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Please help me be a better Dad

(22 Posts)
DesperateDadintheDark Sat 12-Oct-13 13:50:17

I am a lone father, living with my daughters, who are aged (very nearly) 2 and (very nearly) 4, I also have a son who lives with my wife. A few months ago, my wife and I separeted, and my wife moved abroad with our son, to live with her parents.
I was a very difficult time, and I was not in favour of the arrangement, but my wife has been wanting to move back there for some time now, and it was the only way she could be happy. Our marriage had been in turmoil for a while, and until she moved we had pretty much lived as housemates trying to be civil for the sake of children, and though we have not initated any divorce proceedings, there is very slim chance of us working through our problems and reconcilling. She took our boy with her, in the belief that he would be better suited to the school system in her home country, since he was having problems in school over here. (I disagreed with this, since he had only been in school full time for a year, and a part time year before that, and so he was still settling and finding his feet. Our disagreements regarding his school was one of the contributing factors to our relationship breakdown). Our daughters have remained with me, for a number of reasons, but mainly for convieniences. I miss my son, every day my heart sinks when I think of him being so far away, and I know my wife also misses the girls. However, we communicate regularly, and son appears very happy and settled.
I adore my daughters, they are delightful little girls, and they keep me going, but I admit I am struggling with managing their behaviour and demands and I worry that I am not being the best Dad, even though I am trying.
I work full time, and have a nanny, who is a life saver, and the girls love her - we have had this nanny for almost two years now and she and the girls have a great bond and I am grateful for this, and I know it sounds completely childish, but I feel that they love their nanny more than they love me. My younger daugher cries and holds on to the nanny when she is leaving in the evenings, and when they wake in the morning, one of the first things they ask is 'when is A coming?'. my older daughter draws pictures or builds something in duplo for the nanny, but she doesn't do this for me.
Their behaviour for their nanny is also much better than it is for me - although I am sure this is because the nanny can deal with it better. Every evening I face a struggle to get them bathed and ready for bed, because they will not co-operate and I end up chasing them around the house, and eventually I snap and will shout, and then they go down to bed crying and this upsets me. I have now resorted to keeping the nanny extra time in the evenings so she can help with the bedtime routine, but due to her own committments (very reasonabley so) she can only do this a couple times a week. I also find playing with them very challenging, as they are both constantly competing for my attention, so when I sit down and give time to one, they other will start to play up, and when I try to play a game with both of them, it ends up in a disaster as they are very different in their development (being 2 and 4) and I don't know how to really play with them and engage with them in a way that meets both their needs, if you see what I mean. Weekends I try to take them out, but the younger one screams and fights to get out out of her pushchair, and when I let her out she just runs everywhere and then the older one thinks its a game and runs off too, then I end up losing my temper and the day gets ruined, and we all end up feeling miserable.
I know it sounds awful, but I now dread the weekends, because I just find the whole day with my girls so tiresome and i always end up losing my temper and turning in an ogre, which I know needs to stop, but I just don;t know how to manage them better.
I have a sister nearby who is wonderful, and has children of similar ages, and she will help out for a few hours some weekends. In fact - she has them right now, after I have just had an absolutely awful morning with them. The girls love her, and love playing with her children, however, I cannot keep using my sister as my weekend lifeline. She has her own family, (I know her husband is getting tired of it) one of her children has special needs, and she is carer for our father, so she herself is stressed and busy. My sister advised me to seek some advice online, and here I am......
So can anyone please give me some advice on managing my two young girls who I love so dearly, but feel so helpless with, and how I can go back to enjoying my little ones?

