This past week, my wife traveled home to Baltimore first for a homegoing service (aka funeral for you non-black church folks) and then she stayed there for the week for a training for work. She was gone an entire 6 days and it was the longest I’d ever been with all four girls by myself. I’d like to tell you that I wasn’t terrified to take on this challenge, but I can’t. In fact, I sent this SOS text to as many friends as I could on Sunday:
Just dropped Samantha off at the airport. Needless to say I’m in need of a hug, lol. My girls say they’ve got me.
It started rocky. Monday morning we got out of the house barely on time. After completing drop-offs at school I texted to a group of friends:
The trials of solo parenting week continues. Apparently this was our week to bring snacks for Sloane’s class. Of course I didn’t remember that. Her teacher reminded me this morning and I was like…I’ll get on that.
I finally did bring those snacks on Wednesday. Better late than never right?
Meanwhile, throughout the week I was finishing a chapter in the book, 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. This week’s chapter title was Tell the Truth, or at least don’t lie. Very timely as I began considering what I was telling myself about my parenting abilities throughout the week.
Typically, I hate seeing or hearing the stereotype of the father who can’t parent. You know how we’re typically portrayed in society or media, as bumbling idiots who don’t really know what’s going on when it comes to parenting. I try to actively dispel that myth by writing about my own experiences as a potential model. Yet, I found myself stumbling into this tired old troupe throughout this past week. Perhaps I liked the attention (actually, of course I did). Perhaps I really am that helpless without my wife (probably true to at least some degree…I mean I’m amazed at all the stuff she does without me). But, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. There are some things I’m good at, and others I’m not. We’re all trying to figure it out. This week I realized just how far I have to grow.
The big thing that I’m working on is patience and empathy. My deficit in these areas is particularly acute because I have four daughters who I want to maintain strong relationships with as they age. This requires me to be intentional about trying to connect with them emotionally. I’ve done one thing I’m proud of, instituted weekly journal time with my oldest two and that has helped tremendously. But still, building my EQ has been a tough task.
This week was a new challenge, connecting with the girls emotionally on my own. When Samantha left, she gave me some instructions on how to handle each of the girls. For Olivia, she knew that there would come a moment where hugs and empathy would be in order. It didn’t take long for that to happen. She cried on the way to school the first day while Facetiming mommy. By dinner time the next evening, when I saw her crying again at the table, my first instinct was to shut it down. But I could tell that she was trying to fight to hold back the tears because she didn’t want to disappoint or upset me, so I asked her to tell me what’s going on.
Turns out, she had bit down hard on the fork, one of her teeth started wiggling (she’s 7), and she was worried she was about to lose another tooth that wouldn’t grow back (Riles had matter of factly told her that it was an adult tooth). Scared, she started to cry because she didn’t want that to happen. Shooting a dirty look to Riley while reprimanding her for not being helpful, I pulled Olivia into my arms and hugged her…and that was it. Moments later she was fine.
It’s those moments that sometimes mystify me. But, looking back here’s what I want my story to be: my father demonstrated that he cared in moments like these. I remember when he used to hug me when I was sad or wipe away my tears when I was afraid, and remind me that I could still conquer my fears. Right now I’m not consistently that type of father. I’m just as likely to be dismissive of their feelings and overlook their attempts to communicate that they’re afraid. Knowing the truth about myself now, allows me to address the areas in which I’d like to change my story. My pastor likes to say, don’t do anything that makes you a liar for life. I want to be able to tell my full story, not have to omit a few chapters I’m not proud of.
Jordan Peterson sums it up nicely saying, if your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth. That’s the start. And here’s the truth today, my wife is back, things are running so much more smoothly, and I couldn’t be happier. On the way to school this morning I panicked and realized that I didn’t pack up London’s blanket for naptime. But, London reminded me that mommy had already put it in her bookbag. Later, after the second drop off I looked and noticed that Olivia had left her lunch bag in the backseat. Frustrated I called my wife and she said she’d come pick it up and take it to her at school (I had no intention of doing so). She’s already on top of things. Somewhere in there there’s a truth bomb. We’re better together. At least that’s a truth I already knew.