Five lessons from a working dad left home alone

How would your husband or partner cope if they were left alone with your children for a week? One working dad shares five lessons he learned home alone with the kids.

Earlier this year, my darling wife Amy had a fantastic opportunity to sail around the Greek Islands for a week on a Gullet, and had an awesome time. It was the longest period of time we had been apart since we married – and the longest period of time that I have spent alone with my four children, Lana (10) Isaac (8), Toby (4) and Persephone (2).

Now, we all survived, which was the first objective secured, but I actually learnt quite a few things in that nine days, and as with all lessons in life, you can apply them to everything.

Five lessons from a working dad

So what are these lessons? In total there are five.

1) Give everyone your full attention.

As I’ve discovered, children are masters of exploiting distraction. If you are on the phone, you say yes to anything, which is why kids ask you for things when you are on the phone.

One evening when Amy was away I was on an evening business call and Isaac asked me if he could play on the Playstation. It was almost bedtime, but I wasn’t listening to him, so said something like “Yes, whatever, stop bugging me this is important”.

Two hours later I still could hear him murdering aliens. I thundered upstairs and our conversation went a bit like this:

“Why aren’t you in bed? You’ve got school tomorrow!”

“But I asked you and you said yes!” 

“No you didn’t. When?”

“When you were on the phone.”

Isaac could have emptied my bank account, so I consider that I got away lightly. I’ve also wondered since whether this tactic would work when asking your boss for a pay rise?

2) Learn from everyone

“That’s not how mum does it.”

Those words cut deep. They hit you like, Dad, you are a failure! It either means that you’re doing it wrong, or you’re just rubbish at it. And I heard this a LOT in the first couple of days I was home alone with the kids. I heard it when I made a sandwich with the wrong cheese, or forgot to wash some uniform.

Initially I’d just get annoyed, (I’m the kind of man who doesn’t ask for help or directions), but eventually I asked Lana grumpily “So how does Mum do it?”.

Lana then gave me the benefit of her vast years of experience in making the school lunches – it turns out she’s been doing it for some time. I realised that just because they are young, doesn’t mean children have no experience – we really can learn from everyone.

3) Pick your battles

I quickly learned that nutrition is a battleground. The most nutritious snack available in the supermarket crisp aisle appears to be Pombears, which are basically bear-shaped gluten free stuff and air that taste like cardboard. They also cost a fortune, it’s just a pain that healthy choices for kids lunches are so expensive. (Well they’re healthier than Monster Munch, anyway.)

My shopping strategy was to succumb to bullying in the fridge aisle and let them get Muller Yogurts rather than Peppa Pig/Thomas pots. I won many points for that, which gave me negotiating power over the sweets and confectionary – I rule.

So what did this teach me? Sometimes you need to relinquish things you’d quite like in order to secure the things that are really important to you. You can’t win all your battles, so pick the ones that count.

4) It’s all about planning and organisation

If you want to stress yourself out, run out of nappies. I learned that the idea that nappies self-replicate is a lie. They don’t – someone has to buy them or you run out really, really fast. Also, realising this at 8am when you need to get your kids to school and change your two year old’s bulging nappy is stress like no other.

Another thing I noticed is that nappies don’t actually follow you around to present themselves at a time of need. You need to take them with you, and as I’d never needed to plan ahead for things like this before, I learned this lesson in the middle of Brighton. Which is why, when needing just one nappy I then had to carry a pack of 32 of them around all day.

In future I’ll save myself the stress all round and learn how to plan ahead.

5) You’ll never keep everyone happy

In business you strive to keep all your customers happy, all the time. But in my week alone with the kids, I discovered that this isn’t always possible.

You’ll only ever achieve 75% child satisfaction. I have four kids, and one of them is always upset with me about something. And maybe adults are no different. So instead of giving myself a hard time if I can’t satisfy my trickiest customer, I’ll accept that it’s just one of those things.

I REALLY appreciate my wife!

So there they are, my five lessons. The week Amy went away was a really rewarding experience, and it taught me a LOT. I was always very appreciative of Amy’s role before, and I am even more so now. Now all I need to do is work on my newly-identified inefficiencies and areas of improvement!

Has anyone else been taught the meaning of life by a four year old? or even just pertinent life lessons? Please add comments and thoughts!

Richard Crawford-Small is a medical aesthetic business consultant and founder of iConsult Software.