DesperateDadintheDark Sat 12-Oct-13 14:03:42

And also I forgot to mention, I am struggling to deal with my little ones tantrums as well, she rarely tantrums for the nanny, and the nanny uses time out, when they miss behave although this too is very rare, but the girls never co-operate with time out with me so any advice on managing toddler tantrums would be gratefully received - I have looked at online articles and watched three day nanny, but I was wondering if anyone had something from personal experience?
thank you

duchesse Sat 12-Oct-13 14:18:08

My thoughts after reading your OP are as follows:

1) Your children have all had a major upheaval. Even if your son is happy and settled, he has still had a major change in his life. He might appear more settled and happy than your daughters but bear in mind that he has his mum's undivided attention (is she working yet?) and potentially family support as well? So he is getting a lot of attention and furthermore probably still feels like he's on an adventure. Contrast that with your daughters who have lost attention (their mother's anyway) and it's no wonder they are having more trouble than your son.

2) I think your daughters might appear to be acting up but essentially they are just behaving like normal toddlers. It is completely normal for siblings to compete for attention. You sound like you're doing a brilliant and very hard job. If you feel in your heart of hearts that they might benefit from more attention and more one-to-one, can you harness your lovely DSis to take one girl alternately every Sat morning while you spend time with the other? Even going to the shops and having hot chocolate out and about will be enough, and having a proper conversation (obv at the level of a 2 or 4 yo) with them will top up their attention levels.

3) Positive discipline is your friend! Heap praise on the girls when they behave well and ignore the small misbehaviours that aren't really important. Obv you can't compromise with matters of safety so with things like walking holding hands, you can't let them run riot next to main roads but you can try praising them for staying near you in parks and footpaths. Bribery in the shape of very small sweets might help at first. Give regular small sweets (eg one smartie or jelly bean) to the first child to get back when you call them back (do this in the park).

4) Say things like "who can help me do x...?" (picking up toys/ dirty clothes etc) Involve them in household tasks as much as you can in an age-appropriate way. Young children love to feel that they're helping and it keeps them busy at the same time! Talk to them as you work. Quite frankly, don't worry about not playing very much with them. Most mothers get very little time to play with their children. Your girls are lucky that they have each other. If they play nicely together, praise them. (praise praise praise good behaviour, ignore bad behaviour as much as you can)

stubbornstains Sat 12-Oct-13 14:23:54

Could you ask your nanny if she thinks you might be going wrong anywhere in your child wrangling techniques?

duchesse Sat 12-Oct-13 14:25:29

And I meant to say- your nanny is bound to have a different relationship with them- she doesn't live and almost certainly doesn't let them get away with anything. It is a job for her. Being a family is different. There has to be more negotiation and almost by implication more conflict.

Toddlers cry a lot. That's normal. They can't express themselves as well. Harness your 4 year old's extra maturity- say to her if her sister is having a melt-down "Y is screaming because she can't talk very well yet, isn't she?". You want to avoid the older behaving like a 2 yo because she's noticed that gets the attention. You have to view them as individuals and not lump them together if one is behaving well and the other not.

Maybe consider taking them out of the house to somewhere (museum, NT house, park) every Sunday or Sat afternoon without fail so you all get out in the open.

Also, you need to develop systems for managing household stuff. Your own systems, that work for you. You don't need to keep your wife's systems- they may not suit you.

End of the day, they are your children and you are their main parent now. It may feel like every day lasts a thousand years but by the time the younger one is 4/5 you will not recognise your life. Toddlerhood is hard and thankless on the parent. Be gentle and kind and if all else fails, bath and bed any time from 5 onwards!

I think you sound as though you are doing a brilliant job! I promise it will get easier. You have rather been landed in it. In a few months you will be a pro. Hang in there!

tumbletumble Sat 12-Oct-13 14:39:04

Having a nearly 2yo and a nearly 4yo is hard (I've been there!) - it's an age when they are very demanding. I promise you that in a year or two things will be much easier for you. Don't compare yourself to the nanny - it's a job for her, which makes it completely different. It's common for children to behave differently for different care givers - I went to parents' evening at my DS2's nursery last week and the teacher was full of praise for DS2 (he's the same age as your eldest) - I couldn't believe she was talking about the same child! Also you are dealing with bedtime which is often the hardest part of the day. Try to stay calm and not shout - but don't beat yourself up if you yell sometimes - you're only human!

