Nine years ago, Guy Richards became a single dad to Jamie, who’s now ten. After the initial shock and despair, he quickly got to grips with the situation and learned how to cope with his new role. Guy spoke with Dad Info to share his hints, tips and experiences, and to raise awareness of the realities of being a single dad.
I was at work one day when the phone rang. It was a social worker, asking me to collect my 14-month-old son immediately from my estranged (now ex-) wife “or we will have to take legal action”, as he put it. I had nothing – no baby clothes, food or cot. Nothing.
Once I had got over the initial panic, the first thing I had to do was sort out the finances and buy in all the essentials.
What you’ll need
Children obviously need a constant supply of:
- (clean!) clothes
- (possibly) nappies
- one-off purchases such as a buggy and a child or booster seat for the car
- books and toys
- that wondrous cure for almost all ills, Calpol.
Childcare and working
And, if you’re working full-time, you’re probably going to need a childminder. Not only can childminders provide vital female contact for your child, they are an invaluable source of advice and feedback. They also give your child a welcome opportunity to develop social skills with other children.
Childminding fees are likely to be your single largest expense so, if you do decide to take one on, bear in mind that some are better than others. Follow your instinct when choosing one, and don’t be afraid to change minders if you’re not happy. A list of registered minders can be obtained from your council’s social services department.
It can be hugely stressful caring for a child after a full day at work. You end up missing out on a lot of their development and there is little time for bonding. But the answer isn’t to give up work! Doing so can isolate you from the wider world and the money’s rubbish. Anyway, if you register unemployed you have to return to work once your child turns 11 or you lose your benefits.
I found having a part-time job worked better for me, and it helped me to keep my foot in the door work-wise.
Childcare: What are the options?
If you work 16-30 hours a week you’ll qualify for Working Tax Credit and help with childcare fees. Also, remember to apply for Child Benefit, which is a very useful £70 or so a month.
If you’re single due to a bereavement, you may be also be able to claim Widowed Parent’s Allowance, among other things. Visit www.direct.gov.uk for further information.
Financial help from the UK government
Coping on your own
However, finances are just one issue. If I’m honest, being a single dad can be lonely and exhausting, not least because you’re also trying to be a mum. So you’re likely to need emotional support at times.
I’m lucky, I have family nearby. But if you don’t then look first to friends who are also parents. Try looking on the internet for local support groups too. And a girlfriend would be nice.
Local support for dads: what is there?
Be warned though. Friends may not understand your needs and might end up resenting your reliance on them. Single-dad support networks are at best sparse and, even if you do find a girlfriend, she will understandably want her share of attention, possibly at times when you don’t feel like giving it. Oh, and your child might resent having to share you with a stranger.
Not very encouraging, I know, but I know I’m not alone in this experience. So my advice is be independent and keep relationships platonic, at least for the time being.
In a society that seems to favour single mums over dads, you really are on your own – for now.