Father’s Day Without Kids

I read an interesting post on Facebook yesterday.  A friend of mine posted how, despite loving his kids deeply, he really wanted to be left alone for Father’s Day.  You could feel the guilt he felt bleeding through the monitor.  But he still posted it for all to see.

I get it.

As dads, we relish in those moments of peace and quiet where we can get outdoors, watch the game, read a book, work on a project, or do absolutely nothing without interruption.

Photo Credit: JasonTuno via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: JasonTuno via Compfight cc

For those of us who are or have been the primary caregivers, moments of peace and quiet are few and far between.  Just when you get the kids down for a nap, you remember laundry must be done.

Based on our custody arrangement, my son is always with me on Mother’s Day and always with his mom on Father’s Day.  So, I’m always without my son except for a few moments on FaceTime.

But I am OK with it.

My perception of holidays has changed in the several years since the divorce.  Instead of focusing on the day the calendar (or Hallmark) tells me to focus on, I have a more holistic view.

I place high value on the moments I am with my son.  They pass much too quickly.

I place high value on the time I have without him…time where I can take care of myself, invest in my wife and stepsons, and pursue interests.

I place high value on knowing the holiday is not as important as the moments in between.

Let’s make those in between moments count.

What holiday/special day would you most miss spending with your kids?

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When The Kids Are Gone

A few weeks ago, my son traveled 1,700 miles to spend the summer with my ex.  This year marks the seventh time he has left me for this extended period of time.

Photo Credit: Jaws300 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Jaws300 via Compfight cc

For you single dads who also have extended periods of time where your kids  have visitation with their mom, you know the range of emotion you experience.  On one hand, you get some time to yourself to catch up with friends, get healthy, date, do a lot less laundry, watch something other than Scooby-Doo, and generally decompress.

On the other hand, you miss your kids, you wonder how your ex is parenting, you wonder how they relate to any significant other to your ex they spend time with, and you cannot help but wonder if they are safe and secure.

With FaceTime, Skype, texting, and all the other technology out there, you can keep in touch with your kids, but it is not the same as having them home.

The entire circumstance has a duality – on one hand you have some additional margin in your life.  On the other, you want to have your kids home and under your watchful eye.

How do we navigate this duality?

First – be prepared for the rapid deceleration.  Single dads travel fast.  Once your kids leave for their visitation, many of your tasks disappear instantly.  No driving to daycare or camp.  No making breakfast, lunch and dinner.  No reading at bedtime.  Depending on your particular circumstance, you may do little more than talk to your kids on the phone or Skype.

Your worth and value is not in what you do for you kids, it is in who you have been, who you are, and who you will be when they return.

Second – be prepared to focus on yourself for a bit.  Above I mentioned several activities you will have time for when you are not actively parenting.  Your list may look similar…but please make sure you have a list of some sort.  If you do not have a plan for your time alone, you may fill it with nothing but binge watching Netflix.  Not to say you should not do some of that, but you should have something more substantive on your list.

Do not feel guilty for enjoying your break from full-time parenting.  Instead, see it as a time for you to recharge and be the best dad you can when they return.

What are your top priorities when the kids are with their mom?

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My Son Joined Instagram

Several weeks ago, I wrote about my son’s request to get Snapchat.  Fast forward a few weeks and he will finally begin his social media journey at the age of 11.

After several conversations with my son and my ex, we have decided he can join Instagram.  Presumably, he will use it to stay in touch with friends over the summer when he is with my ex.  Also, he will (with his mom’s or my approval) follow some sports figures or other public figures on Instagram.

I found two great resources to help through this process.  First, Common Sense Media has a great post detailing the various issues associated with the various social media programs.  While you should always check for updates to these apps and see what new features they might offer, Common Sense Media gives a detailed set of concerns and solutions.

Second, I found a “social media contract” online so I would not have to recreate the wheel.  iMom has a comprehensive contract you can easily download and print out for your kids to sign.  If it does not cover all the bases (like getting approval before following someone), you can easily add an addendum or hand write it in the margins.

His mom and I discussed the consequences should our son violate the contract, and we will add those.  In case you are wondering, he loses privileges for various lengths of time…and might lose the entire app if he gets three strikes.

Both I and my ex will have full access to his account and to his iPod Touch.  So far, we have no reason to have concerns, and this first step into social media will be instructive to us as coparents.

Personally, I do not participate in Instagram, but I might join so I can follow my son!

At what age did you let your kids engage in social media?  What has been the biggest lesson learned?

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Practicing Dinnertime Manners

Our blended family of six usually sits at the kitchen island for meals.  Only steps away, our dining room table plays host to some stacks of homework.

