nine days, but the thought of, say, turning our boys’ days into boys’ weekends sounds like fun rather than an ordeal.

In short, I think I’m a better dad now than I was two weeks ago. This makes me happy. Now I’m going to do something about the bags under my eyes.

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16 thoughts on “A better dad

  1. My husband always says it is much easier parent when I am not around because they listen better and he is “the boss”. Sounds like it was a win win all round.

    • I’ve come to much the same conclusion. When there’s only one of you, the kids can’t play you off against each other and there’s much less grey area for them to exploit.

  2. Pingback: 2013 Dad Blogger Round Up by @DadWhoBlogs | Love All Dads

  3. Aww lovely post, sounds like you did really well! Even as a SAHM the thought of parenting even one child alone without hubby for 9 whole days kinda terrifies me! I need his help mornings evenings and weekends so like you I don’t know how single parents do it! Love the welcome home signs and loving the bonding you have done with your boys :) xx #brilliantblogposts

    • Thanks Caroline. I remember being terrified at the time, and although I didn’t do everything right by any means we all came out of the experience much the better for it. Good grief – I’ve just realised it was a year ago this week. How time flies …

  4. Without sounding patronising, WOW didn’t you do well. I know on the occasions when I’ve left my husband with the two boys for a weekend away, it’s hard for all of us. However what I have found is that he does have a different approach than me and I have to respect that and leave him too it even if I don’t always agree. Great post .

    • Thanks! Lots of things didn’t go the way I’d have liked during that week, but the most important lesson I learned is that the boys are pretty adaptable and that we always found a way to muddle through. I think they quite enjoyed the small departures from their usual routine too.

  5. It is nice that this experience helped you be closer to your children. I am a SAHM & yet I look forward to when its time for my husband to go home. It is really hard to raise a kid (let alone 2!) and I need all the help that I can get from my husband. I dont know how to do parenthood alone. #brilliantblogposts

    • It definitely helped break some of the excessive mummy’s boy-ness that Toby had, although of the three kids he’s the one who still gravitates towards his mum most naturally. And it also gave me the confidence to know that I can cope on my own if the situation arises. I kind of knew it wouldn’t be a complete disaster, but I feel much better for having actually done it now.

  6. I don’t know how single parents do it either.

    Your post was refreshingly honest, which I think is great. My husband would have been ‘lost’ too if he had to look after the children when they were younger, now’s not a problem as they are old enough to look after him.

    Maybe it should be a compulsory annual exercise? Each parent gets one week a year alone to look after the children. It may help to strengthen relationships between couples as well as parent and child.

    • I do think it’s something that all fathers should do at least once, even if it’s only for a weekend. Partly so they can see what it’s like to walk a mile in Mummy’s shoes, but also because at the end of it you can look back on the experience with the confidence of knowing that if you can survive once, you can do it again. Having been a nervous wreck on days one and two, by day four or five I was so much more relaxed (well, less stressed, anyway).

  7. Loved this honest post and it sounds like everything went well, we are all just learning to be parents always aren’t we. My husband is hands on (couldn’t have it any other way)-nor could he and I love the knowledge that when I’m away with work for example he has everything under control. Thanks for sharing this and linking up to #brilliantblogposts

    • Thanks Vicki. Enough went well, and what went wrong was minor. This was a big hurdle for me, as my work doesn’t allow me to have much time with the kids during the week – but now that I’ve done it both Heather and I know I can do it again, which is reassuring for both of us.

  8. This is such a wonderfully honest post, and I really hope it gives other dads more confidence. I can remember the first time my husband went away on business and I was left alone with my oldest… I was terrified of being on my own for a whole week, I was used to sharing the responsibilities. I found my own way and my own, solo, routines, and now when he is away I slot back into them quite easily, but I had to learn too. We all have different strengths and parent differently, but we all (mostly) just try and do the best we can. Thanks so much for adding this in to #ThePrompt, it’s a brilliant post. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve moved it into Week 35 so that it’s with the other ‘are women better parents than men’ posts.

    • Bo problem, Sara. Glad you enjoyed it. The lessons I learned in that week have stood me in good stead, not least the fact I’m more confident now than I would ever have been had I not had that experience.

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