It’s ironic that single fathers face gender bias in a society that has traditionally discriminated against women in the workplace and at home. Yet it’s a pervasive problem: single fathers are often seen as unfit parents because it’s assumed they can’t be as nurturing as women. This peculiar form of gender discrimination has done men seeking custody of their children a disservice in court, where judges are more apt to place children with their mothers. Single men who do care for their children are often seen as biologically unfit, or emotionally ill-equipped to provide the support that children need. Such presumptions obscure the fact that single dads face unique pressures that are often misunderstood.
1. Financial Stressors
Today, single men are raising children today at a higher rate than ever before. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that about 13 million children live in single-parent households and that single dads are raising approximately 2.5 million of these children. Those statistics would seem to disprove the biology “theory” of single parenthood. And yet they do little to draw attention to the challenges that men face as they raise children on their own, challenges that have nothing to do with gender.
Fathers tend to have a harder time keeping up with the financial demands of single parenthood than women, who often benefit from more flexible working hours and who pay child support at a significantly lower rate than men. Census Bureau statistics indicate that 80 percent of custodial moms are awarded child support, compared to 30 percent of dads. Some states have taken steps to make things easier on fathers, such as making child support payments more affordable, but the economics of custodial parenthood still clearly favor mothers.
Sometimes, there’s just no getting around gender-related stresses. A single father who’s trying to raise a daughter is at a natural disadvantage because, well, he’s a guy. He can’t relate to the emotional upset and very personal challenges that confront young girls, a scenario that often puts dads and daughters at odds and raises the stress level in a way that single fathers may have trouble figuring out. Mothers can share experiences that daughters can relate to on an instinctive level. It’s alien territory for fathers, and it can alienate single dads and daughters at a time when they most need to communicate on an emotional level.
3. Consistency and Communication
Trusts and communication go hand-in-hand when trying to take the stress out of a single dad’s relationship with his kids. Children do much better when your expectations for them are clearly communicated and reinforced. That means establishing a consistent routine, including regularly scheduled meals, household tasks, homework times, and other daily activities. Consistency and communications are also key when it comes to discipline. Make sure your kids know the rules and exactly what they can expect when the rules are broken. Saying one thing and doing another is likely to increase an already antagonistic environment and drive a wedge between you and your child. If possible, make sure to communicate with your former partner so that one parent doesn’t unwittingly undermine the other.
4. Time for you and your Kids
Set aside some time every week to spend with your kids. Have a chat while you fold clothes, or do some yard work together. Try exercising together for fun. Go for a walk, play a friendly game of basketball in the driveway, or teach your kid to hit a curveball. You might be surprised how much closer you and your child become, and how much a simple activity can do to defuse a stressful home situation.
Don’t forget that you also need time to relax and reset. Take a relaxing hot bath, catch up on your reading, or re-watch a favorite movie you haven’t seen in awhile. Simple, low-impact activities can be just what the doctor ordered, a perfect way to recalibrate your perspective. If you’re a single dad trying to play multiple roles at once, it’s important to do whatever you can to keep things stress-free at home for you and your children.
Kids often struggle to make sense of life in a single-parent home, especially in the wake of a divorce or separation. Remember that it will take time to find common ground and a basis upon which to trust each other. As a single parent, patience and understanding are what your kids need most.