A Single Father Looks to the Future
by Debbie Stowe
It was approaching Claudiu’s first birthday. At 7am, his mother breastfed him. At 8.30 she kissed Claudiu’s older brother, Sebastian, goodbye, and left the house. She was heading for Spain, one of the thousands of Romanians who leave their towns and villages every year for Western Europe, seeking the higher salaries on offer. But, unlike the many migrants who endure this imperfect arrangement to give their families a better life, travelling back for visits when they can, Claudiu and Sebastian’s mother never came home.
“She didn’t call me, not even on my birthday,” says Sebastian, a softly spoken boy who seems younger than his eight years. “When she was home she used to tell me stories and wash me. Now daddy does everything that mummy used to do when she was home. One night, while I was sleeping, my mother called my father and she told him on the phone that she was not coming back home. I miss my mother.”
For the boys’ father, Constantin, abruptly finding himself a lone carer for two young sons was not easy. “It is hard for me when I bathe them. I have to…” he trails off. Single parenthood has forced him not only to take on two roles, but to revisit his traditional ideas of raising children. “In my opinion... in a family there should be two parents. The father gives them protection, and the mother warmth. I have tried to give them protection and warmth, too. But is not like....you know. A mother is a mother.”
The strain of his wife’s absence took its toll on Constantin, and he found himself struggling to cope with his children, whose own behaviour also deteriorated in the wake of their mother’s sudden departure. “I was receiving bad news: the children were not behaving well; they were getting up to a lot of things – you can imagine. I had to scream at them.”
But help came in the form of Holt parenting education financed by UNICEF. Constantin went back to the classroom and learned some coping strategies. In an atmosphere emphasising warmth and affection – a Romanian translation of the famous Virginia Satir quote “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” was up on the wall – Constantin and his (largely female) classmates were encouraged to find solutions other than getting stressed and crying. “Everything can be solved,” was the point.
The lessons effected a profound change in Constantin’s parenting technique – and state of mind. “Before taking the courses I was frazzled. I was screaming all day long, when he [Sebastian] made mistakes with his homework. But after the courses I learned to calm down. Every time he made a mistake I thought of what I learned in school, or what I used to do when I was his age.”
Another quote on the wall of the classroom was from Aristotle: “Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not easy.” It is a message that Constantin took to heart. “After I had finished the courses I learned how to control my anger, how to communicate with my children. The communication helped me a lot. I told them that no matter what happens their father loves them very much. I would do anything for them...”
The courses may not be able to restore Claudiu and Sebastian’s family unit, but the household harmony is much improved, and Constantin’s newfound skills have gone some way to compensating for the absence of a maternal presence. With the candour of a child, Sebastian now says, “I love my father more than I love my mother.”
His father is in no doubt of the lessons’ efficacy: not only did he ask to take a second course to continue the learning process, but he was an enthusiastic participant in setting up a support network in the village, where parents provide babysitting for each other. Constantin adds: “It would be a good thing for everyone in the country to take these courses.”
UNICEF Romania/ Laura Petculet/ Sebastian (left) and Claudiu enjoy spending time with their father, a veteran of parenting courses