With four boys in a variety of evening activities, dinner has become much more informal in these final weeks of school.  Puppies run through the house, we shuttle kids from one practice to another.  My oldest stepson finishes 8th grade soon and he has dinners, dances, and banquets.

Photo Credit: Kuba Abramowicz via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kuba Abramowicz via Compfight cc

Chaos was winning.  Manners were losing.

My wife had a great idea.  We needed to revive dinner in the dining room.  Napkins.  Silverware, Candles.

Waiting for everyone to sit before saying the prayer and eating.  Elbows off the table.  No talking with food in your mouth.

We did this last night, and had one of the best dinners we had had in weeks.  We had a great conversation, lots of laughs, and everyone even ate their broccoli.

Granted, we did bribe them with pizookie (a decadent cookie dessert) if everyone behaved.

But, even without the dessert, the time at the table was more enjoyable for everyone.  They proved to us and to themselves they had not forgotten how to act politely.

Looking at the family calendar, we may not all sit at the table again for several days, but we will do this again…pizookie or not.

What bad habits do you model at the dinner table?  Have you ever sent your kid to bed without dinner for bad manners?

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Mother’s Day Without Mom

Yesterday morning, my stepsons woke up early (by 10 minutes) and I took the early shift with the puppies so my wife could sleep in.

The boys whipped up eggs, bacon and toast.  I made her favorite morning beverage…my pour over coffee with a splash of heavy cream.

Photo Credit: Aes D via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Aes D via Compfight cc

My son watched all the activity.

My stepsons loaded up the TV tray and, along with my son, brought breakfast in bed to my wife.

I closely watched my son during the joyous interaction between the boys and their mom.  His face betrayed his sadness as he watched kids with their mom, knowing his was over 1,700 miles away.

He quietly slipped out of the room and I followed.

As I held on to him, I asked if watching his stepbrothers serve their mom breakfast in bed made him sad.

“A little.”

I’m no expert, but he may have underestimated.

I hugged him, affirmed how he felt, and reminded him he could celebrate Mother’s Day on Father’s Day since it falls during his summer visitation with his mom.

People say kids are resilient.  Yes, divorce hurts, but they adapt and adjust.

I partially agree.

My son (and even my stepsons) demonstrate great resilience, but the sense of loss never completely disappears.

I am reminded about my sense of loss when my son misses milestones with me and must remember he has those same feelings about his mom.  The gift I can give him on Mother’s Day is the acknowledgment of his hurt and the assurance he is loved…by both of us.

How do your kids react when they miss a significant holiday or event with their mom?

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To Snapchat Or Not To Snapchat, That Was His Question

My 11-year-old  son embarked on a mission to download Snapchat onto his iPod.

He began by sending my ex a text message asking her if he could sign up for Snapchat.  She then texted me to discuss the request.  Fortunately, we both agreed he had no good reason to sing up for the service.

Photo Credit: mobilyasam via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mobilyasam via Compfight cc

Later in the evening he breathlessly explained how Snapchat allows you to take photos of yourself and edit them to make it appear as if a rainbow was shooting out of your mouth…or you could even do something along the lines of making you look something like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A wave of relief swept over me.

Since he does not have a phone and the only contact number/emails for FaceTime are of family, I did not expect he wanted to use Snapchat for sexting or anything along those lines, but I am still hesitant to let him begin down the social media path.

I have heard him comment about the desire to have people see pictures or videos he has made and “like” them.  Another trap of social media…probably for discussion another day.

I did find an excellent guide for parents to learn more about social media concerns and which apps we should learn more about.  The article appeared on Common Sense Media – “9 Social Media Red Flags Parents Should Know About” – and I recommend you read it.

For now, I will search out an app my son can use to take silly photos without the requirement to sign up for social media.  If you have any suggestions, let me know.

What social media apps do your kids use and how did you decide to let them begin using them?

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FLASHBACK – Laundry Sucks

The past few weeks, I have written about the idea of excitement and wonder.  This weekend, we faced a mountain of laundry and this post came to mind…

Strolling through the house, I see one black sock, inside out, peeking out from underneath the couch. Its mate rests underneath the TV remote across the room.

Two pair of gym shorts, both clean enough to wear again, sit in a pile on the bathroom floor.

I will not even waste words on what the floor of his closet looks like.

Photo Credit: darksock2004 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: darksock2004 via Compfight cc

As the dutiful dad, I used to walk through the house, pick up his clothes (he was pretty young), throw them all in the laundry basket, and wash them whether they needed it or not. The path of least resistance.

