by Russell Wayne
© Andi Berger – Fotolia.com All rights reserved.
I am now the single father of an eight year old girl and an eleven year
old boy; a single father for only eight weeks now; officially divorced just one week ago.
By no means do I consider myself an experienced single father at this point, but I have come a long way in eight weeks.
By my friends’ accounts, I seem to be doing pretty well so far. I am
an engineer and so I try to solve problems logically; maybe that helps.
I even made the comment to myself the other day, “No wonder my
wife left, she had no system.” Kids need structure, and most of them
like it, because they know what to expect and when to expect it.
Let me also say that I took several days off right after she left to
get some of this sorted out. I had the advantage of her simply leaving, and
wanting a four year settlement, so I have not had the trauma of relocation
and attorney battles.
Here are some things that have worked for me so far:
The kids and I had a difficult time emotionally at first, panic is a
good word, and I am sure it is not over yet. We began going to therapy
right away, which helped to reassure the kids that this happens to others,
and that they will be okay.
I have a friend who is a psychologist, who summed up nicely what it
took the therapist six or more weeks to say, and from my experience, I believe this is good advice:
As a new single father, the most important things for you to do are:
- Talk about what has happened, with the kids and with your friends.
Once you become open and comfortable talking about it, you become more
approachable by others, and options to resolve your problems begin to present
themselves more readily.
- Reassure the kids that this was not their fault, and that there is
nothing they can do to fix it (to get you back with mom).
- Get on with your life. Do not spend time trying to figure it out,
- If you are in therapy, after you get through the initial panic stage,
try to spend some time thinking about what attracted you to someone with
personality defects similar to what your wife has, so that you don’t make
the same mistake again. Another friend said, “If new potential girlfriends don’t attend church regularly and say a prayer before meals, you don’t want to get involved.”
Mornings were real tough in the beginning; “Where’s this?”,
“Where’s that?”, “This doesn’t fit.”
Here’s what I did to make our clothes issues easier:
- All the socks went into storage. We went to WalMart and bought twelve
pairs of identical socks for each child, twelve pairs for the boy and twelve for the girl so no matter what they find, they will match.
- We pulled all the clothes out of their drawers and spent a few hours
sorting them. “What will you wear?” “What won’t you wear?”
“Why?” Stuff they won’t or can’t wear goes out. Things they
like to wear stays. I did the same thing as for socks for a few shorts,
shirts, etc. that were favorites. I went out and bought three of each, so they
will always find something that they perceive to be okay to wear. Then I
work on variety as they seem open to it.
- I discovered that the major issue with washing clothes is that they
come out of the dryer. Putting them in the washer, then transferring to
the dryer is no problem, but when they come out, you have to do something
with them. Here is what I do:
- My wife used to fold the clothes. I stopped this because it was a
lot of work and makes the clothes difficult to find. I put a bar up over
the washer dryer, so now anything that comes out of the dryer that can
be hung on a hanger gets put on a hanger, including my casual t-shirts,
girls outfits bottoms and tops together on a hanger, etc. (I had to buy
about 60 plastic hangers).
- Everything on a hanger goes in a closet where it is easily spotted,
not buried in a drawer somewhere.
- The stuff that cannot be hung up (underwear, socks, etc.) goes into
a plastic “sorter” box (WalMart again), and the kids can put
these away in the correct drawers. I labeled the drawers with masking tape
so there is a bit of structure there too.
- My wife used to fold the clothes. I stopped this because it was a
- Clothes are washed every day. This keeps wash from becoming overwhelming,
and reduces frustration when things they want to wear are not available.
After a while, it becomes easy to fit it into the evening/morning schedule.
- Be sure to take stuff that wrinkles out of the dryer right AWAY and
put it on a hanger. If you do this, you can get away without ironing pants,
My kids are old enough to understand and follow a few basic rules.
A few that we have that relate to housework are:
- No dirty dishes in the sink, they always go in the dishwasher.
- Don’t put your hands on the walls.
- No food or drink allowed in carpeted
areas of the house.
- Don’t do anything that creates more work for other
The last one has been really successful for me, because you can analyze
many actions and have the kids think, “Does this create work for
Dad or someone else?”
I may be in better shape than some here, because I have always liked
to cook and consider myself good at it, but my kids are at a picky stage
where they will not eat many things.
- Similar to what happened with the clothes, we sat down and made a
list together of things that the kids like to eat and will eat. Then,
we go to the store and buy those things. When dinners are made, it is stuff
they picked out and have already agreed to eat. We made sure to cover the
major food groups, talked about the importance of balanced meals and agreed
that they would each take a multi-vitamin every day.
- On days when there is just not enough time to make a full meal, we
have frozen pizza or some such other quick food that they picked out.
- Go out when you just can’t do anything else. I started to make a
schedule and plan meals, but I found that for us, it was better just to
come home and have multiple choices. Tuna Fish, Pizza, burgers on the grill,
salad, all are easy, good and quick to make.
When do you find time to do these things? Well, I keep the kids involved
in scouting, church, etc. and use opportunities when they are on trips,
visiting with friends, etc. to do major things like mowing the lawn, vacuuming,
I now go to bed about 9-9:30PM, not long after the kids go because I
am so tired.
I have also started getting up at 5AM instead of 6:30 when the kids
get up. This gives me almost two hours of personal time when I am rested
that I use to do personal things (read the paper, smoke a cigar, listen
to music, etc.) and sometimes work (bills, cleaning, etc.) I find that
the loss of sleep is compensated for by my feeling that things are done,
and not hanging over my head. I am a much happier person all day having
had some extra relaxation or work time in the morning.
Some of the themes so far that have helped make me more comfortable
- Forget about the wife, she is gone.
- Talk about what happened with
your kids and friends. Kids, particularly need the emotional outlet and
talking about it helps heal the hurt.
- I rule the house, it does not
rule me. I feel better and less stressed when things are under control
and relatively clean. To me, this is worth losing sleep for.
things that are difficult.
- Kids like and need structure.
- The kids can pitch in.
- Accept help from others when offered.
- You have to give up some sleep to get things done.
- Take some time off to develop your new family “structure” for getting things done. It’s unreasonable for anyone to expect you to continue working at the same performance level through an event like this.
Sorry if this seems too simplistic, but in the midst of the emotion,
it is often difficult to think clearly; it was for me.
One more item that may be of interest: Therapists, counselors, and others
have told me that while it is unusual for a wife to leave her kids, almost
all of these cases are due to depression, alcoholism, or some other severe
emotional disorder. In my case it was depression which led to alcohol abuse.
I was encouraged by many people to go to Al-Anon, which is a spin off
of Alcoholics Anonymous and is for people whose lives are affected by
someone else’s alcohol problem. Their big theme is to stop focusing on
the person who is causing you the trouble and start improving your own
The first meeting I attended was during my initial two week “panic”
stage, and when it was my turn to share, I spilled my heart out on the
The folks there were understanding and empathetic, and gave a lot of
support, but after listening to their stories about throwing things, marking
bottles, etc. and their comments to me, I realized that several of them
were actually envious that I no longer had to live with my wife; that,
relatively speaking, I and the kids were lucky to be getting out of the
This realization was what turned the corner for me, out of panic, and
into an opportunistic perspective. I find, when I start to feel a bit overwhelmed,
that it helps me to think about this as “Russ’s Big Adventure.”