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dads & mums

being a single dad – men share their stories

7 minutes

30/06/2021

Being a single dad can, at times, be an isolating and challenging experience. But, as these single dads show, there are incredible moments to enjoy, life-changing lessons and, above all, help and support to lift you when things seem tough. However you make things work, you’re doing great and you deserve to celebrate that.

  1. Becoming a single dad. In at the deep end.

  2. Support for single dads. Self care isn’t selfish.

  3. Single dad support groups. You’re not alone.

  4. Single dad advice on discipline. Finding a balance.

  5. Being a single dad and dating.

1. Becoming a single dad. In at the deep end.

Callum, dad to Jake

I won’t lie – I really struggled in the first months after Jake’s mum left us. Grieving the end of our marriage was not at all compatible with the very rapid learning curve I faced as Jake’s sole carer. I was never particularly hands-off as a parent before, but not having any back up at all really surfaced feelings of failure. But, things began to shift in me for the better the day a friend pointed out that, despite my fears, bewilderment, and the very real challenges sometimes, Jake was safe and well and loved.

I suppose, my single dad advice is this– be kind to yourself. If you’re having a tough time of it, try not to catastrophise and let your fears run ahead of you. Believe me, I know that can be hard, so try this: narrow your focus to the day in front of you and no further. Or even just the next hour. Get through that – and you will, I’m sure of it – and then you can deal with the hour after that.

Know that these intense times do pass. This method has really helped me to get through to the other side of these crunch points and, hopefully, it can help you, too. Oh, and this bit is so important – don’t be afraid to acknowledge the little victories. They’re bigger and more important than you might feel in the moment, and they all count.

If you're a single parent, we have some invaluable tips on raising a baby alone to help you on your journey.

Making self-care a part of your parenting is essential. Not a luxury. Not an indulgence. And not a sign of selfishness or weakness.

2.Support for single dads. Self-care isn’t selfish.

Anton, dad to Amani

I’ve always been a very practical person, so when my relationship with Amani’s mum ended and I got sole custody, I threw myself into being a single parent like it was a competition I could win. I know, I know – it sounds daft to me too, now, but at the time it was the only way I knew to manage: to be on top of everything, not ask anyone for help, or seek out resources for single dads. Of course, it was unsustainable and I wore myself out. It took hitting a bit of a wall for me to realise that I needed some time to rest and let a few home truths settle. Being a parent, single or otherwise can be exhausting, and yet for all sorts of reasons, a lot of us equate looking after our own needs, when we have a little one, is either selfish or a sign of not being able to cope.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. Making self-care a part of your parenting is essential. Not a luxury. Not an indulgence. And not a sign of selfishness or weakness. Best of all, the quality of self-care isn’t dictated by the length of time you do it. Least, not in my experience. An hour or two to watch a game, or do anything that feeds some part of you can have a huge positive impact. If relatives or friends or a babysitter can give you a night/afternoon/day off once in a while, that’s great, don’t get me wrong, but the mere act of doing something, anything that reaffirms you’re important to you, can really revitalise you. Being a single dad is hard; it’s so important to acknowledge that and take time to recharge.

My single dad advice is this– be kind to yourself

Callum, dad to Jake

3. Single dad support groups. You’re not alone.

Leo, dad to Taron

I’m not saying single dads have things harder than single mums – just that the challenges can be different. There are people’s ingrained stereotypes – I still get people asking me if I’m ‘babysitting’ my own son sometimes; the lack of baby changing facilities in men’s toilets; and – worst of all, at least for me – the sense of isolation you can feel at baby groups and, later on, outside the school gates as the only dad among a bunch of mums. All of these little things can make you feel a bit invisible as a parent.

But, you’re not invisible. For a start, there’s a growing number of groups you can find online offering support for single dads, and I can tell you that reading about other dads’ experiences (and feeling empowered to share your own) is hugely reassuring. I’d be the first to admit we guys aren’t always naturally good at networking. Still, just like caring for a little one on your own, you can do it, and there are people out there who will listen to you without judgement, acknowledge the challenges and offer advice that can really help. These online groups are also great stores of information on what-do-I-do-now? topics like child maintenance, and how to navigate loss. And, as for feeling isolated at baby groups? I know it’s hard, but just saying hi is often the hardest bit. I’ve found that what can feel like being left out, is often just other parents’ natural shyness. So, if you can, dig deep. You may be surprised.

4. Single dad advice on discipline. Finding a balance.

Richard, dad to Emily and Sam

Before we lost Emily and Sam’s mum, I guess Sarah and I fell into those predictable roles – she was more of the nurturing parent, and I was more of the buck-stops-here one. But, once it was just me and the kids, I initially found it really tricky to find a balance. I admit, for a while, I leaned towards the nurturing side almost exclusively. But, Emily and Sam, like all kids I guess, need to know where the limits are to feel comfortable in the world, so I had to adjust and adapt.

What’s worked for us – and could work for you – is to be really clear about what’s acceptable behaviour in a situation upfront. It’s kind of like getting the discipline bit out of the way so everyone knows what’s expected and there are no surprises. That way, they and I can relax knowing where the line is and what will happen if it’s crossed. It can feel a bit clunky at first, but I swear it’s made all the difference to how the three of us navigate things. Try it. You’ll find you’re freed from having to be reactive in a way that could potentially feel destabilising to your child, and that’ll relax them and you.

Remember that being a single dad says a lot about you that you can be proud of – you’re capable and resourceful and caring.

5. Being a single dad and dating.

Craig, dad to Orla

I was pretty nervous about being a single dad after divorce and beginning to date again. But, actually, by the time I was ready to start a new relationship, caring for Orla on my own had really focused my mind on what would and wouldn’t work for me. For a start, my free time is so precious now that I won’t put up with (or play) mind games. If I connect with someone or not, I’ll be clear with them, and that kind of clarity and authenticity seems to be very welcome.

Talking of which, if it’s been a long while since you’ve been ‘out there I’m happy to report that dating sites and apps these days are generally so much more user-friendly than you might remember (or fear). It’s a rare dating site/app these days that doesn’t make it very easy to be really clear about your circumstances in your profile in a positive and refreshing way. . Above all, remember that being a single dad says a lot about you that you can be proud of – you’re capable and resourceful and caring. And if that’s not an attractive place to start, then what is!

For all the wouldn’t-trade-this-for-the world moments being a single dad can bring you, it can be a tough and isolating experience at times. We understand that and hope these insights from other single dads show you that you’re not alone and that there’s a lot of support out there if you need it. What’s more, we hope you hear us when we say, whether you feel on top of things or up against it, you’re doing great.

If you found this article useful (and have a little more time!) you’ll find loads more to interest and inspire you on our Parenting Hub:

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