Lower your expectations. Don't expect every outing to be perfect. Accept that they are behaving like normal toddlers and that parenting at this age does involve a certain amount of fire-fighting - and that doesn't make you a failure or a bad parent.

uptheanty Sat 12-Oct-13 14:40:29

Having 2 children aged 2 & 4 is challenging for most parents. Almost all of the problems and issues you have mentioned are entirely resolvable and quite managable grin.

It is very difficult for some people to play with children, i am a proffessional who works with children and there are certain age groupsthat i find more challenging to interact with.

You can do this and you can be very good at it.
I would recommend that you stop using others to prop you up, this is at best a short time solution that only prevents you from learning. And in truth that's what you will be doing.

You need to build up your confidence and believe in yourself. You are their parent and they need you.

View it as a project if it helps you focus, read books, take advice, practice!

The fact that you are a male is not a disability in terms of parenting, you will have many strengths that your children will benefir from, you just need to tap into them.

DesperateDadintheDark Sat 12-Oct-13 15:04:34

Firstly, thank you Duchess for your kind and encouraging advice. You have really boosted my confidence, and I am going to follow your techniques of Positive discipline from today. I know that my older daughter loves to help out around the house and she responds very well to praise, and as for talking to her about why her little sister is having a tantrum - I hadn't even thought to do that.
The separation set up, between my wife and I really is not great and I know this - I constantly feel guilty for the upheaval and change we have put on our children. I know that it has been very hard for them, and to be honest much of the bedtime struggles and tantrums manifested after my wife's move. I feel awful for putting all three of my children through these circumstances, but like you say, I am their main parent now, and I have to get on with it. I only hope they will not be affected by it all in later life.
I am going to speak to my sister today about having the girls one at a time - it may be easier for her than having both of them, and I would love to spend quality time with my girls on their own too. I'll see if we can come to an arrangement which suits her home circumstances and family. You are right, she really is lovely.
Going out, I admit I put if off due to what I outlined earlier with the girls running off and playing up, but I will try to put in some of your techniques with the smarties and praise, hopefully we can have a successful outing sometime soon.

Thank you again

DesperateDadintheDark Sat 12-Oct-13 15:06:22

Thank you tumble tumble, and thank you up the anty. It is great to hear from parents of children of similar ages and know |I'm not the only one!

tumbletumble Sat 12-Oct-13 17:32:12

If you have questions in future, try posting on Parenting or Behaviour / Development - you may get more responses than here.

duchesse Tue 05-Nov-13 12:04:01

How's it going, desperate? Hope things are looking up for you!

ElizabethJonesMartin Tue 05-Nov-13 12:20:42

Those of us women who have full time nannies have or have had similar issues. It is nothing to do with your being a lone father, parent or anything like that. It is just how toddlers are.

I try to praise more than criticse (e.g. 5 positive to one negative comment) and if there's nothing nice to say to a small child better not to say anything and try to ignore more. Try not to shout or pul or push and if it gets too much just go into another room and shut the door for a bit.

Consider help at the weekends. We split them between us (married) but also had a morning babysitter for a time on a Sunday for 4 hours which worked really well. Don't be reluctant to do that. I wish we'd done it years before.

Mollydoggerson Tue 05-Nov-13 12:39:59

1. Stop giving yourself a hard time, if you were living in wedded bliss you would still lose your patience with two children of those ages, it is a very trying time.

2. When I was a sahm, my whole mentality slowed down to that of the children. I knew exactly what they had eaten all day, how much they had slept, how their moods had undulated over the day.

When I work, I am in work mode, practicality, getting the job done, less tolerant of small kids. It is hard to switch from sensible work mode to sensitive parent mode. It is normal that nanny is more on their wavelength when you come in from work, she has been with them all day.

3. Going to the forest etc, we have all been there with children of that age - nightmare - constantly running off and falling. It is a particularly tough age to entertain them. I know the weather is awful now, so this advice may not suit this time of year, but I used to find the beach great, they could build sandcastles etc and no real need to run too far away, there is lots to keep them entertained. Maybe when the weather improves, this might be somewhere for you to go.

I have an annual pass for local heritage centres, one in particular is a traditional village. Even if they run off, they are no cars to pose a danger. The children can explore in relative safety. Is there anything like that available to you?

How about gardening/an allotment? (weather permitting). Kids love anything that they can get stuck into.

If the outdoorsy stuff is off limits, could you try to steer them into arts and crafts? Messy but it does keep them entertained.

Swimming will also really tire them out, even just paddling around in the baby pool will be good for them.

What might help is committing to some organised event on a saturday morning and coming home to lunch.

Their ages are very restictive right now, and to be honest that age in particular is so drainging, all the falling and crying etc. You just have to battle through for another year and it will eventuially get better.

Sticking to a routine will help. Also look up 'medal and mission'. Instead of critising the children give them a medal for what they have done correctly and a mission to complete the next task.

soapymac Tue 05-Nov-13 18:59:37

From one single dad to another... Breathe mate! haha.

On a more serious note. I lost my wife when DS was 3m/o. He's now almost 2, and I have been muddling through this fatherhood thing ever since. You're doing a great job, and your girls will love you for it when they're old enough to appreciate.

But one thing I have learnt is that, when it gets really tough, take a step back, take a time out, and go back at it with a smile/more patience. No-one's perfect, and hey, they're two little kids, doing what little kids do. It's frustrating as hell. My boy likes to be an angel, for example, at nursery, but the minute I try and grab some stuff from Asda on the way home, the hell child emerges.

Be firm, but fair. If they run off, you are going home, end of. Don't get angry, but be firm with them. They'll cry and kick and whine, but they'll get the message eventually.

Your 4 y/o, does she do any activities? maybe get her involved with something she enjoys, like a sport, or dancing, or a drama group? It would give you time to spend with your littler one, one to one. Find some down time, for the three of you, where it's not high pressure or stressful. Watch a movie on a Friday night together, let them see that beyond being the parent in charge, you're also the fun! It's harder being a single parent, I think anyway, because usually, there'd be two of you, and the one who is the discipliner is usually balanced by the other. A single parents, you are both, and sometimes, you have to be tough cop over nice cop.

Bottom line, just stop overthinking it. Kids are kids. You are doing a fab job. You're not failing because they're acting out - you're actually doing well because they are. They're their own little people, and have their own opinions. I'll admit I'm even kinda envious of you, having girls - always wanted a daughter! smile

Good luck!

MrsCakesPremonition Tue 05-Nov-13 19:03:03

I know I often recommend them - but I think have some very good ideas and tips on all sorts of parenting issues. It's all in video format - so it is ideal if you aren't the sort of person who would plough through a parenting book.

Go on - give them a try.

KittyScherbatskaya Thu 07-Nov-13 13:18:42

I probably can't add much to duchesse's excellent advice! I support everything she has said.

As mum to a nearly four year old, I have really struggled with her behaviour sometimes, and I know how easy it can be to blame yourself, and to feel like you just have a naughty child. Now she is starting (crossed fingers emoticon) to come out of the tantrum stage, I can see that toddlers just have to go through that stage of testing the boundaries, and parents find a way through it. Having another one must be incredibly difficult - I am lucky to have a wider age gap!

I second trying to spend time with each separately. I looked into something called 'Love Bombing' which was suggested on a parenting thread I started when DD was at her worst, and it has made a massive difference. Could your DSis, or another family member, have one of the girls for you occasionally so you can be with the other? Or does the older one have any friends from school/nursery/playgroup whose parents would take her to play? You would be surprised how much parents especially of singletons can welcome a weekend play date to keep their LO busy.

You might also like to try a book called Divas and Dictators (sorry forgotten the author) for parenting tips. I did star charts from about two and a half, smartie rewards for positive behaviour, and the marble in a jar trick - one marble in for good behaviour, one out for bad, reward when the jar is full.

