Parenting is always a challenge, even under the best of circumstances. Learning how to parent as a single parent after a divorce, when you went into the job expecting to have a partner to help, is even more challenging. And single fathers may face unique difficulties finding advice and support since many single parent resources are aimed at or intended for single mothers. However, there is advice out there for single fathers as well. Take a look at some of the most important pieces of advice you need to consider as a newly divorced dad.
Make Time to Be Present With Your Children
Even when your children live with you, there will be times when you’re together but not really present with each other. You can all be in the same room, but you might be catching up on work emails or balancing the checkbook while your children are busy doing homework or watching television. Moments like this are common in any family.
However, in the wake of a divorce, it’s especially important to make time to be really present and active in the moment with your children. Moments where you’re helping them with their homework, playing a game together, or just taking a walk together.
Divorce upends your children’s lives as much as it does your own, and unlike you, your children had little control about how and when it happened and where they ended up. After a divorce, children need to feel secure and know that they won’t be abandoned or forgotten as their parents move onto a new stage in their lives. Making it a priority to spend some time actively focusing on your children – not just being in the same room with them – can go along way toward reassuring them that life will go on and that you will be there with them to face it.
Build a Support Network
No single parent can truly do it all on their own. While you may find it easy to take on some of the tasks that your former partner usually handled yourself, there will come a time when you need some kind of help, whether it’s a last-minute babysitter, help sewing your child’s costume for the school play, or just someone to talk to about the ups and downs of parenthood. Previously, your spouse might have handled these roles, but when you’re a single parent, you need people who you can rely on to help you out when you need it.
That doesn’t mean that you need another romantic partner right away – just friends and family who can help you be the best parent you can be to your children. Make a list of family members and friends who care about you and your kids and who are close enough to help when you need them. Look to your community for single parent support groups. Get to know your neighbors and consider swapping babysitting or carpool duties with other single parents in the area who also need the occasional break. That way, when you find yourself wishing that you had an extra set of arms, a few extra hours in the day, and a sounding board, you’ll have people in your life who you can reach out to who can help you out and take some of the pressure off of you.
Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
It’s easy to throw yourself into trying to be the perfect single parent and forget to spend any time taking care of yourself – at least for a little while. But you can’t ignore your own needs forever, and you won’t be able to take good care of your children if you don’t also make an effort to take care of yourself.
Carve out a little bit of “me time” somewhere in your day, even if it means waking up a little earlier or going to bed a little later. Pay attention to how your body feels and mind your physical health. Are you eating enough? Exercising? A divorce is traumatic for everyone involved, including you. Have you taken time to grieve? Consider keeping a journal to write down your feelings. If you’re feeling stressed out and frazzled, try some simple meditation exercises. Don’t forget to treat yourself now and then. Even something very small, like buying a new book or getting a haircut, can brighten your day and change your whole outlook.
Without a partner, you don’t have another adult there who might notice your cold symptoms and remind you to make a doctor’s appointment or who might notice that you seem down and take steps to cheer you up. That’s why it’s important for you to practice self-care if you don’t already. Remember that the happier and healthier you are, the better a parent you’ll be.
Don’t Hang on To Things That Don’t Work
There’s every chance that before you had children, you had opinions about how to raise them that have changed since they were born. You may even have found that the strategies and techniques that worked with one child were not useful for that child’s sibling. Children don’t come with instruction manuals, and parents often wind up testing out parenting techniques that don’t work for their family and need to eventually be dropped.
Single parenting is like this as well. Whatever you believe single parenting is going to be like, and however you think you’ll handle situations that are likely to arise, you’re liable to run across at least a few situations where what you’re doing isn’t working. This can be tough for single fathers shortly after a divorce. You might feel compelled to prove that you’re up to the task of single parenting, and this feeling can lead to doubling down on strategies that seem like they should work, even when they’re clearly not working.
Remember that you’re not in competition with anyone. Your goal isn’t to win or to be right, it’s to be the best parent you can be. Sometimes that means letting go of an arrangement or parenting technique that just isn’t working. Learning from these moments and moving on to something that works better for you and your children is a parenting success.
Single fatherhood isn’t easy, but it has fantastic rewards. Being an active parent, reaching out for help when you need it, taking care of yourself, and knowing when to change tactics can all help you be the best father you can be.