struggling to be a dad - help(93 Posts)
I have a 5 year old son from a brief fling some years back. His mother and I never knew each other well, but I have been involved in his life from day one.
Financially and visits-wise I do all that is expected of me and have him every other weekend. I dread longer stays should his mum want shared school holidays. I never ever planned to be a dad but I try to do the right thing. My issues really are:
1) On the weekends I have him I really, really struggle. I find childcare extremely difficult and have never been that kind of person. My strengths are financial provision, thinking about their future, showing love and affection, giving cuddles, & understanding/treating him as an individual.
Yet I hate being the play partner, being manhandled constantly (he is very boisterous & needs constant attention/interaction), and doing all the child-related chores. Never a moment's peace, and doing all the play is a depressing strain for me. I just mark time each weekend he is here. Although he is the apple of my eye, I am secretly relieved when he leaves and dread the next visit.
2) What makes it worse is that although he is a cute, intelligent kid, and I love him as my son, I just don't like his personality. Worryingly he is just like another (adult) family member who has cut us all off. The similarities are uncanny - fun and boisterous, changeable and oddly selfish/detached - just doesn't seem to have much deep attachment or compassion. I was not like that at all at his age, I was always worrying about people's welfare and my relationships with them. It breaks my heart and given he is 5, I can no longer keep telling myself it is "selfish toddler" syndrome.
I feel like I'm living a life I don't want, and don't know what to do about it.
Any help is much appreciated.
just doesn't seem to have much deep attachment or compassion
Are you sure that's he's not picking up on the fact you don't like him much?
What's he like at school and with his mum?
That makes for very sad reading. Your poor son.
He’s most likely aware of your apparent dislike for him
Maybe speak to his mum about his behaviour when he’s with her? You need to be a parent to your son, otherwise you’ll cause lasting damage.
5 is very little,it all sounds normal,his behaviour,try to see him as himself not a reincarnation of a family member you don't like.he needs you.what would he do without you? Try to love him.he needs you to love him for his self worth..try to be busy when comes,plan days out together,do things he's not done before,train to somewhere new,museums ,national trust,farms ...keep busy and the time goes faster,plus you never know ,you might actually enjoy yourself
Not sure there's much you can do other than keep going as you are, try and be a good influence and model desirable behaviour and never show you don't like him, because he will pick up on that. Just descending every so often and providing money isn't good enough. He's here, you both made him and you both need to deal with the consequences. Given that he's dividing time between the two of you, you need to work extra hard to show routine and discipline, as well as love and play. Five is very little still and he'll still be developing his personality. Don't let him feel disliked. Play and never a moment's peace go with the territory of being a parent or carer.
Well this is what being a parent is like. You have to work to get the best out of him. If he is boisterous and likes climbing, take him to the park.
He doesn't need constant attention, just probably likes it as he doesn't see you very often. Set up some routines that include giving him your full attention for a certain amount of time, then expecting him to play on his own for half an hour or so.
Don't compare him to anyone else and teach compassion by your own words and actions.
I think 5 is still very young. I'm surprised you feel you remember what you were like at that age (accurately) as I don't think I do. Are you sure you're not just projecting that backwards?
The thing that strikes me the most is how you talk about this child as though he's an adult - and you attach adult 'logic' and expectations to a very very young boy.
You do know that children are SUPPOSED to be egocentric at that age don't you? It's called the Preoperational Stage - more here - www.simplypsychology.org/preoperational.html
I wasn't allowed to be 'a child' - i.e. to be egocentric, to rely on my parents for love and support etc. and my NEEDS very obviously were secondary to their WANTS. I've grown up with enormous trust issues, anxiety, and find it almost impossible to form stable romantic relationships.
I would urge you to see a therapist, and explore how you can stop transferring your feelings about ADULT family members to a child; how you can see your son as a CHILD not as an inconvenient small adult, and to work on your own egocentrism that is apparent in your whole post - you should have long grown past this stage, assuming you are indeed older than 7.
(NB - your entire post is about you and YOUR feelings, and toss all about your kid. Who I feel enormously sorry for. Its one thing to have neurosis/ emotional and attachment issues - it's another to be so blind to them and to pin blame for them on an innocent boy).
