Helpful Tips for Single Dads
By GetParentingTips.com Staff
Read Time: 9 Minutes
Single dads unite! More and more U.S. households are now being led by single dads, and that trend is on the rise. In 2020, there were more than 6.9 million families with a single dad. There are lots of ways that men can become single dads. And while divorce is the most common reason men become single dads, there are also families where partners were never married, partners are separated, or one partner has passed away. Also, a growing number of men are choosing to have children on their own through adoption and surrogacy.
The Importance of Fathers
All fathers play an important role in the lives of their children. Studies have shown that kids whose fathers are involved do better in the critical areas of health, education, and emotional well-being. Dad’s involvement is especially important during a child’s first three years when children’s brains and bodies are developing rapidly. Being involved with your children can include easy things like spending time together and interacting with them by talking, reading, or playing games. All these simple things help with brain development. Children need single dads who take care of all their needs. This includes physical, financial, and health needs, as well as emotional needs such as showing affection, setting rules, and having consistent discipline.
Navigating Big Changes
Single parenting comes with plenty of challenges for single dads and their children. Becoming a single parent can be especially difficult for fathers who find themselves single unexpectedly. When parents divorce or separate, single dads must deal with their own feelings while at the same time finding new living arrangements and figuring out their finances. Single dads need to also be there for their children to help them process their feelings about some big life changes. So, what’s the best way to handle the struggles of becoming a single dad?
Start with emotional healing
Whether a newly single dad has been through a divorce, separation, or the death of a partner, chances are good that both he and his kids are working through some complicated feelings. These might include anger, resentment, sadness, and guilt. Single dads should have someone they trust to talk to, such as a friend or family member, who can help them process their feelings. One key tip (that is not always easy to follow) is to try to avoid venting to your children. Parents should not rely on their children to meet their emotional needs. It’s okay for single dads to share feelings of sadness but it’s important to try to stay positive and encouraging. Children’s brains are not developed enough to handle that level of emotional responsibility, and it can have long-term negative consequences on their well-being and development.
Don’t forget, kids need to process their emotions too! Exercise can be a good way to let off steam for both parents and children and this provides an opportunity for bonding and connection. In some cases, it might be good to get help from a counselor or therapist. These professionals are trained to help single dads and their children process their feelings in a healthy, productive way.
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Get your finances in order
Making a financial plan is a key part of adjusting to single parenting. As the only parent, it’s up to you to make sure your family’s financial needs are being met. Start with money management basics.
- Determine whether you need to file for child support.
- Track your monthly income and bills and make a budget so you know where your money goes each month.
- Be wary of credit card offers - they can charge high interest rates.
- Pay down any existing debts, starting with those that charge the highest interest. Try to pay more than the minimum payment each month.
- Be smart and frugal. Are there things you could do to increase your monthly earnings or reduce expenses, such as going back to school or moving to a different home?
- Evaluate current expenses and your budget for any new expenses. Do you need childcare now? Will your costs increase for things like groceries, clothing, or activities for your child?
- Set financial goals. Do you want to pay off student loans or save up for a big expense? Make a plan and stick to it.
- Check in weekly. Set aside time once a week to pay bills, check account balances, and plan for any upcoming expenses.
Find reliable childcare
As a single dad, it may feel impossible to try to do it all on your own. When you know your children are in a safe place, it’s much easier to focus on your own work or schooling. Finding affordable, dependable childcare can seem overwhelming, but it’s worth it. Here are some tips to keep in mind when looking for childcare.
- Make sure your child is with a state-regulated childcare provider. Learn more by reading Picking a Childcare or Babysitter for tips on how to navigate these big decisions and ensure your children are in a safe environment.
- Use the Search Texas Child Care database to find a daycare near you. This official State of Texas resource allows you to not only find daycares in your area but to see how well they comply with state standards.
- The Texas Workforce Commission has a childcare services program that provides financial aid for families that meet certain income requirements.
Support Your Child’s Experience
Children go through a lot when their family life changes. Studies show that kids of divorced families struggle more with their social, academic, and physical well-being, and children’s anxiety and depression seem to worsen when their parents divorce. Even if it seems like kids are doing fine, they may be struggling with their feelings but not sharing them. It’s important for parents to start these conversations as children may lose friends, change schools, and lose other support systems when parents divorce. Change is hard and everyone reacts differently to it. It may take some children longer than others to adjust to a new home, school, or friends.
Encourage open communication
Talk about family dynamics often, and let kids know you’re there to listen. Try to set aside time each week to check in with your children and see how they’re feeling. If you can, pick a time when everyone is relaxed and more open to sharing, such as at bedtime, during a car ride, or on Sunday afternoons. When you talk, let your kids know that your family is going through a lot of changes, and remind them that it is not their fault. Make sure they know they can talk to you or other trusted adults about anything they might be worried about.
Get them help when they need it
If kids are having trouble in school, acting out, fighting, or showing more signs of frustration, it might be time to get professional help from a counselor or therapist. You can start by contacting one of the Family and Youth Success programs in your area. Your child’s doctor might also have suggestions.
Healthy Co-Parenting Relationships
In divorced families or those with separated parents, it is important to still work together with your child’s mother to parent your children. Collaborating with an ex isn’t always easy or enjoyable, but it’s important for everyone, especially the kids. Depending on the age of your children, you could be co-parenting for many years. As time passes, the hope is to develop routines that will make things easier for everyone.
Having two parents play an active role in kids’ lives is the best way to ensure that their needs are met. Kids feel more secure when parents can work together and form a workable co-parenting partnership. They adjust to changes more quickly and experience less stress. Co-parenting also sets a strong example so your kids can learn how to work with others and solve problems peacefully.
Put the kids first
There are times when relationships are strained between co-parents. This makes an already challenging situation even more challenging. So, take a deep breath and try to put your feelings about your child’s mother aside. Do your best to stay calm and focus on the kids. Some people find it helps to think of co-parenting as a business partnership, so it feels less personal. If you start to feel upset or angry, remind yourself that you are doing this for your children. Be respectful, and compromise when necessary. Remember, this is a long-term arrangement, and it’s better for your children if you can work together.
Staying positive and not talking negatively about your child’s mother is not always easy, but it is one of the best things you can do for successful co-parenting.
Communicate with your co-parent
You don’t have to be best friends with your child’s mother but having open communication can go a long way for everyone. Try to be cordial and respectful. When you talk, text, or email, keep the conversations short and focused on the children. Don’t put the kids in the middle by asking them to relay messages to the other parent. If you need to ask something of your co-parent, try to phrase it like a request rather than a statement or command. You might say something like, “Would you be able to pick up Jake from school on Thursday?” or “Could we try letting Aiden stay up until 8:30 on Saturdays?”
Think about how you and your co-parent can be on the same team without being in the same house. Let each other know about school events and scheduling needs. It’s helpful if you can make a co-parenting agreement that lays out family rules, schedules, and consistent discipline techniques. That means if your child breaks a rule and has a consequence at one house, the co-parent should follow through with the restriction. Rules for homework, digital media, and bedtimes should be similar between the two homes.
A shared calendar can be helpful for making sure everyone knows about activities, events, and appointments.
It’s natural for co-parents to disagree sometimes. Be flexible when you can. If your co-parent asks for extra time for a special event or needs to re-arrange schedules, try to be accommodating. If you and your co-parent can’t agree on an important issue, consider seeing a professional counselor or mediator to help you work through it. Again, don’t share your disagreements with your children.
Daily Life as a Single Dad
As you adjust to life as a single dad, things will probably get easier. Creating structure and predictability will help you and your kids find your new normal. Start by making some plans.
Plan your schedule
Knowing what to expect helps everyone. Co-parents should try to make visitation hand-offs as regular and stress-free as possible. Having a plan for your time with your children can be comforting during a time when you have all experienced a lot of changes. Depending on your kids’ ages, it might be helpful to write daily activities on a calendar. For example, Tuesday evenings might be soccer practice or Fridays might be pizza night. Giving your weeks some structure helps everyone know what’s coming and means fewer surprises.
Plan one-on-one time
Life as a single dad can be busy but making time to do meaningful activities with your children is important. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or elaborate - you can go to the park or library, take a walk together, or work on a jigsaw puzzle. Again, check in regularly to ask how your children are feeling.
Plan for your time apart
Think about how you can stay involved when the children are with your co-parent, and how they will stay in touch with that parent when they’re with you. Depending on the co-parenting agreement, you might text with your child or set up a mid-week phone call. You want your child to know you are available and invested but be sure to be respectful of your co-parent’s time with your child as well.
Plan for emergencies
One of the things you should plan with your co-parent is what to do in case of emergencies. Make a shared contact list and keep it updated over time. Hopefully, you won’t have to use it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You’ve Got This, Dad!
As you navigate the world of being a single dad, remember to:
Respect your children’s mother.
When children see their parents respecting each other, they’re more likely to feel that they are also accepted and respected.
Spend time with your children.
How a single dad spends his time tells his children what is important to him. If you seem too busy for your kids, they will feel neglected no matter what you say.
Discipline with Love.
All children need guidance and discipline, not as punishment, but to set reasonable limits. Remind them of the consequences of their actions and provide meaningful rewards for good behavior.
Be a teacher.
Teach your children the difference between right and wrong. Encourage them to do their best and help them make good choices.
Sharing a meal together can be an important and healthy part of your family time. It provides some structure in a busy day, and it gives kids the chance to talk about what they’re doing and want to do.
Read to your children.
In a world filled with distractions it’s important to make time to read to your kids. It stimulates their imagination and helps them develop language and listening skills.
Children need the security that comes from knowing they are wanted, accepted, and loved by their family. Hugs can go a long way!
Being a single dad can be hard, but it’s also very rewarding. You play a unique role in helping your children grow into well-adjusted adults. The importance of fathers can’t be overstated. By meeting the challenges of being a single dad and staying involved in your children’s lives, you’re helping them to have the best opportunities for long-term success. And that’s a job that’s worth doing well.