When I checked my email last week, I found a contact form that had been submitted from my blog. The author wrote “I am about a week away from having custody of my 6 year old daughter and 2 1/2 year old son. I need to know how to handle the first year or so of this transition.” In the time I’ve been writing this blog, it never occurred to me to write about the beginning of Mr Mom in any great detail. I hoped to have this done by Christmas Eve, but that didn’t happen.
On Sunday, 28 August 2000, I woke up and my wife was not in bed. She wasn’t in the house and one of the cars was gone from the driveway. It was an hour before I found the note telling me she had left. When the twins woke up, they were not yet 2-1/2 years old, I brought them downstairs and was in the process of changing diapers and getting them dressed when my oldest son came down. The date was significant because the next day was the first day of school for the new year. I asked him if he had everything he needed ready for school the next day and he answered that mom was going to take care of it that day. I was up for over an hour before I learned; he was up for ten minutes.
My ex-wife had been a stay at home mom. I was in the same position as someone just getting custody from their spouse. I still had to get the oldest ready for school and I had to figure out daycare arrangements for the twins since my job expects me to be on-site each day. Here’s my thoughts on what is important and what needs to be done up front.
First, and probably most important, be absolutely, positively, 100% sure that you want to be the primary / sole caregiver. You may not have any control over the circumstances that led to the current situation, but if you’re not convinced you want the kids with you full time, that lack of conviction will telegraph to your kids. Their life and yours will be miserable. If that’s the case, talk to your family, your minister or other resources to explore your options.
If you’re ready to go, here’s my list:
- If your kids are not already in school, they will need physicals before they can enter school or a childcare facility. Most important is that their immunizations must be current. (I know there are people who do not believe in immunizations. I do not know what your local school system or laws require. Contact your local government authorities for additional information.)
- Talk to your employer or, if you’re self-employed, your employees or customers as appropriate. Your schedule will change. Guaranteed. And there is nothing you are going to be able to do about that. Kids will have doctor appointments, there is school registration (which always takes place during the day on a weekday), there are parent teacher conferences. And there are those days you will wake up and discover that one of your kids is sick and you will be staying at home. If you have the kind of job that can be done remotely, make sure you are set up for these surprises; I bring my company laptop home every night for just that reason.
- Bedtime. From the beginning I set two bedtime rules: one for my oldest son and one for the twins. I didn’t announce it to the kids; but I felt it was justified given the ten year age difference. My oldest son had two defined bedtimes – one for school nights (Sunday through Thursday) and one for weekend nights. The twins had one bedtime – they went to bed at the same time every night. At their age, I felt a consistent schedule was critical. Now that they twins are 12, they also have two bedtime rules.
- Meals. Given the path of my life, I’ve had multiple periods where I had to cook if I expected to eat. I’m not a great cook (unless you talk to my mom and sister), but no one gets sick from my cooking. From the beginning, I let the kids know that I am not a short order cook. (Only the oldest knew what that meant.) During the week, I cook ONE dinner. On weekends, I prepare ONE breakfast, ONE lunch and ONE dinner. I will not fix different meals for each individual child. There’s not enough time to do that. (The only exception is if you are just reheating leftovers. Leftovers can be your friend.)
- I am a fan of the Food Network on television; and now also the Cooking Channel. (I have both on DirecTV.) If you don’t know how to cook, or are looking for techniques and training, these stations are terrific. Almost anything with Rachel Ray, especially 30 Minute Meals, is terrific. Also, check out Sandra Lee in Semi-Homemade. As entertaining as Emeril Lagasse is, I don’t find that I can replicate any of that while preparing an evening meal during the week.
- If you don’t already own one, buy a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker. And learn how to use it. You can fix chicken or ribs, for example, and get three completely different meals from one preparation. (Such as cooked chicken, chicken sandwiches, and chicken salad.)
- Cooking, by the way, is an excellent way to spend time with your kids. Almost every meal has at least one task that can be set aside for the kids to do (after training). If your kids help prepare the meal, they are much more likely to eat it without complaining.
- Create one-on-one time with each of your kids. Periodically, I would take one child out to a long Saturday lunch. This was their time with me with no competition from siblings. The things you can talk about then are absolutely amazing.
- Decide which things are worth worrying about and which ones are not. I taught my kids how to fold their laundry and, as they got older, how to do their own laundry. Although the wrinkles in their clothes bothered me at first, I decided to quit worrying about it. When the wrinkles bother the kids, they automatically start folding clothes neater.
- Listen. Your kids are (sometimes) an excellent judge as to how well things are going. If things are going well or not so well, they will tell you. As long as you are hearing what they are telling you, they will continue to share their opinions. When you quit listening, they quit sharing. And its hard to reverse that back again.
- Teach your kids manners. And use manners yourself. Good Manners will carry your kids a long way through life.
- Take care of yourself. There is a lot of stress associated with being the sole caregiver for your kids. Sleep. Laugh. Relax. Hug. Kiss. You’ll never, never regret it.
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