Few of us are prepared for parenthood and we’re even less prepared to be a single parent.
David has three children who are now aged 17, 14 and 10. For the past seven years he’s been a single parent and he’s the first to admit that he wasn’t prepared. Here’s David:
I think the most common thing I hear from men is that they are not prepared to parent solo for a lot of cultural reasons and they never get the slack to learn how to do it.
In fact, our culture doesn’t allow them to admit that they don’t know how to be great dads and get help. It’s all part and parcel of this whole idea that “every mom is a super mom.” It’s this extraordinary pressure to a priori know how to be a great father as opposed to learning how as you proceed.
For too many guys, myself included, all of a sudden I went from being part of a tag team wrestling match to having to be in the ring by myself, for better or worse, however it played out. That was really hard. It took me awhile to figure out how to be a good parent, how to behave in a way that was best for my children, consistent with my own beliefs and nurturing too.
For a lot of guys, they end up separated or divorced, they have a hard time with their kids and then mom exacerbates the situation by saying to the children, “I understand you don’t want to go to daddy’s, let me talk to him, because he’s really mean to you.” Then the whole thing just sort of builds its own reality and it gets to be a really difficult situation that’s increasingly hard to fix. I think that’s the biggest problem, that when you have a situation where the kids are having a hard time with dad and mom is more or less reinforcing that dad’s not a good parent and dad isn’t a good parent, because he doesn’t really know how, how do you fix that? Who steps in and says, “Okay, we have a problem, let’s resolve it?”
I’d like to see us have more empathy for parents on both sides, because quite frankly when we got divorced, both my ex and I had a hard time. She had a really hard time because I had always been the one that enforced the rules, which meant that at her house there were none. When we went our separate ways, my kids had no bedtimes at her place and they could eat what they want when they wanted, because she was just trying to be friends with them and hold their hand and say, “Oh, it’s been a really hard situation and know that I love you.” That didn’t work well and wasn’t what the children needed to come through the situation in a healthy manner.
And me? I was at the other extreme, thinking “I am your drill sergeant. It is 6:01 A.M. You will get up and we will leave the house on time.” Well, maybe I wasn’t quite that bad.
The first thing I would recommend is being open to your friends in the same situation and talk candidly about your challenges and fears. Us guys have a really stupid tendency to just talk about football or dating or that cute girl in Sports Illustrated or something. That’s all fine and that’s good and I certainly have those conversations, but if you have friends that are in the situation that you’re in, learn from them. It’s OK to say, “I don’t really know how to do this. Help!”
In fact, it would be okay to say to your kids, “How would mommy handle this? How would you want me to handle this? Obviously we’re not doing well, what do you think I should do? If you were the parent and I was the kid, what would you do?” That doesn’t mean you’re less in control of the situation, it just means you’re getting additional input and viewpoints and that you can then process and say, “You know, I never thought of that. That’s a great solution. Let’s do that.” Or say “Next time that’s what I’m going to do. This time we’re stuck. But we can learn.”
The Divorce Coach Says:
I don’t see this as just a single dads issue. Everyone has to adjust to being a single parent but it’s definitely harder for the parent who hasn’t been actively involved, hands-on with all the day-to-day logistics and that often means it is the dads who have the biggest challenge.
David’s recommendation about being open is spot on – you have to open up to ask for help. If you do that, then I can virtually guarantee you will get help because I believe it’s part of our nature to want to help others. However, you need to make the first move. You need to show others that you’re open to receiving help. Don’t limit yourself to people of the same sex– look for men and women who may be in a similar situation as you and reach out to them. And yes, this can be scary because it means allowing yourself to be vulnerable, admitting that you are human and that you don’t have all the answers. It means accepting the possibility that someone will say no. If this is a change for you I encourage you to embrace it because your friendships will be more meaningful when you open up.
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