It did not take long for a primal instinct to rise up from within. I hated doing laundry and I had to change the paradigm. I spent too much of my time finding socks, hanging school uniform shirts, soaking dirty pants, and washing all of them. Not to mention my own clothes.

This single dad took a new approach to laundry.

  • Get rid of the front loader/HE washer. I admit front loader washing machines look cool. They save on water. They use less energy. But, for me, they made doing laundry more frustrating due to the long wash cycles. I have owned both and found the top loader to better fit my needs. You can do more laundry, more quickly with a top loader.
  • Work out your laundry schedule. Depending on how many kids you have, you might face a small mountain of laundry each and every day. Maybe you have school uniforms or work uniforms needing constant laundering. You might enjoy spending your entire Saturday doing laundry and chores around the house. Maybe you just want to do three or four smaller loads on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Maybe your electric utility plan dictates when you do your laundry. Maybe you go to a laundromat and do your entire week’s worth of laundry in just a few hours. Whatever the case, like your financial budget, figure out your typical needs, establish a schedule, and stick to it as best you can.
  • Teach your kids how to care for clothes. Take the time to teach your kids, from an early age, how to determine when clothes should go into the dirty bin or when they could be worn again. Boys typically resonate with the sniff test, so give it try. Instruct them to turn their clothes…especially socks…right-side-out before putting in the dirty laundry bin. Remind them it takes water and time to do laundry, so they need to be respectful of how many times they change clothes unnecessarily during the day.
  • Have an extra set of sheets/mattress pad. You never know what might happen at night from bed wetting to vomit to Spot jumping on it after running through the mud. In those cases, having an extra set of sheets can save you from an unexpected visit to the laundry room.
  • Wash towels and rugs separately. Once I washed the bathroom rug with some regular clothes. I spent the following spring taking little white balls of cotton off of all the clothes. I think they call them pills, and they are bitter.
  • Bring your kids into the experience. If said with the right tone of voice and right attitude, you can invite your kids to help you do laundry. Maybe it becomes an over-and-above chore in exchange for a few extra minutes of electronics time. They should learn the basics of laundering, folding, hanging, and putting in drawers. Maybe it will encourage them to think and be more responsible with their clothes.

So, am I the only one who hates laundry? Any tips you can share?

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Helping Your Kids Deal With Disappointment

As a kid, I loved watching Get Smart – the classic Mel Brooks sitcom starring Don Adams as the clumsy Agent 86.

I had several snub-nosed cap guns which looked just like the one Agent 86 had.  I pretended to have a phone in my shoe.  But, I was much more clever and did not have an “Agent 99” in my life.  Just buddies who loved to play spy games.

In 1979, Ideal came out with a new game – “Electronic Detective.”  And on the cover of the box was none other than Don Adams (aka Maxwell Smart).

Photo Credit: Detective Computer via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Detective Computer via Compfight cc

I had to have this game for my birthday.  I showed it to my mom in the store and explained it was worth every one of the $20 or so dollars it cost.

It took forever for my birthday to arrive…I could not turn 10 quickly enough.  And finally, the big day arrived.

Looking back, I do not have any idea what I got for my 10th birthday, but I do know it did not include the “Electronic Detective” game.

I must not have contained my disappointment very well because I did end up getting it for Christmas.

Today’s post is not to encourage you to teach your kids to whine and act disappointed when they do not get what they want, but to remind you we were likely disappointed as kids.  We may have been disappointed by our parents, by our friends, by not having the cool stuff other kids had, or by not having the same skills as our friends.

When my son gets disappointed, instead of jumping to the lecture, I need to first remember what it feels like…from a kid’s perspective.  When I get disappointed as an adult, I have the benefit of experience and wisdom to help me process.  My son does not have those years and examples to draw from.  To him, it can sting bad.

For example, last Friday night he got in the truck after flag football practice and you would have thought someone died.  He told me he will never get to play offense and another one of the kids took his role as kicker.

I almost went into lecture mode, but instead asked him a few questions.  Why did he think he lost the job as kicker?  Would he like to get the job back?  If so, how?  What would it take to change the coach’s mind?

It seemed to help him process the realities, but did not appear to motivate him to practice (in his defense, he had never kicked before).  He needed to process it all.

My job, I think, was to let him know I understood his disappointment, was interested in his observations, and was willing to help him if he chose to take me up on it.

On Saturday morning, we had to stop by the sports store to grab another mouth guard (how do these kids destroy/lose so many mouth guards???) and he saw a kicking tee.  He asked me if I would get it so we could practice kicking.

It seems he handed disappointment better than I did back in ’79.

How have you prepared your kids to deal with disappointment or helped them get out of the funk?

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