Few things in life are more challenging, or more rewarding, than being a parent. But the challenging part can rapidly become overwhelming for single parents. Despite the difficulties, it is the responsibility of every single parent to do their best for their children every day for the rest of their lives.
If you are a single father, you are not alone and there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. We’ve put together a list featuring several useful guidelines to help you on your mission.
Take care of yourself
Consider for a moment the crash instructions we find tucked in the backs of airplane seats. According to these guides, when an airplane is at risk of going down and the oxygen masks drop, the instruction tells us to take care of ourselves first. There is a very practical reason for that: if you pass out, you won’t be able to help others. So even though it may seem to go against instinct, it makes logical sense to first ensure you’re capable of tending to the needs of others before you rush into actually doing it.
The same holds true when it comes to functioning as a single dad. You must be capable of tending to the needs of your children, meaning you first have to take care of yourself. And this is not a one-time crisis like a plane crash. This is an ongoing endeavor, meaning you will have to pace yourself and recommit yourself anew each day. So: get enough sleep, eat properly, and exercise regularly if you can.
If you become stressed out it can rapidly lead to feelings of being burned out, which is why it is so vital to take care of your emotional, physical, and spiritual health at all times. Only then will you be positive, energetic, and resilient enough to accomplish the rest of your tasks.
Pay attention to the emotional needs of your children
Whatever event led to you being a single parent has no doubt deeply impacted your emotions and your outlook on life. However, it has impacted your children at least as much if not more so than you. This is why single fathers must tend to their own needs and then look beyond them in order to focus on their children’s needs.
It is on your shoulders to do what it takes to ensure your kids feel loved, valued, and secure in their place in the world. Pay close attention to their behavior. If you see outward signs that they are struggling, do something about it. Address it so they understand they have your support. Be present and “in the moment” for them, always. Life never stops throwing huddles at us, and you need to be aware of the ones your children are facing, so you can help them over.
Be a role model
Children are dependent on their parent or parents to survive. This experience can be a frightening feeling for a child who feels as though their father isn’t 100% present and capable of taking care of them in every possible way. That’s why it is important to understand that for children to feel this much-needed emotional stability, you must project yourself as being competent and able to perform the things you must.
Even when you don’t always feel like you know what you’re doing, don’t let them see that because it can erode their confidence and cause unnecessary stress on them at a time when they already have enough to cope with. Try to put yourself in their shoes and view things from their perspective. What do they need to feel safe, loved, and inspired? Be a role model, because they are watching you. We all need someone to look up to. For your children, that person is you.
Take time to teach them right and wrong
Left to their own devices children can quickly learn bad behavior and emulate it to get attention. The question is, what are you going to do about it when you see your own children acting inappropriately?
There are numerous parenting strategies out there, but many of us tend to use a modified version of whatever our own parents did to us. This may have pros and cons, so take time to think about how you address bad behavior and how effective it is. If you need to make adjustments, do so, but do not lean on tactics which are not producing the desired change after repeated attempts.
Behavioral education needs to happen in the home, rather than relying on the school or someone else to teach it. You must be their prime positive influence for as long as you can, and teach them to make the right decisions.
Invest in their education
What your children learn now will affect what they are going to do later in life. Many parents opt to let their children do whatever they want in their free time, selecting their own hobbies or interests. That is not a bad thing, as long as there is also some intercession on the part of the parent to guide children towards extra learning.
Children already spend hours each day in school, but the school curriculum is not going to teach them everything they need to know to thrive and survive in the real world. For instance, traditional good manners, self-respect, respect for others, good personal hygiene, and more conceptual ideas such as generosity, responsible citizenship, understanding of basic economics; many of these topics are only touched upon in the public education system.
So find the gaps in your child’s education by talking to them, engaging in discussion. You will discover quickly that there are many misconceptions they are clinging on too, and it is up to you to teach them new things and help them comprehend issues they’re confused about.
Get out of the house
When energy is waning, it is easy to let your children go in their rooms and just relax with their toys, games, tablets, and phones. And it’s alright to give them that time to recharge. But they need sunlight and exercise as well.
