My wife was right.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a trip she and my oldest daughter were about to take, leaving me as a solo parent for our three younger children for a few days. I talked about my anxiety and my wife's response that she knew I would do well and shouldn't worry about it.
I was understating my parenting skills a bit in that column for comic effect (although not everyone got the joke, as I mentioned last week). However, I really was concerned about being the only parent at home for a few days. Not that I thought anything catastrophic would happen, but then again ...
I'm happy to report this week that everything went well. But I did learn a few things.
For starters, I usually don't worry about the children getting picked up from school at the right time, making it home OK and starting their homework. My wife handles that expertly. But as the lone parent, I did worry. I was often distracted at work as I wondered if everything was going well, and I took several breaks to text the friends who were helping us with child-care and school pick-up duties.
Through this, I gained new respect for single parents and what they face on a daily basis. I also realized how blessed we are to have great friends who were willing to help.
Furthermore, I was reminded how nice it is to have a parenting partner to handle the daily workload. While my wife was gone, from the moment I walked through the door after work until the last story was read, the prayers were said and the children were in bed, I was busy. And after they were in bed, I usually had some work to catch up on thanks to leaving the office a bit early.
Needless to say, this was pretty exhausting. Again, I've always been amazed at what single parents do on a daily basis, but my respect for them grew even more through this experience.
But my solo parenting wasn't all about work and exhaustion. Here's what else I learned:
— Be your own parent. The children expected things to be different with Mommy gone. I decided to embrace that. For example, as a reward for getting all of their homework done in a timely fashion, I told them we could watch a movie together on a school night. They still got to bed on time, and they were thrilled at getting a "prize" for their efforts.
— Let the kids have fun with you. My children were appalled that I had not seen "Kung Fu Panda 2," so we rented it for a family movie sleepover on a Friday night. We all snuggled on the couch, ate popcorn and watched the movie. Then we went up to my room, talked and watched the first "Kung Fu Panda" movie until they fell asleep. I admit that I spent a few hours on the couch during the night so I could get some rest, but they thought it was huge fun to have a sleepover with Daddy.
— Don't worry about mealtimes. Feeding the children was one of my biggest concerns prior to my solo parenting stint. As I mentioned before, my wife is a creative cook who consistently makes delicious meals, while I'm good at cleaning up after dinner (that's our division of labor). However, the little ones were happy to have the basic meals I made. They were especially impressed when I made chicken cordon bleu — the pre-made, frozen kind — for Sunday dinner.
— Listen. It was fun being the only parent available for conversation. My second-oldest daughter sometimes does rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness talking. It can be exhausting keeping up with her, but listening provides interesting insights into her life, her hopes, her fears and her dreams. Not to mention that it's often silly and funny. Since my wife is with her more, she is often the target of those talks. I thoroughly enjoyed playing that role for a few days.
— Don't sweat the little stuff. In our parenting combo, I'm the one who is far more likely to freak out about things that don't really matter. When I was a solo parent, I quickly realized I didn't have time to worry about such things. For example, as we were walking into church on Sunday, I looked down at my 6-year-old son and realized I had forgotten to smooth down his hair. As a result, he had a sizable wisp of hair sticking up on the back of his head. After a moment of panic, I decided to let it go. It's amazing how much easier life becomes when you don't let little things throw you off your game.
— Look for moments of bliss. In the whirlwind of homework, mealtimes, school drop-offs, bedtime routines and the like, it can be easy to miss some choice moments.
For example, one morning, after dropping off the children at school, I looked in my rearview mirror to make sure they were OK. My son and youngest daughter — who usually fight at the drop of a hat — were standing next to each other on the sidewalk. Then, without saying a word, he held out his hand, and she gently took it. They looked at each other, smiled, and headed down the steps, laughing.
I'm going to file that image away in my mind, and I'm sure I'll remember it over and over again as they grow older. It's something I wouldn't have seen had I not been a lone parent for a few days.
There were other fun and frustrating moments during my solo days, too, and all of these lessons and experiences combined to make me much more confident in my abilities. Even though I'll miss her, I feel like I'll be ready the next time my wife has to leave for a few days.
After all, parenting isn't easy, regardless of the circumstances. But in the dark of night, when the house is quiet, the chores are done and the kids are sleeping, there's no better feeling in the world than knowing you helped your children get through another day with a little learning, a lot of laughter and all the love your heart can hold.