Get Tips to Make Life Easier
Whether you share 50-50 custody with your ex, parent your kids full-time solo, or have some other kind of arrangement, being a single dad isn’t easy. But you do your best to juggle everything yourself. It might sound cute or funny in movies and sitcoms, but in real life there is real struggle, real guilt, and real challenges that don’t end cleanly in half an hour.
Four single dads who have been navigating the world of single parents for the past few years are now sharing some of their top tips for caring for your kids and your own sanity.
Plan ahead and be consistent
“I used to despise planning and routine and usually settled for a whim,” says Ryan Lambourn, a sales rep in Tempe, Ariz., Who shares custody of his 9 and 7 year old sons. with his ex-wife since their divorce. 2017. “But when you’re a single dad, you’ll end up digging yourself in a big hole that way. My oldest son has autism, and autistic children thrive with structure and schedule. But in reality, these are the things that really help all children to thrive.
Lambourn makes the most of his time on his wife’s days of having children, concentrating on basic housekeeping and maintenance, grocery shopping, and meal planning and preparation. “I really put my attention on the consistency of things: we go to the park the same day, we have dinner ready at the same time, instead of everything being random.
If your children are sharing time between households, do your best to work with their other parent to have similar rules and routines for them. “Especially when our kids were younger, we were really looking for continuity,” says San Francisco musician Michael Powell, who divorced in 2012 when his son and daughter were toddlers.
“We have done our best to enforce similar bedtime, television and candy rules, and a similar approach to discipline. This is not always entirely possible because there are different things happening in different houses, but we are doing our best.
When the association’s communications director, Todd Bentsen, and his ex-partner split in 2011, their son was 7 and their daughter was 4. For the first four years, the couple made a “nesting” arrangement using the basement apartment of their Washington, DC row house they had previously rented.
“Children didn’t have to come and go between two houses. We just turned off which of us lived in the apartment, ”Bentsen explains. “I think we would both agree that the continuity was really good for them at the age when we went our separate ways.”
Trust your instincts
Pat Attenasio, a brand communications specialist who lives in northern California, lost his wife to a pulmonary embolism when their son Teddy was born in 2017.
“When we were expecting our son, my plan was to kind of push my wife away and figure it out as we went along, but then I had to do everything,” he says. “At first people treated me like I didn’t know anything, which to be honest I didn’t know. But at the end of the day, I’m Teddy’s only parent, and after 4 years, I know him and his nuances better than any other human. At first, however, I didn’t trust my gut and always relied on the opinions of others. I realized that I had to have enough confidence in myself as a father, and that rubs off on my son too.
When speaking with an ex-partner about your children’s schedules, needs, or future plans, it’s important to be simple. “Say exactly what you want, however difficult the conversation,” says Lambourn. “Don’t beat around the bush or try to imply or say something indirectly. For things that you need to make sure are heard and understood, send an email or text, or use something like Facebook Messenger, where you get a notification that the person has watched it. “
Putting things in writing is essential when there is a change in the usual routine. “For example, my ex would usually pick up the kids at 5pm on Sundays, but we recently made a change so that she picks them up now at 2pm,” Lambourn says. “So for the past few weeks, although it’s still a new schedule, I texted her on Saturday afternoon just to remind her what pickup time is well in advance, rather than noon on Sunday.”
“Successful co-parenting is about the details,” Bentsen acknowledges. “You need to make sure you understand these details and communicate openly and regularly about what is happening that affects the lives of children.”
Create a support network
Trusting your own instinct doesn’t mean you can do it all on your own. When Attenasio’s wife died, his wife’s mother and twin sister suggested that he and Teddy move from New York to California. “My sister-in-law has two children and she helped teach me the ropes. She and my mother-in-law really became my village when I had no idea what I was doing, ”he says. “And I became the king of outsourcing. I have learned that if there is something that I cannot do, I will hire or have someone help me with anything.
Shortly after Powell and his wife divorced, a close friend of his had also separated from his girlfriend and was looking for accommodation, so he became a temporary roommate. “He never really did the heavy lifting with the kids, but at least there was another person there if I had to leave for a short time,” says Powell. “If I had a concert in the evening I would get them ready for bed before I left, then he would watch cartoons with them and put them to bed. It was really helpful. He was like an uncle to the children.
In most relationships, there is a more “social” partner who maintains the family network and makes plans. If you weren’t that person, you might have to stretch yourself to get the support you need. “In our partnership, that was me,” Bentsen says. “We had a tight-knit group of friends we called our ‘book club,’ and our kids are very close to their kids. They have been a real network that I can call on. My ex wasn’t really wired that way, so he had to learn a new skill. It’s really beneficial for you and the kids for the support and continuity. “
If possible, this support network should include your ex. When a major life event, like the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, puts people in disarray, it’s important to work together to keep things normal for your children.
Bentsen and Powell were diagnosed with the virus. Although he was never hospitalized, Powell was critically ill for 6 weeks and the children had to stay with their mother the entire time. “It was scary for them, but she was good at reassuring them and organizing things so that we could watch movies on Netflix Party just so I could be ‘with’ them,” he says.
Bentsen’s ex-partner also took on full-time parenting during the weeks he was sick. “I’m lucky that my children have a flexible parent willing to participate and have them for extra weeks,” he says.
Avoid the “daddy” stereotype
“When you’re a single dad, you have to grow into that kind of hybrid dad and mom. The key to this for me has been to allow myself to be really vulnerable with my child. I have to let my guard down and be that emotional support for my son, ”says Attenasio.
“The stereotype of daddy is the one who takes care of the bolts and bolts – eating, cleaning, everyday things. You can’t do anything other than that. But I’ve learned that on the days when I rush to drive him to daycare and I have a call from work and think about checking boxes, and I look at him and see that there is something troubling him. , I have to stop and throw away the calendar and say, “What are you thinking? What is bothering you today? And he usually tells me. You can’t always tick boxes. “
Take care of yourself
Whether you were just divorced or separated, or lost a partner to death, your instinct as a single dad may be to just push through. But it’s not good for you or your children.
“In our lives, my ex-wife and I have both struggled with addiction,” says Lambourn. “When we broke up, I immediately got interested in the children, making sure they were taken care of. But as the analogy shows, if you don’t put the oxygen mask on yourself first, you won’t be able to take care of someone else. I wasn’t doing that, and it took its toll in the form of depression and stuff. I really had to focus on my own mental, physical and spiritual recovery if I was going to be a good father.
After his wife died, Attenasio felt like he had to bow his head and make his way through everything. “But I quickly realized that it wasn’t working and I started going into therapy to treat not only the loss of my wife, but also the loss of the future that we would never have. No matter what you are going through or how you came to be a single dad, there are professionals as well as free support groups that can help you get through this process. The tendency is to forget yourself and be everything for your child, but if you want to be the best parent you can be, you have to stand up straight and everyone needs help doing that.
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