POINTERS FOR SINGLE DADS
By John Morris
The basic principles remain the same for married dads as for single ones, with one major difference. Whether you have full or partial custody of your kids, you’ll have less time with them than two-parent families.
LEARN POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT:
Make a promise yourself to compensate every negative comment with five positive ones. More than anyone, you have the ability to shape your kids’ view of themselves;
Harness technology: Your kids are likely to be at least as internet-savvy as you. You can use e-mail or SMS, as well as sending them cards, tapes, or photo albums you compile of the times you’re able to spend together;
Get help: Don’t be afraid to ask relatives to lend a hand where appropriate. If you’re tired and overworked, you might be better off taking a break and leaving the kids with granny for an hour while you go for a run;
Keep your promises: Whatever their age, kids know what commitment is. One broken promise will break down all the credibility built by five kept ones. Your kids need to be able to count on you;
Watch your mouth: Never say anything bad about their mother and never let them overhear you doing so;
Spend time face-to-face: Make a point of spending time with each child individually. This needn’t be seem like counseling: you can go fishing, cycling, hiking or walking. It’ll do more to create strong bonds than any time spent participating in child-centred group activities. One rule no TV;
Learn to listen, show them how: Help your kids to learn to express their feelings in acceptable ways, such as: “I can understand why you’re upset. You’re allowed to talk about it, but not to hurt someone or break something because you’re feeling cross”. The best way to do this is to have self-control. You should set parameters and an example.
SURVIVING SUICIDE HOUR AND BOND
Climbing Mount Everest without oxygen is one thing. Base-jumping off Half Dome Rock in Yosemite is another. But for real mettle, try getting your kids through supper, bath-time and into bed without losing your marbles.
Modern society means that most of us bookend our days with a couple of hours of time with our kids. The rest of the time is spent working, commuting and sleeping. If your children are small, you might spend some of this time haranguing them into eating their breakfast or supper, getting dressed or taking a bath.
This can be a time of family cohesion and harmony, where you gently usher your youngsters through the necessary activity while doing some bonding with them and getting some entertainment. Or it can be a sore travail involving several hours of raised voices, threats, tears and compacted molars.
The time that small children have supper, get bathed and go to bed has been dubbed the Suicide Hour. It’s when beleaguered, frazzled parents begin to ponder the merits of prescription drugs.
It needn’t be. Here are a few ways to ease the pain:
A NIGHT OF HEAVEN, A NIGHT OF HELL:
Discuss nights off with your partner: You might decide that on one or two nights each week she disappears entirely, leaving you to do everything. The next week it’s her turn. That way you each have a complete break from your routine. This might not work for families where both parents are needed to keep each other sane.
Get home early: Children have their own unique ways of expressing their displeasure about the fact that you worked late every night last week. On “your” nights, a few minutes outside in the garden, in a nearby park or even romping around the house can settle them down, burn off some calories and get them some fresh air. Some greenie-types maintain that walking barefoot on damp grass stabilises the body’s polarity, which is thrown out of kilter by being near things that generate static, like TV sets, computer monitors, motor vehicles and home appliances.
Got a picky eater?: There can be few things as frustrating for a parent as preparing the food the little goblin gobbled down last night, only to find that she refuses it tonight. Every dad has his own way of dealing with this. Some fetch fast foods, others drink some scotch and try again. Both are short-term solutions that bring long-term problems. “Depriving” the child of a healthy food may work: “Ooh no, this is Dad’s food. It’s far too special for kiddies to have every night”. Cutting the food into funky shapes might also help. So might the art of “Bob the Builder eats this at his parties. It’s his special treat”. Sooner or later it may be time to say: “Right, if you don’t eat this, you can have it for breakfast”. This is effective if applied consistently, but use your discretion. If a child is teething or has an ear infection, your best bet might be a dose of vitamin syrup and an early night.
Go easy on the sugar: Foods with a high glycaemic index and colourants will have your kids bouncing off the walls like a balloons that have been blown up and let go. Try to go for nourishing foods that don’t send their blood-sugar levels soaring.
Feeding in the bath: There are parents who’ll say you’re establishing a negative pattern here, but some kids are comfortable in the warm, wet environment much like the one they were in not long ago. If it works and you’re in a companionable environment without the omnipresent TV set, why not?
Themes: They can seem like a last resort, or they can become a ritual that you and the kids will cherish. Finger foods, silly paper hats and dinner in the tree house or on a blanket on the lawn. Or you could make a tent in the lounge with sheets and chairs.
Allow the kids to choose: This needn’t mean they’re going to get McNuggets and a heart attack at the age of 35. You can offer a choice of three healthy foods.
VARY WHAT’S ON OFFER: Nurture a love of variety and an appreciation of colours, smells and tastes in food, especially fresh, raw ones.
Videotape them eating: They’ll love watching themselves tuck into a meal and will probably eat steadily while they watch. The trick is to catch them eating.