Dear Enda,

My husband works for one of the big agri-food companies and pre-COVID-19 had to travel a lot. I have three children, two boys and one girl.

I used to dread when he was away as they would all act up when he wasn’t there. Now that restrictions are being lifted, he is going to be on the road again.

I’m scared that it’s going to be worse than last time as the two boys are now teenagers and taller than me.


Enda writes

Dear Sandra,

Living with three children means three different challenges. Trying to do this with one parent means that you’re now also outnumbered. Adjusting to a new way of life will mean everyone adapting to change again.

Now that the kids are all two years older, you’re going to have a lot of second guessing and arguing, with the result that most of the rules end up out the window and one frazzled mum.

To help smooth the transition from where you are now to where you will all be when dad goes travelling again, try to understand that change always involves four stages.

  • 1 Storming: Chaos reigns while everyone tries to get used to the new world.
  • 2 Norming: People start to get used to the new normal.
  • 3 Forming: Everyone starts to adapt.
  • 4 Performing: We all get on with our lives and live in our new “normal”.
  • Problems arise when we see change as a black and white issue and adopt an inflexible approach to behaviour and boundary setting. We swing like a pendulum from chaos when they break the rules to rigidity where we try to re-establish them. There’s no in between. It’s either all duck or no dinner.

    So, we start by recognising and practicing living in the Goldilock’s zone: setting rules, but learning to be flexible when things go wrong.

    Learning how to ease up on a couple of boundaries when circumstances dictate without letting all the other boundaries collapse is a skill that no parent is expert at. So be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to get it right all the time to be successful.

    Breathe before reacting

    Each year, the kids are getting older and boundaries need to change as they gain more autonomy over their life. Choose your battles. Girls love lists, but boys need pictures because they don’t follow lists. Learn to breathe before reacting.

    Have a family meeting with both mum and dad present on a Saturday afternoon. Talk to them. Explain that dad is not going to be around. Ask them what you all need to do to get along so that you can all have a happy home. Kids loved to be listened to and be part of the problem solving.

    Help them recognise that you’re not all going to get it right every day of the week. However, you at least need to aim for it. Fighting all the time will be difficult for all, no matter who’s doing it. So, everyone needs to practice pausing before acting before dad goes away.

    Create a virtual dad. Dad needs to call every night at the same time, not just when there’s a problem. This creates a constant “dad” presence. Knowing he is there every night creates stability that having a “present” dad creates.

    When crises occur as they surely will, focus on keeping the ship off the rocks, navigate each storm as it occurs, then put it behind you. Don’t rehash old arguments. But, above all, keep it in perspective. Tomorrow, you’ll have a whole new range of problems to deal with.

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