Make it a routine to spend a few minutes minimum outdoors every day, for fresh air and to break away from device addiction. Sometimes this can lead to resentment on their part, but don’t get drawn into a debate. If they do complain, a little flexibility can pay off as long as the end goal is met. For example, you might give a 15-minute heads-up and a five-minute warning so they can be mentally prepared.
Spending too much time staring into a screen is not good for a child’s development, but device addiction happens to children and adults alike. Have patience, but make sure to work in some quality time with Mother Nature. And, of course, set the example by setting device-free times for yourself as well.
Show interest in the things they like
Children love to show their parents what they’re doing. Whether it’s a new drawing or painting they did, a craft they made, or a video they’re watching, they want you to be included and involved in their activities.
One of the worst things parents often do, without really even thinking about it, is to ignore something their son or daughter is trying to show them. Don’t do that. It may not be “important” to you but it’s important to them. And they are important to you. So if you don’t want to hurt their feelings, take the time to show interest in whatever it is they’re trying to show you. In the long run this will increase their self-esteem and strengthen your bond with your children.
Feed your children actual meals
We all live busy lives and occasionally pick up food from a fast food drive-thru, order something for home delivery, or prepare a meal in the microwave. Being short on time happens to every parent, but it must not be an excuse for repeatedly missing solid meals.
Take the time to go grocery shopping and to plan out cooked meals. Ensure your home is stocked with sufficient amounts of good foods like quality protein, complex carbs, grains, and lots of vegetables and fruits, all of which are important for growing bodies.
For athletic or otherwise physically active children, they need to consume enough high-quality calories to maintain their energy and feed their muscle growth. For less-active children, it is important to monitor junk food and soft drink consumption and keep plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable options around so they can maintain their health.
This goes back to being a role model. If we want our children to grow up healthy and strong, we should objectively analyze how well we are treating our own bodies.
Manage your temper
Trying to manage all of the above responsibilities, while also working to earn an income, can lead to frustration. All too often we vent our frustrations at those closest to us. This usually means our own beloved family members.
Ironically, adults will hold our tongues and keep our words to ourselves all day at our jobs, but then come home and take out our pent-up feelings on our children. Remember, your experiences at work have nothing to do with your children. You shouldn’t treat your children as your free therapists. In fact, children are possibly just as tired after school as we are from work.
If you find that certain things cause you to lose your temper, pay attention to those feelings and what could be causing them. Maybe it is something as simple as having too much caffeine, an especially frustrating commute home, or a disagreement with someone else in your life. Whatever the case, if you feel anxious or upset, recognize this fact and do not let your hormones control how you behave around your children. By the same token, if they are experiencing a difficult time, be understanding and take a timeout, if needed.
Be positive about the other parent
As any wise parent will tell you, whatever issues lie between you and your ex should be kept separate from your children to the greatest possible extent. If the other parent is still a part of their lives, do your best to keep things smooth and hassle-free between you and that person, even if it means occasionally making concessions, as long as they’re in the best interests of the children.
Alas, sometimes that could be a point of contention, and there won’t always be agreement about what’s “best for the children.” But don’t let animosity cloud your judgement. Whatever the relationship with the other parent, keep in mind that the welfare of the children takes precedence over your disputes.
In cases where the other parent is no longer around (if they have passed on, or perhaps moved away and don’t remain in contact with the children), depending on the circumstances they may still exist in the memories of the children. Much would depend on the ages of the children at the time the other parent departed from their lives. It’s important for them to have positive memories of that person, if at all possible.
Being a single father is not an easy job, but it will make your life easier if you put extra effort into raising your kids properly. Taking shortcuts and easy routes will only lead to a build-up of problems, which in the long run will cause you and your children a lot more hassle than doing things right from the beginning. So whenever you feel a bit tired, mad, or depressed, just keep your focus on the happiness and well-being of your own children. If you do that, it’ll help guide you to make the best decisions, each time.