The Challenges of Being a Single Dad
Being a single dad is hard! But, you are not alone - according to the US Census Bureau in 2011, there were 1.7 million single fathers in the United States. Ten percent of these men were raising three or more children younger than 18 with about 45 percent being divorced, 31 percent never married, 19 percent separated, and 5 percent widowed.
The figures may be startling, but they are a reality in today's generation. No longer standing alone as the only single dad in the neighborhood, fathers parenting alone are not only a fast growing number, a responsible lot are taking their job seriously.
Mike should know. He's been a single parent dad for eleven years. "My youngest was 2 and my oldest 16," he says when a divorce thrust him into single parenting his five sons. Although not the custodial parent, Mike's sons visited two days a week after school with an overnight stay on the weekend. "Not nearly enough time," he says sadly.
And Mike's sadness is not unfounded. According to the Better Health Channel, the challenges facing a single parent father are many and commonly include:
- The need for ‘extra hands’ around the house which may sometimes reduce the time a child can take part in typical child activities such as hanging out with friends or playing.
- If a child is used to having a near-equal say in the household, they may clash with teachers and other authority figures who expect unquestioning obedience.
- The child may not appreciate that their parent needs adult companionship at times.
- The child may feel torn between their two parents and feel they must ‘pick sides’ – this is especially the case if the parents are hostile towards one another.
Mike agrees that the challenge of being both mom and dad is not easy. "Sometimes", he says, "It would be nice to have help with all the cooking, cleaning and other errands that come with running a household." Mike provides a structured environment, however, and the boys are involved in many of the chores such as helping with cooking, dishes and outside yard work.
These are important lessons for the boys as the Better Health Channel points out:
- Single-parent families are less likely to rely on traditional gender-specific roles than two-parent families.
Other benefits of the single-parent household include:
- The relationship between parent and child is close.
- Single fathers are more likely to use positive parenting techniques than married fathers.
- Single parents tend to rely on positive problem-solving strategies rather than punishment or discipline when faced with difficult child behaviors.
Mike would agree, "I'm a better father because I've learned more about myself and what I'm capable of - maybe more than I would have otherwise." His love and dedication to his sons is obvious. He survived adjusting to being a single parent by reaching out to other single parent dads and developing a support network.
Keeping a routine, planning fun activities and developing new traditions are all important to Mike. But there is one thing he feels is most important and that is making his house a home for his sons. "My goal has been that the boys feel equally comfortable at my house as they do at their moms. They don't have one home," he says, "they have two." In an effort to make the boys comfortable at his home, Mike has included them in home improvement projects and, in particular, he has allowed the boys to turn their bedroom into a shrine for their favorite football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But it's not all fun and games. Mike has expections for his sons. As a school counselor, he expects them to contribute to the family in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. According to the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, "When fathers are involved in the lives of their children, especially their education, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior. Even when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact."
Mike has seen three of his sons off to college and with the 2 youngest now in junior high and high school, he is relishing evey moment he has left. "Being a single parent has been one of the greatest challenges of my life", he says thoughtfully, "yet it has given me the greatest of rewards."
"Dad Stats | National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse." National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.
"Facts for Features: Father's Day: June 17, 2012 - Facts for Features & Special Editions - Newsroom - U.S. Census Bureau." Census Bureau Homepage. N.p., 2 May 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.
"Single parenting | Better Health Channel." Home | Better Health Channel. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhc