A better dad: One year on

A year ago, I experienced what it was like to be a single parent for nine days, looking after Isaac and Toby on my own while Heather flew out to Australia (with Kara) for a family funeral. At the time I wrote about how “it has given me a huge shot of confidence in my own ability as a father”, as well as strengthening my relationships with both boys but in particular Toby, who had been a complete mummy’s boy up to that point.

One year on, how much of that change has proven permanent? Actually, most of it.

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as Dad-life

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a long way from being the perfect father – or even being halfway as good a parent as Heather. But the confidence arising from the knowledge that I have previously coped on my own for an extended period hasn’t disappeared. It’s now no big deal for her to leave me with two or three children to manage for the day while she goes off shopping or on a spa day with friends.

In a few weeks’ time she’s down in Dorset for a school reunion, leaving me with all three kids overnight. Neither of us has really batted an eyelid at the prospect. It’s not just that I’m confident enough to deal with the situation now. Heather is also confident that I won’t make a total cock-up of things (not totally, anyway) which is, if anything, even more important. She can go and enjoy her night out without worrying in the back of her mind if everything’s okay. I can muddle through well enough on my own. Confidence is a two-way street.

Negotiating middle child syndrome

Toby being separated from his mummy for nine days enabled me to achieve a significant breakthrough with him and, although he still has a preference for Heather, the bridges we built a year ago are still there.

While he’s never going to be emotionally expressive in the way his siblings are, there are flashes of genuine affection in between the long spells of studied indifference. There are certain activities that are very much ‘daddy things’ that we do together – laughing at the antics on Top Gear, doing fast starts in my car (he’s a serious thrill-seeker) and, indeed, most things to do with cars. (Yes, I know it’s a gender stereotype. I’ll take whatever I can.)

I was away for three nights with work this week, and when he found me in bed the morning after I got back his overt happiness at my return was as genuine as it is rare. Although it’s possible the fact I gave him a bag of chocolate coins may have boosted his mood too.

The bottom line is that I didn’t really ‘get’ Toby – and he didn’t get me – before that extended mummy-less time. Whatever clicked between us during that period, it has remained since. And while he, as the placid introvert, still struggles to get airtime in between the demands of Isaac and Kara, he’s now just as happy to get attention from me as he is from Heather. As a result, I now feel I have a strong bond with all three of my children, not just two.

Every dad should learn to be a single parent

12 months on, the lessons I learned last year have stood me in good stead.

Removing the safety net of mummy being nearby and learning to deal with things on your own has huge benefits. You have to walk a mile in your other half’s shoes. It forces you to develop your own coping mechanisms, some of which may even be an improvement over the established routines. And what seemed daunting before seems far less scary after the event.

All dads should try the single parent experience, at least for a weekend. You’ll learn a lot from it and will probably enjoy it much more than you think. Plus you’ll end up with a partner who feels much more liberated, and therefore happier, as a result. A real win-win.

I’ll never be a perfect dad – but I’m much better than I would have been without the experience of being a single dad.
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21 thoughts on “A better dad: One year on

  1. Loving the Blur reference :-)

    I have been banging on about High Command going away and leaving me with two or three of my brood and in fact this post has in fact prompted me to fluck her ear and tell her this needs to happen. Soon!

    I totally buy in to the confidence boosting thing :-)

    • What I hadn’t fully appreciated beforehand that it wasn’t just about my confidence but about Heather’s too – now she knows I can cope if left to my own devices. I still forget silly little things when I have them on my own, but nothing so catastrophic. I have yet to drive off without one or more children! (Yet.)

  2. Great post! The thing to remember is that poor nappy changing, slightly grubby clothes or nutrititionally suspect meals once in a while are a very small price to pay for that special, close bond you will have for years to come. At the end of the day, the only confidence you need is “yep, I can guarantee I’m not going to kill or misplace this child while the wife is away!” I agree with you – more dads should experience caring for their children alone for an extended amount of time.

    • Definitely, Vicky. I got so much out of it, despite all my (unfounded) fears beforehand. Even having to tend to a slightly ill child proved not to have be a crisis, merely another little bump in the road to be smoothed over. :-)

  3. My other half would agree with you that enforced single parent time has drastically improved his relationship with all our kids. I was working 4 long days a week for about 4 months last year – it took its toll on me, and I eventually ditched it for a more flexible working pattern – but it was the best thing that could possibly have happened for him and the children!

    • Glad to see you’ve had support from your other half. It’s so important to realise that it’s an opportunity for dads more than a burden and that, actually, left to our own devices we’re mostly capable of getting by just fine.

  4. I think that you are absolutely right. I count myself as very lucky in that my husband has always been fantastically hands on with the kids, and I know that he absolutely loves spending time with them on his own. In fact, when I was over in the UK last week (12 days away!) neither of us was phased by it (other than missing each other!), which I think is wonderful and something that I try very hard not to take for granted. So glad that you had the opportunity to gain confidence and to bond one on one with your kids xx #PoCoLo

    • Just popped back from #brillblogposts. I had actually wanted to reference this post in my ‘are women better parents than men’ Prompt post, but couldn’t for the life of me remember when I’d read it or what it was called!

  5. Really really enjoyed reading this. My hub finds it tiring when he’s doing it solo, what with all the housework, but he gets so much out of being the focus of all H’s love and attention.

    Your first heading made me chuckle :) #PoCoLo

  6. I am so bad with this trust aspect. When I leave my son to my husband all the routines are forgotten. He is also not in touch with the time. Few times that I let him bring my son somewhere without me, my son went back so sluggish as husband forgot to feed him proper lunch. I still need to teach husband before I can totally entrust my son to him. #pocolo

    • It’s a tricky one. Trust has to be earned, but from personal experience it can be difficult to pick things up as a father which are routine to a mother. Sometimes we do things differently (which can be good). Sometimes we do things wrong – but rarely anything that is serious or irreparable. I think the way to look at it is that any mistakes are okay as long as we learn from them. I’ve certainly done some silly things in my time (missed meals or naps) – but generally I was so mortified at having made those errors that I never made them again (well, not that often, anyway!)

  7. A lovely post and great you had such a positive experience. My husband had them both when I was away in Cannes earlier this year and did an amazing job as I knew he would. He is hands on and we are equal, thanks so much for linking up

    • Thanks Vicki. It honestly made such a difference to me – I went from thinking I could look after them solo for an extended period to knowing I could.

  8. What I think is important for children to know is that each parent or indeed adult carer in their lives will be different and have different rules and treats. You are every bit as good a parent as Mum, just different. Great post.

    • There was a little fear at the time as to how well I’d cope, but it turned out to be a great opportunity to try some new approaches. Some worked, some didn’t – but nothing dramatic happened and the lessons have stood me in good stead ever since.

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