I’m a weekend dad. Not through choice, it’s a work thing. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do, and sometimes that thing means working away from home. I know there are loads of dads in this situation, some through choice and some, like me, through circumstances beyond our control.
I’ve been doing this since January and it has its ups and downs, which I’ll describe in a bit.
So my Monday routine is like this: 4am alarm, bike to bus stop 4 miles away, get bus to train station, get train, then another 4 mile bike ride to work. Get showered and changed in time to be in the office for normal time. Thursday I reverse the route (with one additional train) and am home in time for a late dinner with my wife. I’m lucky to be able to work from home most Fridays, so actually get 4 nights in my own home.
There are some downsides despite this flexibility. I never, ever, planned to be the ‘weekend dad’, it’s not what I see as something that works for me or my family. I miss them during the week, and although we sometimes FaceTime or speak on the phone I know the kids miss me being around too. My wife has to be mummy & daddy mon-thu, and although I have intervened when asked, it’s difficult to discipline/have a word with your kids effectively over the phone. Charlotte will admit she resents the freedom I have mon-wed to do what I choose in the evenings while she does everything for the kids & household with no help, although most Mondays I’m in bed early as I’m tired from the early start! The financial aspect is irritating too as I pay for accommodation I’m only in 3 nights, but that’s part and parcel of the commuting life I suppose.
So what works? Well, I always look forward to getting home & seeing everyone (absence makes the heart grow fonder!), and Charlotte & I try to make an effort with each other as a consequence.
Good communication is the key. I don’t always get this right, but as a minimum we speak at bedtime every night (never go to sleep on a disagreement!), and I always let her know if I’m not available so she doesn’t wonder if I’m ok or not. I also always let her know when I’m on the way home. With her being the only parent during the week I can sometimes come home and make the wrong suggestions, or agree to the kids’ requests before checking with her. She is very organised (unlike me!), and usually plans our weekend activities and meals. Some weekends I come home and expect it to be like a holiday, forgetting that there are always jobs to do around the house, but this is because I want to have fun with the kids. When Charlotte lets me know her expectations (and to a degree vice versa), it works better. She will often message me before I arrive with what’s been going on, what needs done, and what she would like to do as a family at the weekend. We all like the outdoors, and Charlotte & I love finding nice little coffee shops, so our weekends often incorporate a family walk including the obligatory coffee & cake stop! There are also lots of places nearby with family friendly activities, from RSPB centres, to adventure playgrounds, rivers and to the seaside. With a little imagination and minimal equipment (picnic is a family favourite!) we have great days out on a regular basis.
I try to bring a little something home for the kids each week as a Friday treat, but it’s small (e.g. chocolate Freddo or pencil/eraser) and just to let them know I’m thinking of them when I’m away.
One of the hardest things as a father is to feel like I’m missing out on little milestones – Florence is changing so much in these early months, and the others all have little achievements I miss too. Before moving I was a volunteer school governor at my kids’ primary school, and a Cub Scout adult helper every week. It’s losing this kind of involvement in their lives and development that I notice. Charlotte does also document lots of the little things that the kids are up to, so that helps when I feel like I’m missing them growing up.
It isn’t forever, and hopefully we will all be together again in a few months, but it’s definitely a test of strength for all of our relationships, and I respect those for whom it works.