Good luck, I have huge respect for lone parents, I know I would really struggle without DH to take on some of the load. Your DDs are lucky to have a dad who cares and takes his role so seriously. Be kind to yourself too, and don't expect perfection. They don't need a perfect dad, just a good one, which you clearly are.

EldritchCleavage Thu 07-Nov-13 13:25:26

Two things:
Parenthood is rarely reassuring. Even when you are doing a good job, it won't always feel like it. Feeling bad/worried/guilty does not necessarily mean you are doing a bad job either, it's pretty normal.

Children usually play their parents up more than other caregivers, and this can be a sign of security with the parent/child attachment as much as an indication you are getting things wrong.

DesperateDadof3LittleRascals Sat 07-Dec-13 16:17:43

Hey folks, I thought I would come back and give an update of things with my two small girls. I am so sorry that I haven't replied to those who have come on to give me advice since I was last on mumsnet, I am really grateful for all the reassurance.

My nanny drew up some fab behaviour sticker charts, which have gone down a treat with my four year old - not so much the little one though. I am actively trying to praise them more and more, even for small things like putting on socks or sitting at the table, and I tell them that they are my princesses, and when my four year old misbehaves I ask her, "is that what Belle/Rupunzel/Sofia/Ariel do?", because she is obsessed with Disney princess's, and I ask her "what do princesses do when they fell angry? Or when they don't want to play with their sister" etc and she normally answers with what she should do, and she will take a sticker down from her chart. If she gets 8 stickers in a day, she gets a special treat when I come home from work or with me, like playing on the iPad with me, or making jelly. we have been building dens in the living room, and usually it ends in smiles not tears, so I think somewhere we are making good progress!
My two year old, is still a stubborn and stroppy madam I'll be honest, I haven't quite got over managing the tantrums yet. My other two children never threw tempers quite like she does. She has calmed down a lot at bedtime, as I have now put her in a bed, (before she would just scream in her cot) next to her sister. But she is is demanding of my time and attention, and is still pulling her sisters hair and hitting her. She doesn't really understand taking stickers away from her chart, and time out usually results in her screaming, and running back constantly, and pealing the wall paper by the stairs, so I admit, I still need a breakthrough with her.

Bedtimes really can go either way, madness or peacefulness, but with the positive parenting, I am managing to at least keep them in the bedroom, by giving stickers etc. I am still having to stay in they room until they fall asleep though - and again I sit with them when they are up in the night - does anyone else do this? I'd like to just kiss goodnight and go downstairs.....but when I leave the room they just get out of bed and follow me.

My stress levels are gradually getting down,, I have now begun counselling once a week to help me get through my own issues and not project them on to the girls. It actually made me ashamed when I thought about how much I was snapping at them, when really half the things I was stressed about were down to my ex wife, missing my son, work problems, and also how me snapping at them was making their behaviour worse. My sister and I have come to an agreement, every first Saturday of the month, she has my four year old, every third Saturday she has my two year old, and most Sundays we go out together (me, the girls, my sister, her husband and her children), and I really look forward to this because at least there are extra two pair of hands if the girls become difficult. And when my sister has each daughter separately, I love spending quality time with the other. My four year old And I have become very close now. To be honest, I just had to go right back to the basics and learn how to enjoy my two wonderful girls again, and remember how lucky I am to be their dad, and thankful that they haven't been taken away from me.

