Can I really cope as a single dad?
DAD.info discusses how becoming a single dad is undoubtedly a life changing event, and being so, it can bring with it the question of ‘will I be able to cope?’
While it doesn’t make it any easier on a practical level, it can be helpful to know that you are definitely not alone… In fact, around 186,000 other dads in the UK are also bringing up their children on their own.
There are numerous DAD.info dedicated articles for single dads, so read through as many as you feel will help as you get to grips with single fatherhood.
In the meantime, as a starting point, here are our top tips for making the transition more manageable:
1. Get support
Being a single dad can be made more difficult through feelings of isolation, which naturally arise when you may not know other fathers who are also in your position, or you find it difficult to get out and see your usual friends.
Having a support network, of friends or family, is really important and not at all a reflection on how good a parent you are – everyone needs some adult company from time to time. You will find a great support network in our online forum community, so be sure to check it out.
Try and arrange time out to see people, even if it is only every once in a while. Go and visit friends/family for the weekend with your children, or ask trusted friends or family to babysit, or get some recommendations and hire a babysitter, so you can have a few hours out. Although it might not be cheap, even doing it once every few months can make a big difference.
If you do have more regular access to childcare, consider doing an adult education course to meet other people.
See if there are any single dad groups in your area – if there aren't, consider starting one!
Parenting can be difficult, and single parenting can be especially so as you carry the burden of responsibility on your own – a bit of company and support can go a long way to making it all feel a bit easier.
2. Sort out your work arrangements
Despite the increasing numbers of highly involved or single fathers, society still doesn’t seem used to seeing men as the main carer, and this can have added complications when it comes to work.
Finding a balance between earning money to care for your family, and being able to parent your children can be a challenge, so it is best to tackle this head on and as early as possible.
Talk to your employer about your working schedule and the option of more flexible working. Let them know you are a single parent. Is it possible to start your working day earlier and finish earlier? Can you do some work from home?
3. Believe in yourself and find your own way
Being a single dad can be tough, because in addition to all the practical considerations, you might feel that you have a lot of stereotypes to overcome too.
Dads are often held up in western culture to be chuckled at as being incompetent, lazy and disinterested – reinforcing this stereotype as ultimately being ‘lesser’ parents. Remember this is rubbish though; stereotypes are only true of anyone, if they allow them to be.
You may be, or feel, judged from time to time. This can be difficult – especially if you feel the judgement is specifically critical because you are a man, or because your children only have one parent. Do remember that to some extent, all parents get judged for something or the other, and judgements are usually a reflection of the person doing the judging, not you or your family. You can always ignore their judgement, or if appropriate, calmly explain how they are misinformed and focus on doing what works for you and your family.
4. Know that there will be tough days…
Single parenting can be really tough – bearing that responsibility for keeping the wheels turning smoothly, day after day after day – making sure everyone is up when they need to be, dressed appropriately, have eaten proper meals, have the things they need for nursery/school, getting to bed on time, soothing tears and worries, helping with homework, playing games… and every day the routines and responsibilities start all over again.
Sometimes you might just feel tired, or down. Sometimes you might be ill or supporting poorly children while you are also ill. If your children don’t see their other parent, you may do all of this with no respite.
Yes, some days can be tough and part of coping with this is by acknowledging that, and making sure that we make time for some self-care (keep reading!) as well as always remembering that tomorrow is a new day.
5. Don’t forget self-care
Self-care is not something that is just for women, or something that single parents can no longer have. In fact, it can be a crucial part of coping for any parent – and simply means remembering YOU too.
There is a saying that ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’ and when you are a single parent, you may feel that there is no time for you, but in reality, you need to make a little time. YOU have to do this, as no one will do this for you, and you will quickly feel exhausted and depleted if you do not look after your own needs too.
Looking after yourself is not selfish, it does not mean ignoring your children or putting them last, it simply means including yourself.
It means having a bit of down time, even if that is a night out with your friends once every few months, or an hour in front of the TV once the kids are in bed. Making sure you are eating and drinking, and that you are making time to do the things you need to do too, like getting new shoes or getting to your dentist appointment.
6. Find a way to make it work with your ex
If you ex is still involved with your children, having a way of managing this to be as straight forward as possible will help, as these arrangements can bring their own range of issues to manage and cope with.
If your children know when to expect to see their other parent, this will also help with their expectations which can help make parenting a bit more manageable too.
Remember that your ex may sometimes do things which you do not approve of – cancelling visits, etc. Where possible try not to stress too much over what they do. It is easier said than done, especially when you have disappointed children, but by focusing on what you can do, you can turn difficult situations into something more positive, which is easier to cope with than trying to fight against something you cannot control or change.
For a whole host of reasons, there might be times when you feel you want to criticise your ex. If you feel this, remember not to do it in front of your children, but wait and talk to another adult about it. It can cause your children great upset and worry to hear their parents speak badly of each other, and actually makes your job as their parent much more difficult. Find out more by reading ’How do I support my children to still thrive despite our separation’?
7. Celebrate the good times and make time for fun!
Parenting can be hard, but it can also be brilliant.
Remember that the stuff you really enjoy doing with them, and that they enjoy too, is a really important part of parenting... Playing chase in the garden, splashing in the bath, having a kick about in the park, going to see a movie together – these kinds of experiences are all really beneficial for child development as well as for building your bond together.
So, while helping with homework, nagging them to clean their room, or cooking all their meals is important, so are these more obviously fun things, so remember to do everything in balance and you’ll find the fun times help keep everything in balance a little easier.