Single parenting is tough for everyone, but single fathers face some unique challenges. It’s hard to deny that a lot of the resources that exist for single parents were set up with single moms in mind, and it can be difficult to find single father mentors or role models to emulate. But when you find yourself in the position of being a single parent, you certainly want to find a way to be the best single parent you can be. Take a look at some tips for becoming the best single father that you are capable of being.
Create Stable Routines
If you’re a newly single father, the likelihood is that your life – and your child’s life – has recently undergone a significant change. Whether that happened because you and your partner divorced, because a custody agreement changed, or because you were widowed, your child is probably experiencing some trauma from the recent changes. Children crave stability, and they may not be feeling very stable right now. The first thing that you can do to restore some stability and security to their lives is to create stable routines and stick to them.
For school-aged children during the school year, this is easier – your kids need to get up at the same time every weekday, go to school for a set amount of hours, and come home. For younger children, or during the summer vacation time, it may not be as easy. But try to create some predictable routines for your children no matter what the circumstances are. If your children are in childcare or day camp during the summer, try to pick them up at the same time every day – or at least make sure that when you give them a time that you’ll be there, you stick to it. Menu planning can both give your children a routine to look forward to and save you time by simplifying your shopping – meatless Mondays, pizza night on Fridays, or Sunday-morning pancake breakfasts can be dependable touchpoints that let your children feel that they can know what to expect from week to week. Set bedtimes and stick to them, assign chores and follow through on them.
Build a Support Network
Being a single parent doesn’t have to mean that you’re entirely on your own. All single parents, including single dads, need a support network. It really does take a village to raise a child. Get to know your child’s friends’ parents or your neighbors with children. Maybe you can plan playdates together or trade babysitting duties so that each of you can have a night out now and then. It also helps to know that you can let your child out to play in the neighborhood and that other adults in the neighborhood will also have an eye out for them.
Reach out to friends and family members as well. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends can be very helpful when you need support or advice. Friends and relatives who have children of their own may be able to recommend a new pediatrician or strategies to help a picky eater try new foods. Those without children can also be helpful as babysitters, role models, or just as moral and emotional support.
Single fathers raising daughters should take particular care to make female friends and keep in contact with women in the family. This is particularly important if your child’s mother is not involved in her life or has limited involvement because your daughter still needs female role models to look up to and trusted women to talk to. That does not mean that you don’t need to learn how to do things like braid hair, buy dresses, or talk to your daughter about things like puberty and menstruation – those are all things that single fathers need to be able to handle. But having women friends and family members in your life can give you someone to ask if you need information on those topics, and it’s beneficial for your daughters (and your sons) to have both male and female influences in their lives.
Don’t Criticize Your Ex In Front of Your Kids
If you’re a divorced dad, it may be natural for you to have negative feelings and thoughts about your former partner, but it’s important to keep in mind that your former partner is also your child’s other parent. Your child doesn’t need to hear about the problems in your marriage or any lingering resentments you have against your ex. If your child’s other parent has visitation or joint custody, it’s important for you to respect their parenting time and stick to the court-ordered schedule. If you disagree with it, you can file for an appeal in court, but in front of your kids, be positive and respectful of the other parent.
Children see themselves as made up of parts of their parents, so when you criticize your child’s other parent, they may take it as a criticism of themselves. They may believe that if you hate their other parent, you must hate them too – or at least the parts of them that they get from that other parent. You don’t want that. Talk about your negative feelings with your friends, family, or therapist, but keep it away from your kids.
Take Care of Your Own Needs
If you’ve ever been on a plane, you’ve heard the instructions – when the oxygen masks drop, put your own on first, then help your child. You can’t take care of anyone else if you can’t breathe. It’s important to make time for yourself and take care of your own needs, especially after a traumatic event like ending a marriage or losing a spouse.
Fit time for yourself in somewhere, even if it means staying up an hour later after the kids go to bed or setting the alarm an hour earlier than you really need to. Lean on your friends. Go to therapy if you need to. Set aside the money in your budget to treat yourself to your favorite lunch once a week or once a month. Hire a babysitter so that you can go watch a game with your friends. Do what you need to do to take care of your own mental and emotional needs. The better care you take of yourself, the better a parent you’ll be to your children.
Balancing single fatherhood with ongoing legal matters like divorce proceedings or custody hearings can be especially difficult. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you prepare your documentation and testimony so that you’re ready when you need to file a motion or appear in court.