- “Every father should remember that one day his children will follow his example instead of his advice!” – Unknown
So I have been a parent for approximately eighteen years, with the last eight years as a singe father, until I recently married last month. The role of being a parent (mother or father) is certainly not an easy one, and becoming a single-father definitely added a new set of challenges for me as well as for my children, but I am thankful for my journey and I continue to learn and appreciate the experiences I have had and will have.
As any parent knows, there is no handbook on how to become a good parent, (although there are many tools that exists now that did not years ago) and the role becomes even more difficult when you find yourself fulfilling the role alone, even if it is only 50% of the time. While most children from divorced families still end up living with their mothers the majority of the time, there are those situations where the fathers will have more time, equal time or close to it with their children, as I did.
So I would like to take a moment to share what I have learned, what I would repeat or what I would never do again or advise for other single-fathers. Like anything that requires hard work, there is no magic formula or list of ten ways to make your life better as a single-parent, but there is help and I would like to pay it forward, because I have certainly received some great support while on my journey as a dad.
My list is not necessarily in order of importance, but honestly the ones that came to my mind first. Perhaps that does mean some are more significant than others, but each have their place of priority, which will differ for each family.
- Divorcing, separating or splitting from your kid’s mother does not mean that you divorced your child – In other words don’t abandon your children because you have unresolved issues with their mother. I understand that some women can make this an almost impossible scenario, but do all that you can to keep the relationship with your child in tact. Remember the children are the real victims of divorce. They did not ask for you two to divorce nor get married in the first place, so if and when things don’t work out between you two, remind them that they matter by remaining involved in their lives on a regular basis.
- Seek for positive ways to work out any differences you have with your ex spouse and keep the children as the focal point, not your emotions – Although my ex and I could not save our marriage, we did make a conscious choice to keep our children first. This was/is a sacrifice, but it certainly provided a stable environment for our kids. It is all too easy to continue with the fighting after splitting up, but at what point do both parties become the adults in the situation and give their children a sense of stability? Too many times I have seen and heard fathers degrade their ex spouses in the presence of their children. Men, this is the worst thing you can do, and the quickest way for your child to begin to have feelings of resentment towards you! (It works both ways honestly) There will never be a “good enough” excuse that justifies this action, so steer away from it, even if the information is true. As your child matures, he or she will be able to see and form opinions on their own.
- If at all possible, remain geographically close to your children – I never wanted to be a weekend father, so from the beginning we knew we would have some form of joint custody. After our divorce, the kid’s mom and I have always lived in the same community, and although it was a part of our divorce decree to do so, I believe we both understood the importance of staying close regardless. Again, this is what it looks like to put your children first. Yes, I would prefer to live closer to my job. It would be much easier for my commute and improve my quality of life, but at the expense of sharing my life with my kids on the weekends only was not an option for me. It was important for me to see my kids during the week when real life was happening to them. I wanted to be there to pray with them at night when they went to bed, or help them solve problems that occurred at school in real-time, not wait to hear about it on the weekend.
- If and when you start to date, do not introduce them to every woman you become close to – This is a given for women, but it should apply to men as well. Some say 4-6 months, others say one year. Whatever you decide, the point is whomever they meet, you should plan for this person to be around awhile, and worthy enough for them to meet. Of course things happen, but again when we place our children first, this should work itself out to their benefit, not yours.
- If you make more money, expect to pay more and quit questioning what she does with it – I know this one may seem like the most unfair part of getting divorced when children are involved, but it is what it is, and the sooner we men can accept it, the better off things will become for us. The idea of family support or child support is to make the one that makes less to become more whole. The kid’s way of life should not be financially great with one parent and dismal with the other. (Remember, this is not what it looks like to keep your children first) So as you write-out your monthly check, payable to your ex, quit wondering what she does with the money. Whether she is purchasing the latest Nike’s, paying the rent or making ends meet, overall it is still for the benefit of your children. Even if she is doing the wrong things with the money, our trying to control it or bring into question will only create more issues. Now if your kids our wearing holey shoes and she is dressed to the nine, than that is another matter altogether.
- Never take for granted how important you are as a father – We only have so much time to shape the lives of our children, and even less when divorced. It is actually shorter than we think and we only get once chance to do it, so make it count. I will never forget the tools my father gave me as a boy. To this day they are meaningful and have helped to position me in life for the better. What gifts do you have to dispense to your children? What stories and examples are waiting to be shared with them to help them become better human beings? No one can ever take the place of a good mother, but fathers are significant and when we choose to neglect are responsibilities society suffers greatly.
I will never forget the day I moved out of the house we lived in together. I will never forget the day I moved into an apartment and started my life over. It was a very sad day for everyone. I will never wish that pain on anyone, so if you can work out your marriage, do it. If not, keep your children first by being their father, a man they can count on, trust and take pride in calling you daddy.