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 it. At 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 engaged. For 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 first. Confession: 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 values. We 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 oppressive. Sleeping 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 up. There 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 them. During 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.”