Sadly, my ex wife hasn't been making things any easier. She came for their girls birthdays in late October, giving one days notice with her Mum. I didn't have a problem with her coming at all, but we had originally agreed that she wouldn't come because I was coming over with the girls for Hanukkah and we would have a late celebration for the girls then. Anyway, the girls were a little shocked and became very clingy, and didn't take well to their Grandmother. All routines went out the window for this week, and it took a while to build the routines back up again (although now we have just returned from Israel where they have been totally out of routine so the next few weeks are going to be awful). My ex wife criticised the clothes in my girls wardrobes that I have bought them since she left and said that I dress them "cheap and tacky", (I actually enjoy buying them nice clothes and dresses from shops that I wouldn't call tacky) and her and MIL went to buy the girls a whole new winter wardrobe, and had the cheek to tell my four year old that they were buying her nice clothes because "daddy's clothes are not very pretty", so now my four year old refuses half the clothes in her wardrobe apart from the ones her Mum and bubba bought for her. My four year old missed nursery in the week ex wife was here, because ex wife wanted to cart the girls around to see friends and family, and his really upset and unsettled the girls. They also dismissed the nanny without telling me, and when I asked the nanny if she could come back to work, she said my ex wife had basically told her that she didn't want her there because the girls would not want their mum if nanny was their. They also took the girls to the soft play place on Friday, which I had actually booked for their party on the Saturday, so my four year old told me she wanted to go somewhere different for her party. My ex wife spent the week critiquing my parenting and critiquing everything I had bought in the house since she had left, and just generally made me feel rubbish.

Anyhow, a couple of weeks before Hanukkah, she told me to not bother to come, as it would be "awkward". I told her that I had already booked the week off and the flights, and I coming to see my son, and for the girls to see their brother who we haven't seen since July. She got annoyed with me then and told me I would have to stay in a hotel because none of her family wanted to see me, they only wanted to see the girls. I was upset with this, as I didn't want to spend my Hanukkah evenings alone, but I agreed anyhow.
Turns out, her family were more than happy to have me to stay (I stayed with her brother) and they were so warm and hospitable, whereas my ex wife hardly acknowledged me. She wanted to have total control in what I wanted to do with my son, and kept arranging things to stop me taking him out so I didn't get much quality time alone with him, which I am upset about. There is a man on the scene who who I had seen in pics on Facebook having my son on his lap and giving him piggy back rides, she had told me previously that this is her cousin, but when Her family confirmed to me that I've is not their family, but a family friend and my son says he is mummy's boyfriend, though the family (and my ex wife) deny this. I am so hurt and confused, and I am worrying about my son.
Furthermore, the family have filled my sons head that me and the girls are moving to Israel next year when my daughter starts school. My wife and I have talked about this, although it is actually looking very unlikely as I do not want to move and it will be difficult with my job, my ill father and my sister. We have agreed that it is not good for the children to be separated so far away, but we haven't decided any long terms plans yet, and I am upset that my son is now getting his hopes up, about us moving, when we are not. I addressed my wife about this, and it ended up in an awful row, which pretty much ruined the last night of Hanukkah.

All in all, not one of my best holidays, and my exwife and I are now on worse terms than we were before. But I just don't want the children to be hurt in all of this.

Back home in Uk now, trying to get back to normal.

DesperateDadof3LittleRascals Sat 07-Dec-13 16:19:39

Sorry, just seen some appalling spelling and grammar mistakes. Tired eyes!

DesperateDadof3LittleRascals Sat 07-Dec-13 16:32:30

Sorry that should have been the family have confirmed to me that He is not their family, not I've....

IndigoCat Sat 18-Jan-14 22:07:37

Just wanted to say you are doing so well, keep going!

YesAnastasia Sat 18-Jan-14 22:33:47

I have just read this whole thread. I got tears in my eyes at some things and I just wanted to say that you sound like a lovely, kind and considerate man. I'm so sorry you're missing your son.

I don't know the circumstances of your separation but from your posts, you are being treated in an appalling way by your ex-wife. You haven't once insulted her have only given the facts, you seem very noble. Those are three lucky children to have you as their Dad.

Don't worry about the clothes thing, girls are like that. Even my boys won't wear the lovely clothes I buy when their Dad comes home with Star Wars or superhero stuff hmm so it's normal.

We have to lie next to my 4yo DS until he falls asleep too, he finds it reassuring and doesn't take long to nod off but I do it because I feel sorry for him. I'm sure there are ways to curb it though. They are both also quite wakeful so that's normal too.

I think you're ace & doing a great job. Good luck with everything.

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