10 Lessons I Learned in 10 Days as Mr. Mom

Mr. Mom

In January, my wife was out of the country for ten days, and I was faced with a week and a half as a working, single parent. I can barely keep myself together when my wife is present and doing her Wonder Woman routine, so the prospect of having to do it all on my own had me on the edge of panic.

As an introvert who revels in every moment of peace and quiet, my family forecast was for ten days of storms and natural disasters.

There were some storms. But the kids and I weathered them and FEMA was never called in. And in the end, I learned some important lessons as Mr. Mom:

1. It does take a village. Sometimes, asking for help is the most courageous thing we can do. If we want to stay afloat in this life, we have to confess our neediness. We have to cultivate authentic friendships and be willing to receive their Grace when it’s offered. Four families of friends spent time with my children during the ten days. As it turns out, the Beatles were right when they sang, “What do I do when my love is away? Gonna get by with my friends.”

2. We aren’t entitled to our children’s trust; we have to earn itAt the beginning of the week, my kids treated me like I was the kid. They worried about school lunches and rides to floor hockey and every manner of detail. I couldn’t blame them: I hadn’t proven myself. By the end of the week, they were appalled by even my smallest mistakes. Lesson 2 ½: You can’t win as a parent. Stop trying.

3. Kids suck down attention like Coca-Cola. If we engage attentively with our kids, expecting them to be satisfied so they will leave us alone, we will end up frustrated and angry. Legos and book reading and princess dress-up and after all of it, the question would come, “Okay, what are we playing next?” As it turns out, the more we attend to our kids, the more they want. They are reassured of their worth by our engagement. And their worth is infinite, so their desire for engagement is infinite, too.

4. If we aren’t engaged, our kids will do anything to get us engagedFor my elementary school aged children, that might mean throwing Legos. But down the road, I imagine it will look a lot darker, like dressing in black, piercing things, or experimenting with drugs. Pleas for engagement can look an awful lot like rebellion.

5. My kids would trade me for an iPad without a second thought. The one thing kids prefer more than parental engagement is an LCD screen. Television, tablet, phone, you name it and they will gaze endlessly into the LCD-blue. And it’s so tempting to let them be babysat by it when we want our quiet moment to last just a little longer. But we must fight the temptation.

6. We shouldn’t expect our kids to apologize unless we are willing to do so firstConfession: kids are rude at times, but so are single dads. We send a confusing message when we ask our kids to apologize for something we would never apologize for ourselves. Saying “I’m sorry” to our kids builds credibility with them, not distrust.

7. A family can’t be at peace if winning is one of the highest valuesWe have to become losers. And that’s easy to say, but much harder to model. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but without my wife at home to compete against, I found it easier to model losing for my kids. 

8. Routines are oppressiveSleeping bags in bed? Chocolate chips on the morning oatmeal? In the breakfast pancakes? Skipping school on a Friday afternoon to be with family? My kids’ favorite memories of their time with dad were moments of whimsy. Our kids are whimsical by nature. We can love them by joining them in it every once in a while.

9. Kids want to grow upThere was no way around it, my kids had to shoulder more responsibility while my wife was away. At first, I worried I was asking too much from them. I worried they would resent the new demands placed upon them. In reality, they had the opposite reaction. I think children thrive on being a “big kid.” If we treat our kids like kids too often, we train them to remain kids.

10. We can’t control our kids. We can only converse with themDuring the most frustrating moments of my time as Mr. Mom, my angry impulse was to control, threaten consequences, and play the power card. Every time I did, they trumped it. Kids will refuse to be controlled. But they love conversation. When honored in this way, kids often make very good decisions. But not always. And that gives us an opportunity to be grace-full parents.

My wife returned safely and my time as Mr. Mom ended with a joyous reunion. In the end, I realized the most important lesson I learned was not about the children. The most important lesson I learned was about myself. I learned I hide my insecurity behind the competence of my wife. I learned I need to step up, to be present, and to act like an indispensable part of my children’s lives. I learned our children need us fathers to stop making excuses and to start embracing our role as Mr. Mom.  

Even when our wives are standing right at our sides.

Questions: What important lessons about kids and parenting have you learned during stressful times? Add them to the list by sharing in the comments section at the bottom of this post.                 

Dear Reader, My new eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is now available. New blog subscribers will receive a free PDF copy by subscribing here. Your subscription confirmation email will contain a link to download the book. The book is also now available for Kindle and Nook. As always, thank you for reading; it’s a gift. Sincerely, Mr. Mom

Preview: My next post will be on a special day, this Thursday instead of Friday, in honor of Valentine’s Day. It will be entitled, “Why Good Enough Love is Better Than Amazing Love.” 

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jennifer Newell

    I think no matter the age or stage; you are always learning when it comes to your kids. I agree with it takes a village. My kids have other adults in their lives that they can go to and talk to when they think they can’t talk to us. These adults can tell them what you have been saying for weeks and yet now they hear it.

    If you are overwhelmed by the pace of your life, your kids are too. Sometimes you have to cut back on the after school activities. If each child gets to have one thing they are passionate about. One extracurricular activity is more than enough to keep up with if you have more than one child. Even the “good” activities can just be too much. In the end you are not building a relationship with your child if you are not spending the slower quiet time with them.

    Although we can’t control our kids, I believe all kids need limits. They need to know there are rules to follow. They are consistent regardless if it is mom or dad that is around. We have to do this in order to save them from themselves.

    AS a couple, you have to be a team. You have to stay on the same page when it comes to the kids. The rules are the same but each parent might implement them a little differently.

    Often in a marriage with kids, you will have the “good” guy parent and the “bad” guy parent. The key I think to successful parenting is that you have to take turns being both the good guy and the bad guy.

    And finally, back each other up. I know that if my husband says no something and the kids come to me looking for me to reverse it I will stand with my husband whether I agree or not. However in the privacy of our bedroom I will be happy to tell him what I think and why I do or do not agree with him. A united front will build trust in your marriage and it will give your kids consistency that they need.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jenn, thanks for the insights. We can all benefit from them!