Looking Back

What I Wish I Knew About Being A Single Parent A Lot Sooner

“My role in their lives wasn’t exactly the same, but I realized that I was just as valuable — if not more so — than I was before.”

Originally Published: 
Young daughter kissing father on the head as he holds her

Dating is incredibly difficult. Guilt comes and goes. You’ll try to overcompensate. When we asked single dads to offer some truths about the experience their younger selves would appreciate, their answers revealed a not-so-startling truth: single fatherhood is, especially at the start, difficult. Because of course it is. Everything is new. So much needs to be worked out. There are a lot of hard feelings to contend with and there’s a lot of pressure to shake off the clichéd pop culture trappings of single parenthood that still loom large. The men spoke of the obvious (dating and finding friends are both hard) and more specific (the desire for overcompensation is strong and constant adjustment is necessary). But another truth was clear, too: While it takes time to adjust and there are plenty of bumps along the way, being a single parent has unique joys. As one dad shared, “My role in their lives wasn’t exactly the same, but I realized that I was just as valuable — if not more so — than I was before.” Here’s the advice they’d give those new to the role.

1. You’ll Need Some Thick Skin

“Children can often unwittingly make comments that might be hurtful to a newly-single dad. It’s hard not to take them personally. Young children who are innocent and unaware of the impact of their words and actions will invariably make comments about how much they wish they had a mom, or how cool their friends’ moms and dads are. It takes some serious thick skin to move past that initial sting of words like that. What I wish I knew sooner is that it’s definitely possible to acknowledge and reply to these types of comments in a way that’s not dismissive, and can lead to a healthy conversation. It’s not easy, and it definitely takes practice. But, the sooner you get started the better.” - Charles, 60, Oregon

2. Focus On What You Bring To The Table

“I wish I had sooner learned to ‘play my own game.’ By that I mean to focus more on what I excel at and be okay with not excelling at other things. For instance, when I first got divorced I would work hard at cooking more elaborate meals for my kids, because my ex-wife is an excellent chef and I thought I had to compete with her. I realized with time that my kids appreciate other things about me and are fine with me making simple meals. I learned to focus on what I bring to the table as their dad and not worry about the rest. One of my strengths was my vulnerability with my children. I am great at letting my children see me as a human being rather than trying to hide my feelings. Leaning into that as a strength has helped me bond with them in my own unique way.” - Yoel, 43, Jerusalem

3. Don’t Neglect Support Networks

“Raising a child alone can be overwhelming at times, so it is crucial to have a support network of family, friends, or other single parents who can offer emotional support and practical help. These types of people can remind you to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally, so that you can provide the best care for your child. They can help you from burning out, by offering advice or strategies to deal with problems. And they can help you learn from their experiences about things like open communication with your child. As a single dad who has struggled, I wish I knew sooner how important and valuable such support could be.” - Sebastian, 45, Australia

4. Don’t Get Caught Up In What Other Parents Do

“It can be easy to get wrapped up in the outside world when you’re a single parent. You see all kinds of parents on social media, and you start wondering if what you’re doing is the right thing. I suppose that’s probably normal with any type of parenting, but as a single dad I remember those influences messing me up pretty good. I wish I would’ve learned sooner that blogs and experts can have worthwhile advice, but ultimately you need to gauge your progress as a parent by your own standards. You will never, ever feel successful or effective as a parent when you’re using a measuring stick someone else has designed. And, I get it, it’s hard to tune out everything you see, hear and read. But for me, the sooner I was able to do that, the better.” - Edward, 50, New York

5. It Was Tough To Find Changing Rooms

“As a newly-single dad to a young girl, I was completely thrown when I realized that my options for changing diapers in public were incredibly limited. So many men’s rooms just had the sinks and the floor. Neither were ideal. The floor was gross, and I didn’t want another guy coming in to wash his hands and seeing poopy diapers right next to the faucet. I adapted as best I could. Sometimes I would change her in my car, or make sure I could lock the restroom door for a few minutes. And, honestly, I got a few good stories out of those situations. But, in terms of practical advice, I wish I’d known what I was in for a lot sooner. It may have been one less thing to stress over.” - Michael, 51, Florida

6 It’s Hard — Really Hard — To Make Friends

“As an adult, it’s hard to make any friends. Adult life just isn’t conducive to making friends easily. Trying to find other single dads to connect with — outside of the internet -—has been incredibly hard. And it’s not because they’re inaccessible, it’s just because there’s so much other stuff to prioritize. Every time I meet another single dad, it’s the same routine of talking, swapping numbers, then saying we should hang out ‘when we have time.’ And those words are like a curse, because we don’t end up seeing each other for like six months. And it’s fine. I get it. I just wish I was more prepared for those times when I’m alone and kind of lonely, but somehow also incredibly busy and without any free time.” - Adam, 39, Kentucky

