Maybe you never asked to be a single dad, but there is much joy ahead with your kids if you can navigate these tricky waters well. You’re not alone. Not by a long shot. Did you know that as of 2016, there are 2 million single fathers in the United States?
That’s a lot of us. And I’d bet the census count missed a few, too. The population of single dads is growing and many of us are raising our kids with little or no help. And that’s not easy. But here are 4 ways to think differently about it.
1. You’re more valuable than ever.
It’s so easy to fall into the “poor me, I’m just a single dad” attitude. Everything around us promotes the stereotype. What words and phrases come to people’s minds when they think of single dads? “Mr. Mom.” “Absentee father.” “Deadbeat dad.” You never saw yourself this way before you were a single dad, so what makes you any less valuable now? Nothing does. If anything, you’re more valuable now—you’re a stabilizing factor, more necessary in your kids’ lives than you ever were.
I remember my first days as a single dad. I don’t enjoy remembering. My kids were only 1 and 3 at the time. I was into bottles, diapers, daycare, and Winnie the Pooh. It was a time for holding them, nurturing them, wiping tears away, and then, watching them go. That Christmas may have been the hardest. Their mom’s week started in the afternoon on Christmas Day. When I watched them drive off, it felt like a punch to my stomach.
2. Your time with the kids is valuable, too.
Right then and there, I decided I could spend the rest of my life feeling down and out or I could do what’s best for me and the kids. I guess you could say I took the road less traveled in this case and became a proactive single dad. My time with the kids became the most valuable asset I had. I needed to provide for them, but my career and its satisfaction didn’t come close to the satisfaction found in being with my kids and what we did together. And boy, did we do things together. These were activities only a dad could invent.
3. You don’t have to be like a mom.
Somehow, single dads are expected to raise kids like moms do. But what happens? We fail miserably. Or we walk away. And that makes the kids miserable. As a single father, raising kids should feel natural. Simply remember to raise them as a man would. Sure, moms have a way of raising kids, but dads do too. A man’s way of showing love is not a mom’s way. And it isn’t meant to be. What do I mean by “a dad’s way?” Spending time with the kids. That can mean letting them sit on either side of you while you read a story from the sports page out loud. Or laughing about the pile of laundry and going fishing instead, knowing laundry will be waiting when you get back.
I recall a walk we took when my daughter was about 4 years old. We went up and down the alleys in town, looking at old cars and barking back at the fenced-in dogs. We found a really glorious mud puddle and started tossing rocks into it. And you guessed it—pretty soon, we were into it ourselves and covered in mud. Along came a mom. She was horrified. When I pointed out that kids are “wash and wear,” she stared blankly. Dads are different, and kids love it.
4. You can enjoy fatherhood.
Whatever you do, know you’re not alone. Know that being a proactive single dad is a blast. Be a man, be a father, get muddy, and let the wash pile up. Most of all, ignore the stereotypes that tell you what to be. Don’t try to be a mom. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not the best. Don’t see yourself as “nothing but a single father.” That outlook will take you nowhere fast.
Sound off: What is your favorite part of fatherhood so far?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s your favorite thing that we do together?”