Parenting While Dad’s Away: Lessons Learned
Today’s post is courtesy of Elizabeth Patterson, a working parent and Bright Horizons mom of two.
Recently, during the week that my husband went to San Francisco on business, I was neither at my best nor at my most patient. But, it was the week I vowed to do what I had to in order to turn around my attitude as quickly as possible.
His trip came about on a Friday afternoon and by Sunday, he was on a plane across the country. He called me at work to discuss the opportunity…I had just arrived back at my desk from my Friday run-home-at-lunch-to flip-laundry-and-clean-floors-in-under-30-minutes, so imagine the expression on my face.
Three minutes after we hung up, the crown fell off my molar. I cursed. And so the week began.
Work, health (beyond my tooth) and kids quickly converged on me. Frankly, I was scared and, well, a little stubborn.
My husband and I have a comfortable division of labor: I do child care drop-off, breakfast and lunch; he does child care pick-up and dinner. As an administrative assistant, my workday is not completely my own, so the whole week, I had to work through my lunch hour in order to leave early enough to get the kids. Having a time crunch and tired kids on both ends of the day is tough. Honestly, I’m in awe of how single parents do it.
At 47, I’ve clearly reached an age when some nagging health issues become actual problems. That crown falling off is nothing…my real problem is that I’m starving on a non-dairy, low-fat diet because my gallbladder has got to go. So the whole week, I ate nothing for fear of an attack. Who would I call for help? The closest family is 30 minutes away, but at 2:00 a.m. when you are in severe pain, that’s not so comforting
And the kids. As we have all learned from a recent Bright Horizons webinar on positive parenting, attention and power “buckets” must be full at all times. And that week, my kids’ buckets were empty. Mommy was empty. My son (age 4) and I fought all week long because we turned everything into a power struggle. He wanted his way. I needed him to be a “big” boy by following all my rules immediately. I realize now that my message might have been confusing. My daughter (age 2) just wanted to be loved and snuggled and didn’t understand where her loving Daddy went. She didn’t have the words to tell me, so she whined.
But I was too busy caring ABOUT dinner, laundry, bedtime, bills, a clean floor and how Daddy makes those quesadillas that I was not caring FOR anyone. “Please wait” or “no” was the start of every sentence out of my mouth.
By Wednesday, I actually questioned if I was cut out to be a mother at all. In despair, I told myself I had two choices (I say this to the kids all the time – anyone else?). I could choose to say yes and stop battling everything or I could continue down the path to Mommie Dearest. What was the harm, after all, in saying “Yes, I will play with you for 5 minutes, but then we have to get ready for school”? If they ate vegetables at lunch, is it really a crime not to have any for dinner? If I’m only 10 minutes late to work because I gave the kids extra attention at drop-off would anyone really miss me?
There was no choice, really. I simply had to lighten up. Once I embraced the kids and the notion that we were in it together, the clouds parted. The fact that I could watch “Outlander” on demand with the TV all to myself was my reward for making a good choice.
I also gave myself permission to accept help when I need it. I’m usually terrible about asking for help and that’s just silly. My kids LOVE visitors! And that’s good, because that trip to San Francisco has turned into a new job for my husband. And I’m facing another week alone with the kids.
The babysitter will be here Tuesday!
I’m Elizabeth Patterson. At 47, my life has completely turned around in a few short years. I was single, but now am married with a two-year-old daughter and four-year-old son (both at Bright Horizons). I used to live a simple, organized city life, but am now in the suburbs, trying to find my car keys and finally understanding years of TV commercials about serving dinner in under 30 minutes. I used to be a marketing manager with a money market account, but now I am clipping coupons and working as an administrative assistant. There are ups and downs, but I think I’m the luckiest person in the world.
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