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, just divorced for one week. 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. 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, look forward.
Therapy can help you to deal with your initial shock, anger and/or grief. It also gives you the opportunity to examine what it was about your wife that attracted you to her and to understand how some of these qualities may have contributed to your unhealthy relationship. Once you understand this you are less likely to pick women with qualities that don't work for you.
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 Wal-Mart 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 up a bar 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 (Wal-Mart 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.
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, shirts, etc.
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 people.
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, etc.
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 things, so far, that have helped make me more comfortable were:
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.
Simplify 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 thing is to stop focusing on the person who is causing you the trouble and start improving your own situation.
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 table.
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 relationship.
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."