7. There Is a Lot of Guilt

“It’s hard to avoid the guilt that comes with being a single parent. At least when you’re first starting out. When you see other families out and around, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the mindset that you did something wrong because you’re not like them. When I started my journey as a single dad, I felt very self-conscious. Like somehow I’d let my daughter down by not giving her this traditional experience. Looking back, I realize how self-destructive and immature that type of thinking was. I guess I wish I would’ve known early on that parenting — whether single, or with a partner — is about the relationship you create with your kid. At first, when you’re in that panic mode, you can feel guilty when you don’t know exactly what that relationship will look like. But over time, as long as you do your best, everything works itself out.” - Marcus, 38, Texas

8. Dating Is Really Difficult.

“Not because of the children, but because of the logistics and emotions. When I was ready to date again after my wife passed away, I thought that it would be as simple as finding a babysitter. I had my mom, my sister, and even some of my friends willing to step in and cheer me on. At first, scheduling dates was hard, because many of the women I’d meet were also single parents. So it was difficult to find that one elusive night that worked in both of our calendars. And then, on the actual dates, it was just pure anxiety. I wasn’t ready. I thought I was. And people told me I was. But I wasn’t. I wish I would’ve taken more time to prepare for that step of moving on with my life. I don’t think I rushed things, necessarily, but I also don’t think that I was in the right headspace to deal with getting back out there. That readiness is going to be different for everyone, and I wish I’d known how better to determine when it was right for me.” - Lucas, 37, Pennsylvania

9. You’ll Try To Overcompensate

“Looking back, I’m shocked at how quickly my kids showed signs of independence when it was just me and them. In fact, they’re probably the only reason I made it through those early years of being a single dad. My first reaction when I became a single dad was to be overprotective of my kids, probably as a way of overcompensating for my insecurity. I definitely oversteered, and forced them to let me do stuff for them that they were capable of doing themselves. It wasn’t until they were almost teenagers that I realized I was overdoing it as a way to make myself feel like a good father. I was a good father, but I think I would’ve contributed more to their growth if I’d just let them…grow. One of the greatest skills a child can learn is independence and, even though everything has worked out, my kids missed out on some of that because I was insecure.” - Marc, 55, South Carolina

10. Asking For Help Is Not a Flaw

“I wish I had learned sooner that asking for help didn't diminish my parenting capabilities. It wasn't a flaw or a sign of weakness. It's taking stock of your own limitations, accepting those, and working to better yourself for your child. So often, men want to be bulletproof and have the answer to everything because from a young age, that's what we're taught masculinity is at its core. But there's nothing of value to not asking for help when you need it. It doesn't make you any less of a good parent to lean on others from time to time, especially when it's to benefit your child.” - Ed, 43, Ohio

11. You Need To Be Upfront About Your Priorities

“As a newly-single father, I met several women who didn’t have kids and just assumed that they realized my son was going to be my priority. They didn’t, and that’s not their fault. I found myself having to cancel plans more often than not, to be flexible with my son’s schedule, and they got angry and upset. And it’s totally understandable, looking back. I never tried to hide the fact that I was a single dad, but I think I could’ve avoided a lot of aggravation by being more forthcoming about the fact that, at that point in his life, I needed to be there for him without hesitation. I know I would’ve appreciated that level of honesty if the roles were reversed.” - Alex, 44, Nevada

12. You’re Valuable

“My first days as a single dad were spent feeling pretty worthless. It’s easy to fall into the traps of thinking you’re a loser, or a deadbeat as a newly single father. That was where my head was for a while. But then my therapist asked me, ‘Is that how you thought of yourself when you were just a father? Without the single?’ And it clicked. I still had the same value to my kids as I did when my ex and I were together, but my mind was tricking me into not believing it. My role in their lives wasn’t exactly the same, but I realized that I was just as valuable — if not more so — than I was before. I could bond with them in a unique way that set the tone for the special relationship we would share forever. I could be a source of comfort when they needed a break from the other parts of their lives. I could make sure they saw me as a fixed point, and a source of stability no matter where they were. And I grew to really cherish those roles over time. My worth had nothing to do with the ‘single’ and everything to do with the ‘dad’, which I wish I would’ve realized much, much sooner.” - Travis, 53, Rhode Island

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