A two-year old, one small baby.

Two parents just about got it covered. One tiny human to each parent.

But when Dad has to be away for work? The whole thing falls apart..

Surely?

The trouble begins, a friend told me, when the pets or children in  a household outnumber the adults. Wise words from a Dad of four.

So, the husband goes away to die on stage at the hands of a vampire every night for a couple of months. And suddenly… Two against one. Three if you count the cat.

And what happened? The results of this latest experiment?

I survived, with my sanity intact. I even enjoyed it sometimes (ssh.. don’t tell him).

There were beach walks and kitchen tents; muffins baked and playdates; trips to grannies and aunties; and lots and lots of stories.

Tell me a story about the river.

Tell me a story while we’re walking.

Tell me a story while we’re driving; about a tiger and a mountain and a whale.

Yes, there were moments where I wanted to permanently outsource the question answering and the storytelling. There were days where I wished for a live-in maid (ok I still wish for this).

There were middle of the night arguments about who should sleep where. The older boy would wake at 4am and want to sleep anywhere but his own bed. Instead my bed, the spare room, the cot which his the small boy had demanded out of just hours before, even once the top of the stairs, were all to his mind viable options.

There were ill-timed forest walks with the almost potty-trained two-year-old (I’ll leave that one to your imagination).

There were oh so many mornings where I would have given up chocolate forever for a week in exchange for a lie-in.

On my good days I was strong, loving, closer and more in tune with my two-year-old than ever before.

On my worst days, I was impatient, unfriendly, overwhelmed. I complained to a friend about how my son always wanted to do the opposite of what I wanted him to. I found myself in a battle of wills with him at every turn, feeling incensed when he didn’t comply with my wishes, my orders.

My friend, a seasoned mother of 3,  gave me ideas for more playful approaches, reading him a story while we put on his clothes, turning getting out of the house and into the car /to our chosen activity, into a race, a game.

Another friend reminded me that they’re programmed to want all of our attention, all the time. So I stopped wishing my two year old would behave like I wanted him to.. and let him behave like a two year old.

Once I let go and became more playful I grew less tense and everything became easier. Less struggles, more laughter.

Many times it came back to the breath. An inhaling and a releasing of the breath, and releasing expectations of what ‘should’ be happening in the moment, in the day.

I rolled out my yoga mat and we ‘practiced’ together. I was a bridge and he was a tree. I was a tree and he was..a small boy who liked to chop down trees. I was a cat and he was… something that likes to sit on a cat’s back. When baby was napping and I felt like I needed a few minutes to practice by myself, I deployed the cartoons.. and he was a zombie.

Moments where baby was crying, coming up to his naptime and we were about to go out for a walk, and the older boy was running about the room, only half dressed..

You be a dragon and you chase me!

Instead of breathing fire and rushing him,  I made myself slow down and breathe.

I’m reading at the moment about the idea of motherhood (parenting in general really) as a mindfulness or meditation practice in itself.  This time alone with my boys was an intense version of that practice.

Just like an intense meditation retreat, it brought buried emotions to the surface, and like at a retreat, there was nowhere to go to get away from the emotions. I had no choice but to work through it, to acknowledge the feeling, to let it go.. and then go get the dinner on.

I’m so glad to have had that opportunity. To face my impatience and frustration with my two year old; to allow it to dissolve and see it replaced with compassion.

I learned a little more compassion for myself too. I stopped giving myself a hard time for every negative thought and angry word that floated into my head. I confided in my husband that there were days where I wanted to tell my two year old to ‘fuck off’. Really. I felt terrible for thinking it.

My husbands response?

“You didn’t tell him though did you?” More a statement than a question.

“No, of course not”

“Then I guess you’re a good mum”

Then I guess I am.

Mothering is hard. Doing it alone is harder. But the whole thing didn’t fall apart.

Two against one? Maybe we are all on the same team…

4 thoughts on “The ‘Dad’s away for work’ experiment

  1. I can just about manage two nights of solo-parenting – my hat is off to you! I really like your husband’s response, I think he’s right.

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    1. Thanks! I find it helps if you lower all expectations to unprecedented levels. Seriously though it’s easier when you’re not working. When you have the additional guilt of kid(s) being in crèche it just about tips you over the edge.

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