As a single dad, you’ve got an amazingly challenging job. Chances are, you didn’t plan on going down this road. But here you are, managing a household single-handedly while raising a child (or several!) and holding down a job. You’re basically called upon to be Superman, without the cape or superpowers. If it’s any consolation, in 2016, there were 2.5 million men in your same boat according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Below are five challenges you might face, as well as ways to overcome them as you take on the most important job of your life.
Lack of a Support System
Single dads often hesitate to seek out other dads for advice or assistance. Own the fact that you can’t possibly know or do everything by yourself. Bouncing ideas off another single dad is not only helpful, but comforting. Look to your children’s school, your place of worship, or other organizations such as a single-parent support group. Also, don’t hesitate to say yes to your friends and family when they offer their help!
Juggling the Demands of Work and Family
As a single parent, you wear the hats of cook, nurse, teacher, chauffeur, coach, and on and on. The importance of managing your time has never been more crucial so you don’t end up chronically exhausted and with no time for yourself. Some tips that help are:
Prepare as much as you can for morning the night before. Lay out clothes to wear, set the table for breakfast, prepare lunches and have school bags all set to go.
Make your bedtime routine consistent. It’s hard to plan for some alone time in the evening if your kids go to bed at different times each night.
Keep a folder for each child so you always know where to find all of their information, from medical and school records to their birth certificates.
Multitask when possible. Pay bills or purchase gifts online while you’re sitting in a waiting room. Use your phone’s headset so you can do chores while making phone calls. Whenever you cook a meal, always double (or triple!) the recipe and freeze the extras.
Find an organizational system that works for you, be it using Post-it notes on a family wall calendar or using an organizing app. You need a way to keep track of all of those doctor visits, soccer games, and parent-teacher conferences. Free apps like Cozi keep everyone’s activities and appointments all in one place and creates and shares shopping lists, chores, and more in real time.
Remember when your mom used to say, “A place for everything and everything in its place?” She knew what she was talking about. One of the biggest time-wasters is looking for lost items. Make sure that things are put away in their place so you always know where they are.
Neglecting Your Mental Health
When your head is constantly consumed with all of the details involved with raising a family, it’s easy to neglect your own mental health. Over time, this can lead to burnout. Never has it been more important that you take care of your overall well-being. Mental health experts note, “The way you eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state your mental health is in. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing.” Your daily plans should always include time for yourself to regroup and recharge.
Gender Challenges with a Daughter
What do you do when you’re out and about and your young daughter needs to use the restroom? If possible, find a family restroom or a unisex one. These are generally always present at shopping malls, airports, and even Starbucks. If that’s not possible, and she’s not ready to use the women’s restroom by herself yet, take her into a stall in the men’s restroom. Explain to her before entering that she must respect the privacy of any men in the restroom by not looking in their direction.
Before you know it, puberty will be right around the corner, and your girl will be getting her first period. Remember, the more nervous you come across, the more embarrassed and awkward your daughter will feel, so do your best to act like this is just as natural as can be. Be prepared ahead of time with some Maxi-pads and panty liners on hand.
Enlisting the help of an aunt, grandmother or older female friend can also be very beneficial for those talks of a more “intimate” nature as well as shopping for her first bra.
Lack of Flexibility at the Workplace
Researchers at The Center for WorkLife Law at the UC Hastings College of the Law published a series of studies that explore barriers men face in the workplace as they try to balance work and family demands. They found that:
- Men are often reluctant to seek out flexible working arrangements because they fear what this might do to their careers.
- They are subjected to more workplace harassment than their childless counterparts.
- Men who request family leave are perceived as uncommitted to work and are at increased risk for being demoted and/or receiving less pay.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “What’s a Working Dad to Do?” fathers are encouraged to talk about their family at work and use work flexibility responsibly. The author states this is not a man’s issue; it’s a family issue that affects us all.
While you may not be seen as Superman in the world, chances are, you’re seen as him in your home. The bond you have with your child may actually be stronger than it would have been had you not been a single parent. At the end of the day, it’s you who hears, “I love you, Daddy,” as you tuck your child into bed. That alone can make all of the challenges more than worth it.