Sorry - missed a para- the reason I share my story is because you sound exactly like my father, and I identify very strongly with your son. So yes, I'm projecting too - but because so many of the points you made, are pertinent to my life - and they damaged me beyond belief. I would be made up if I could spare another child the ordeal of growing up knowing a parent dislikes you, by urging you to seek therapy now.
It is totally unfair to project your feelings about another family member into him. That says way more about you than him.
It might be a good idea to have a bit of counselling in order to avoid dumping your issues onto your son: www.aft.org.uk/consider/view/systemic-practice.html?tzcheck=1
I appreciate that you are struggling and looking for help, but you do sound pretty self-involved. Can you try to look at things a bit more from his point of view, rather than the rather judgemental way you are currently seeing him?
Have you read any Steve Biddulph?
If your strengths include showing love and affection, giving cuddles, & understanding/treating him as an individual, I'm not sure how you struggle with playing and interacting with your son. It doesn't seem to go together. You say you don't like being manhandled but you like giving cuddles and showing affection. Is it physical play you don't like?
You talk about his personality...about not having any compassion. It is part of your role to teach him compassion and empathy. Do you talk to him about caring for others and expect him to be gentle, kind etc?
If he's too boisterous you should be looking at ways to encourage calmer play.
This is all what parenting is. It's not always fun or exciting, but it's what needs to happen for the benefit of your child that you created. Don't you look at him and feel proud? Or think about the little aspects of his personality that you love? If you catch yourself thinking negatively about him, change your internal monologue and think about the fact that it isn't his fault. Find something positive to focus on if you're feeling hostile towards him.
I suspect that the OP enjoys cuddles etc. as they contain an element of gratification for him.
Physical play, however, doesn't 'gratify' in the same way, as doesn't have the connotations of 'devotion' 'attachment' etc that the OP will enjoy.
Thanks for the all replies. I appreciate it sounded self-centred - because I wanted to vent about how I am feeling anonymously, as the focus is actually otherwise all about him (as it should be).
To be clear any misgivings/doubts I have are NEVER relayed to him. He would not have a clue. That is the last thing that I would ever let happen and we actually have a good relationship. The only time he gets anything negative from me is if its for his own good (i.e. to do with boundaries, e.g. diet, how to treat other people, bedtime). I should have made it clearer that I do love him, but don't like what I'm seeing in his personality.
I do try to encourage him to think about other people and have compassion. It just hurts when he talks about some family members that give him so much love, yet to him it's like they could drop dead and he wouldn't care. I find that very hard. I do try to counteract this by gently questioning why he says what he does. I think a lot of adult traits can be apparent much earlier on than people care to admit and I don't subscribe to "just ignore it, he's just 5 and it's all nurture anyway" - so I will have to disagree with some here on that. Any advice on how to do something about his attitude is welcome though.
Regarding finding constant play difficult: yes I think the suggestion of planning more activities which he (and I) would enjoy out and about would help. It can be really hard as a single parent in the house all day with your child, especially with no sibling(s) around so you are constant play partner. I really struggle with it. The winter and snow really hasn't helped has it. I am thinking of networking more with other single parents to do joint playdates maybe. Any other suggestions welcome!
fun - normal 5 year old
boisterous - normal 5 year old
changeable - normal 5 year old
oddly selfish -normal 5 year old
needs constant attention/interaction - normal 5 year old
being the play partner - normal parental drudgery
being manhandled constantly - normal parental drudgery
doing all the child-related chores- normal parental drudgery
Never a moment's peace - normal parental drudgery
Welcome to the world of single parenthood. You think that your son's mum doesn't get as bored and frustrated as you by the strain of lone parenting of a small child? I bet she does.
You're not special or different from any other parent with your skills of cuddles and thinking about the future . This has fuck all to do with your ds's personality or any similarity to your cut off family member (though perhaps it says something more about that family member being so similar to a 5 year old). Nor is it anything to do with your own perceived strengths of financial provision or weakness as a childcare provider. It is entirely about your own perceptions and attitude to normal life.
I feel like I'm living a life I don't want, and don't know what to do about it.
