Happy Father’s Day to Single Dads

It takes a village, the saying often goes; parenting was never designed to be on one person and yet, the realities of life persist. Plans change, tragedy strikes, people change or they don’t and we all ultimately make decisions. Often times parenting begins as a team, being able to relate to a shared experience and be available to support each other emotionally.  The strength of a team is built on a foundation of similar values, having each other’s backs, and progression towards the same goal.  When there is a significant shift in the relationship and values feel strained, different, or unfamiliar it can be challenging to recognize how we approach the goal on our own, without the strength of a full team. There were no practices for this. Our initial response might be filled with a wave of overwhelm; how do I manage a job where I know the work wasn’t designed to be done by one person? At times, it feels impossible.

A lot of literature discusses the impact on children when they don’t grow up in a two parent or multi parent household, but what about the impact on the single parent? How does the role of dad, for example, morph or adapt when there is no partner to lean on and spread the joys, pressures, and responsibilities of parenting with? Having a village means the load can be shared and you can more easily bring the parts of yourself that you want to your children. When you don’t have a village or are still in the process of trying to build one it can feel very lonely. Without outlets in place to share emotions, feelings, and what the experience is like for you, any heavy, troublesome or other feelings that we need to express or release can become trapped in our bodies. How we adjust to living with the remnants of feelings and energy that no longer serve us informs our behaviour or response to it. When you notice that this might be impacting your relationship with yourself, your children, and/or others you can reflect on these points below to see if anything resonates.

Here are some tips to remember or things to pay attention to as you are on your journey

  1. Notice the plate in front of you and everything you have on it. Are things overflowing off the edges? Maybe you need a bigger plate (increase the size of your village) or you need a side plate where you can save your leftovers (what can be offloaded and be done tomorrow or another time in the future?) When you try and consume everything on the plate at once you might get bloated or feel sick and in turn you become less available to yourself and your children by extension. You can also reflect by asking yourself about the size of the load you are carrying and how might you be holding it? Perhaps a shift in the weight distribution over your mind and body is needed.
    1. Your role of dad holds a great deal of value regardless of the word single in front of it. It might be interesting to establish what that title or label means for you.
    2. Your responsibilities might increase but you cannot suddenly become more than one person.
    3. Acknowledge the urge to spread yourself thin and check in to see if you feel supported enough to respond that way. In times where you do not, notice how firmly or not your feet feel connected to the ground beneath you. Similar to weight training, it might be more effective to increase weight overtime to build the strength to carry more as opposed to doing too much at once. Sometimes we can lift more but we have to stay in one spot the whole time, but when we carry less, we can move farther for longer.
  1. Notice what your responses to your children are about…them, or you or circumstance?
    1. How have the needs of your child(ren) changed, stayed the same, shifted? Behaviour is always a form of communication- your child is trying to connect with you in some way but they don’t know how or what they need and so it’s coming out the best way they can. Recognizing that the feelings that come up for you in response are about you and not about your child is something interesting to consider. What do you need to give to yourself before you can be available for your child?
    2. Be consistent with routines as much as is possible. Children thrive off of routine and clear expectations that make sense to them. This includes how they watch you respond to yourself and others and situations you are in. They watch to learn how to respond to others, similar situations, and how to treat themselves.
  1. Impact of financial strain
    1. The pressures of financial change and instability have the potential to be all consuming. There might be a great deal of shame in this area in particular. However, reaching out for resources on how to plan, budget, and organize money is essential. For men in particular, the stress of figuring out how to financially support people who depend on them can become so immense that it transfers to and shows up in many areas of their relationships and how they cope.
    2. Blame and shame are not very supportive friends. It’s good to be aware of when you are making any kinds of decisions when feeling these kinds of negative emotions. It might feel necessary at times though ultimately, these kinds of emotions don’t leave us feeling very good or supported. Try and leave decision making to times when you are able to steer clear of should, could, and would.
  1. Feeling alone in care giving
    1. Needing others for practical help and emotional support. It can be very difficult to reach out to others, especially if you have experienced trauma around dependable people in your life. No one is born knowing how to navigate the world and I don’t think there is any point at which you stop learning and suddenly know how to do or respond to everything. Be honest with yourself about what you don’t know and be open to hearing different approaches.
    2. Give yourself the time to learn to trust your instincts. All we can ever truly control is ourselves and our responses. When you start to worry about whether or not you made the right decision or if your reaction was reasonable, get curious about the other. For example, what was the impact on them, what are they taking away from your interaction, what do they feel, what is it like to hear you a certain tone etc.
    3. Eat vegetables- studies have shown that single fathers consume less veggies than single mothers. Eating vegetables is a form of self-respect; giving your body nourishment because that’s what it deserves and you deserve to have a body that gets what it needs to function and live well. Your kids will see this and it is this kind of behaviour modeling that fosters healthy habits.
  1. The trap of overcompensating
    1. What are your strengths? What is your most confident parenting approach or trait? You can’t be everything and it might be nice to decide to focus on the things you know and do well and find others or places that you can add to your village to provide your child with the opportunity to experience things that aren’t in your wheelhouse.
    2. Be consistent in your follow through. Consistency promotes a sense of fairness, builds rapport, and fosters respect. Say what you mean and do what you say. It is important for kids to learn about and feel disappointment and it needs to be approach with delicacy. When you don’t agree to do something you don’t want to do or have no intention of doing, you are respecting yourself and your boundaries and protecting your child from the pain of false hope.

Kids, more than anything, want to belong, be loved, and be shown up for. Being their dad provides you the opportunity to do all of those things every day and to apologize when you aren’t able. Dads are human and you will make mistakes. Mistakes are an opportunity to agree to learn from what you didn’t know yesterday and to take that into tomorrow and respond more confidently.

This blog was written by Registered Psychotherapist (Q) Samantha Hawkins. Samantha works with children, teens and adults. For more information or to book a free consultation, call us at 519.302.2300 or email reception@brantmentalhealth.com