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Are You a Single Dad? You’re Not Alone

Being a single parent is tough — there’s no debate there. But better understanding the challenges faced by solo parents can help us to offer better support to the many who find themselves taking on this role.

While the majority of solo parents are single mothers, up to 2.6 million families in the United States are headed by single dads. However, the research on single fathers is limited, with many studies focused on comparing partnered parents to single mothers.

Single fathers may have a few advantages working in their favor. According to a Pew research report from 2013, single fathers are more likely to be living with a cohabiting partner (41 percent versus 16 percent), meaning they’re not always entirely on their own.

And in terms of education, income, and poverty, single fathers tend to be better off than single mothers, according to a 2015 review of the literature.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges facing single dads. After all, much of society (still) views men as not actually up to the task of parenting solo. Women are assumed to be the caregivers. The nurturers. The keepers of the family and the house.

This can mean people may assume dads aren’t capable of basic parenting tasks. Conversely, it can lead to unnecessarily celebrating everything a single dad does — it can get old to see dads being idolized for simply grocery shopping with their kids, as if it’s a monumental achievement instead of just, well, life.

But the truth is fathers aren’t just capable and competent — they are loving, caring, and more than qualified.

From breakups and divorces to being widowed or starting a family on your own, there are many paths to single parenthood.

In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau found that of the 2 million single fathers in the United States, about 40 percent were divorced, 38 percent were never married, 16 percent were separated, and 6 percent were widowed. But the why doesn’t matter. Not really. What matters is what you do with your newfound role.

“The role of fathers has evolved,” says a 2013 Pew Research study. “And the public now acknowledges their importance not only as breadwinners, but also as caregivers.”

Whether you’re a single dad by choice or by circumstance, you’re part of a community that has its own unique challenges and demands.

You’ll have difficulties, but you’ll also have the ability to set the tone for your family, creating a strong bond with your children and relying on positive parenting skills to see you through any obstacles.

Single parenthood is (for many) an uphill climb. Indeed, for all single parents there are stigmas to shatter and walls to knock down.

“Many single fathers bear the burden of not having the benefit of splitting parental responsibilities, housework, paying bills, etc.,” points out Matt Grammer — the founder and CEO of Kentucky Counseling Center.

Indeed, for both single fathers and single mothers, having to manage not only the parenting, but the finances and logistics of running a family solo is a daily challenge.

These pressures are likely to take precedence in their worries, but there are other aspects of single parenthood that might be less expected.

Single parents may be criticized by those who view two-parent households as the ideal. Single dads may hear rude, off-the-cuff comments, like suggestions that they’re babysitting.

Even previously supportive family members may suddenly act as if their single status means they aren’t capable of providing everything their children need.

Single parents often run into logistical challenges. They can’t be in two places at once and there’s no partner to fall back on. They may run into unexpected problems, like the lack of changing tables in men’s bathrooms or suspicion from strangers when they’re out with their children.

“Life in a single parent household… can be quite stressful, for the adult and the children,” according to the American Psychological Association. A single parent is on their own when it comes to work, childcare, bills, and other elements of running a household.

They may be also working with financial challenges or a change in housing due to a recent split. In addition, there are the other issues that may be at hand due to divorce or the loss of a partner.

Some issues that may affect single parents include:

  • visitation and custody problems
  • the ongoing effects of conflicts between parents
  • difficulty juggling personal and work-related responsibilities
  • the emotional impact of separation, divorce, or death
  • problems caused by dating and/or entering into new relationships
  • complications with extended family relationships
  • struggles with co-parenting or step-parenting
  • stress due to financial demands

It’s not just external pressures. Some single parents also feel concerns about their own preparation to rear and raise children on their own as they may not have experience or examples to rely on.

They may feel overwhelmed at the pressure of feeling solely responsible for not just daily tasks, like getting the kids to school on time or paying bills, but their children’s overall happiness and well-being.

All of these challenges can weigh on a person.

A small 2017 study found single fathers were likely to rate their own health and mental health as worse than fathers with partners, but similar to single mothers. Keeping this in mind, it’s important for all single parents to make their own mental and physical health a priority.

A review of the research on single fatherhood from 2015 brings up a very real concern about the research done thus far. Much of what has been performed seems to focus on which parental structure provides the “best” outcomes, pitting single dads against single moms and partnered parents, to little advantage.

It would be more beneficial to consider the obstacles and strengths of single fatherhood, in order to better support families led by solo dads.

The good news is that single fathers who choose to take on the challenges of parenting are just as capable as any other parent. Addressing these challenges and seeking support and information can help single dads succeed.

While being a single dad is tough, you don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources available for single fathers and their children.

  • The National Parent Hotline offers information for single dads.
  • Project Fatherhoood connects fathers to support and education.
  • The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse — or NRFC — provides, facilitates, and disseminates research and information to encourage and strengthen the father-child bond. The DadTalk Blog section of their website also includes parental advice.
  • The National Fatherhood Initiative aims to expand parental involvement by removing many of the challenges and stereotypes men face.
  • Finally, there are single father support groups scattered throughout the country. Just type in your location on Meetup to find a group in your city. You can also find single dad groups on Facebook or other social media.

That said, more work can (and should) be done to support single parents.

While being a single parent is hard, it isn’t impossible. With help, hope, and perseverance, single parents can do amazing things.

But change doesn’t just start from within. In order for single fathers to become the men they should be (and the men their children deserve), society needs to change its perception of single parents. Because single dads are capable, they are competent, and they need support too.

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