This Father’s Day, we’re sharing Steve’s reflections on his challenges as a single dad.
Ten years ago my son was four and my daughter seven. How did I succeed in raising my children over this period? I could write you a book but here’s my summary. Ready?
First, being male, I cried rivers every day over the loss of my partner of twenty years. Eventually, I realised that this meant change. So I did all the manly stuff like rip out the old carpets and repaint walls in cheery colours.
Secondly, I bought 123Magic by Thomas W. Phelan and taught my children the way I was going to talk to them. So simple. Bliss! That’s behaviour sorted.
Thirdly, don’t take life so seriously. “Lighten up” (as Scarecrow says to Batman). Be silly every day and have millions of hugs.
Fourthly, don’t rely too much on devices or TV. Instead buy books and games. Listen to music and have a dance. Explore the library. Have a laugh playing charades. Make things out of rubbish (bottle spaceships!) Life will be fun and activities make a happy close-knit family.
Fifthly, share your woes on the Gingerbread Forum – usually advice is available. Or, like me, start a local group. It was fun and kept me motivated. The bottom line is: do something rather than sink alone in the pit of woe.
Next, very important insights for a male single parent with young children.
First, think carefully who you tell. Some of the support I was offered consisted of: ‘OMG, no mother! You can’t cope, you’re a man! Where are the female relatives to help? Let me arrange a foster parent NOW!’ (a solicitor on the Gingerbread forum called this illegal fostering and advised me to have no part in it – not that I would ever have considered it.)
Secondly, a professional is always correct. In the best interests of the child of course – but some people seem to suspect that the single father is an ogre. ‘We think your son has concussion’ – ‘Actually no, that’s just a flushed face and a heavy cold!’ Even after extensive medical tests revealed nothing amiss, some people still maintained the fiction.
Third, Dad is not necessarily seen as the father:
Dentist: ‘Who are you? Where is the mother?’
Hospital ‘Are you the father?’ and (to my son) ‘Do you know this man?’
(This was not helped by me being white and my son being of dual heritage)
Now, how to survive and avoid digging one’s own grave.
First, I once read a book showing sanity was rare, so assume that once people know you are a single dad their behaviour will be weird: ignore him – he’s murdered his wife/is neglectful/has bubonic plague etc. Simply smile at the harsh stares, clean the windows regularly and wipe the dog poo off the door (ok that’s just me).
Secondly, draw up a budget of daily expenses. Ditch booze, fags and chocolates – because shoes are hellishly expensive. Stick to a set weekly amount (mine was £100) and put the children to work for money. For example I paid 50p for room cleaning.
Thirdly, install a smart-meter. Once you see the cost of an oven, it’s not used. These days I don’t use the cooker at all. I use a small multi-cooker instead. Neither do I use the hot water tap, a kettle full at 7p is cheaper. The largest expense is the heating but not used while the children are at school, I wear a coat and gloves indoors in my work area. With the meter I now budget for energy costs of £40 a month or £80 in the winter, but I pay more in the summer to build up credit for the winter!
Fourth, remember: male single parents are expected to work full time and if they don’t due to child commitments may be regarded as scroungers and malingerers. You are meant to rely on childcare, older relatives, or just pop your darlings into foster care/home for that special attention from drug gangs. None of these three any good? You’re lying again, aren’t you?
Fifth, chivalry. Commitment to our children is non-negotiable. We men are the nurturers, the defenders, the fun, the tireless source of endless love, the motivators. Omnipresent. Dependable. Anything less is digging your own grave. Read Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys (and also Raising Girls) in which he rightly suggests a man must fight to be the Father. Sadly, very true I have found.
And sixth, COVID. I coped with this with the help of text books sent by the junior and secondary schools. I also learned just how great my children were at cooking. My son at 14 now cooks our meals every evening! We also valued exercise and these days all of us are super fit. The key is not to get uptight about life’s disasters.
In conclusion: after ten years of single parenting, I have succeeded in raising fantastic children – motivated, hard-working, stable, happy, and at 14 and 17 still extremely cuddly. Me? Lonely, more so when they have left the nest. But this old house, park, woods and rivers will always echo to fond memories and old ghosts of us having great fun. You can do it! Never give up!