I suspect that when most people think about single parents, they think about single mothers. And, yes, single moms have many challenges and should be seriously thought about. But sometimes what gets lost in the shuffle is the reality of single Dads. If you are raising children alone, Father’s Day may highlight how alone you feel.
You are not alone: According to the 2016 U.S. Census (the most recent from which we have data), there were 2.6 million single fathers in America. That’s 16.1% of single-parent households. That’s three times more than two decades prior. One study shows that 27% of fathers under age 30 are single Dads.
The reasons dads are solo parents is as varied as it is for single moms. About 40% were divorced, 38% were never married, 16% were separated, and 6% were widowed. Single parenting may not have been what these dads had in mind for themselves but most are meeting the challenge and parenting well.
You also aren’t alone if you are a single dad by choice. Just as there are some women who don’t want to miss out on being parents because they haven’t found a stable partner, there are men like you who have become parents through foster programs, adoption, or surrogacy. Reliable data about the number of men choosing to go it alone into parenthood isn’t yet available. But the number of articles about it on the web do indicate a growing trend.
Your family is normal: “Normal” is in the eyes of the times and the society we live in. Only a few generations ago, the idea of a father raising a child alone was seen as abnormal and destructive to kids. But social attitudes (and the court systems) have been shifting in response to the reality that single parenting by fathers can be in the best interest of the children.
Surveys show that most Americans think that children can and do thrive in different kinds of families. Younger people, particularly, see men as able to be nurturing caregivers for their children. Your family unit is as normal as anyone else’s.
Your family is not “broken”: Your family is a whole single dad family. Do not accept any idea that your family is, by definition, deficient. It’s what people do in a family, not who is in it, that makes it healthy.
You are enough: Your children will not be harmed for life by being raised primarily by you and you alone. Just do your job. Love your children. Be interested in their interests. Do your best to provide the home they need. Research has shown that children of single dads who take their parenting responsibilities seriously don’t fare any worse than children raised by mothers on important measures like completion of high school, drug abuse, and early pregnancy.
You are up to the challenge: Unless you are single parenting by choice, being a single dad is probably not what you had in mind for this stage in your life. Maybe you didn’t grow up taking care of younger siblings or babysitting as is often the case for women. Maybe your dad didn’t provide you with a model for how to do child care. But you’re a smart guy. Skills are just that — skills. You can learn anything you need to know.
Father’s Day gifts to give yourself:
Take care of yourself: It’s more than okay. It’s essential. You can’t be a good dad, if you don’t take care of your own mental and physical health. Your kids won’t suffer if you take an hour or two every week to go to the gym or to a class or to do whatever recharges you.
Get a sitter. Swap childcare with other parents. You’ll come back to the kids with renewed energy and more patience.
Have a social life: When asked what they find most difficult about single parenting, single dads talk about loneliness. They miss the emotional support of a partner. Without having another adult in the house, it’s harder to get out to see friends without the kids in tow. But self-care includes tending to your emotional health.
Spending a few regular hours a week with friends is not something to feel guilty about. It’s also okay to date. (Just be wise about when to introduce your kids to someone new.)
Accept support: Parenting is hard work. It is not a statement of deficits as a dad for you to get some advice and practical help. It’s okay to look for and accept help from your parents, from the kids’ other grandparents, or from neighbors and friends.
Feeling overwhelmed? See a family counselor to help you sort through problems and to give you some needed support. And don’t forget to look for other single guys who know what you are going through and who can offer tips and support. Join a dad support group or start one.
You deserve recognition and a celebration on Father’s Day! Enlist the kids to do something special to celebrate your kind of family. Make a great breakfast together. Give yourself a cake. Play with your kids. Hug them and love them. Remind yourself that, however tough it may be at times, your kids gave you a wonderful gift — the experience of being a father. The challenges are many but the potential rewards are priceless.