Well stop living it the way you're living it then. You can't change your ds but you can change your reactions to him. For example, you get bored of constant boisterous play - so channel the energy (build a weekend routine that includes some structured activity and some quiet times e.g. take him swimming, join a football club or play in the park) then plan a video while you cook tea. You want him to show more compassion? So model it, talk about how people might be feeling or how you feel. Demonstrate kindness, (e.g. Your mummy said she had a headache. Poor mummy. How can we help her feel better? Let's draw her a picture and talk very quietly when we take you home so it doesn't make her head hurt or whatever.
Really parenting is all about enjoying every moment of the good bits and getting through the shit stuff. The rewards of building a relationship with that growing person are more than worth it.
Sometimes it's worse with siblings as they argue and fight each other. Especially when bored. What you are describing is normal life for a single parent. Except you only have to do it, what, eight days a month?
It just hurts when he talks about some family members that give him so much love, yet to him it's like they could drop dead and he wouldn't care.
What on earth is he saying/doing that you base that on?!
Despite some insightful posts from others, you seem strangely confident in your odd and definitely wrong take on how a five-year-old can understand the world and respond to it.
He will pick up your negative judgements of him. It will be apparent in many ways. I think you overestimate your ability for this not to effect him.
You can’t teach him compassion when you seem to have so little compassion or empathy for him yourself.
Please do read up on parenting and child development, talk to a councillor, do a parenting course etc. You say it doesn’t come naturally to you, you find it “extremely difficult”, but you don’t seem very open to look outside your own take on your child.
It all sounds very claustrophobic. It could be a lot better for both of you, but I think you’ll have to be prepared to challenge your own views and beliefs: about your son, childhood and yourself. Which won’t necessarily be comfortable in the short-term.
* It just hurts when he talks about some family members that give him so much love, yet to him it's like they could drop dead and he wouldn't care.*
Well he's five - five year olds are developmentally very new to the whole concept of empathy. You sound like you're expecting more than he's developmentally capable of - can you buy a book to try and understand what stage he's at.
And yep - playing with kids is dull and fuck and parenting pretty unrewarding. Imagine doing it 24/7....
I grew up with a mother who judged me based on who my father is, it really hurt because at the end of the day I am me (not him). Did you ever stop to consider that your child is not like this adult you refer to but that instead the adult is the childish one? How you describe your child seems like a typical five year old. They do lack empathy and can be rather selfish/hurtful. If you look into "Gentle Parenting", you'll discover that all behaviour is not good or bad, but rather a communication. Does he want your attention, does he miss you, is he bored/tired/hungry etc. Play is boring, so boring!! My sanity often returns when we do something I like - reading a book, walking, swimming, park trip. I think it is okay to feel the way you feel but whatever you do, don't give up on him because he needs you and over time he will slowly mature.
Something to add - when my little one becomes too physical for me, i often let her know. I say: "That is hurting, please stop or I cannot play" or "I don't like that, please don't do it because I want to play and if you continue, I will have to stop". Often I give a few chances but if whatever it is continues then I say that she is not listening, that I am not playing. That i am sore, overwhelmed, upset, losing my temper so I need a break. I always state I will give her another opportunity to play later with me but right now I need space. It is okay to tell your little one how you feel
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You can't judge a 5 year-old's personality as selfish! 5 year-olds are inherently selfish - they haven't learnt not to be yet! Same goes for most of the other things you say about him. That is what 5 year-olds are like, and that is what being a parent is like (except most parents have to do it all the time, not just for visits).
on a practical level, can you take him to see family sometimes o its not just the two of you. Hoe about srranging for him to have a friend over for an hour or two?
OP wants to see his kid for a few hours a week, not play or interact with him, and then carry on attempting to tom-cat around. It's guys like this that give the rest of them a bad rep. He doesn't even remotely understand children, (or life, it seems) he really, desperately needs to grow some balls. Or just stay out of the child's life completely. Hope the mum has/finds someone who wants to be a proper dad to this boy. Poor sod.
You haven’t gotten as hard a lot time as I expected from the op.
Whether nature or nurture, you can only affect change in the nurture area. Blaming nature is bit of a cop out.
Hopefully this very light flaming will give you a gentle shake to go and work on your own ‘stuff’.
Also your son knows. He totally knows. Acceptance or lack thereof is totally apparent to the smallest of child.
Fairenuff gave some good starting advice in their first post.
If you have a local Action for Children they often run a good parenting course.
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