Tags: In This Issue, Parenting
The 2011 U. S. Census counted 1.7 million single fathers in America. Despite that high number, only 15% of single custodial parents are dads. Parenting in general has its daily ups and downs, and men who are recently single and caring for kids often face additional challenges adjusting to their new situation.
Fortunately for single father Bill O'Patterson, spending a great deal of individual time with his children before his divorce was something he was accustomed to. After work many weekdays during his decade of marriage, Bill would take over the dinner and bedtime routine while his then-wife worked nights. This routine helped prepare him for being a single father with 50% custody of his children, who are now eight and ten.
Still though, after his divorce, Bill quickly learned that co-parenting with an ex isn't easy. While Bill may have had a jump on many single dads who are abruptly thrown into primary caregiving after years of taking a parental back seat to mom, he admits that it can still be difficult at times. "It's just with the whole co-parenting thing, you have to interact with your ex in such a way that minimizes the old blood." Although this is difficult he says, "It's good for the kids to see that there's still that communication and respect going on. Overall I feel like my ex and I have done a good job accommodating the kids, and whatever's in their best interest."
Advice from the trenches
Bill currently helps other single dads through a class called Single and Parenting at his local church. Finding a support group is important, he says. Such opportunities are "a good first step of getting some single parents together and talking through issues."
When it comes to dealing with an ex-spouse on co-parenting issues, Bill's main advice is to be flexible. "When I first went through divorce, in the first few months of exchanging [days] I kind of nitpicked on little things [with my ex-wife]," says Bill. But now, "The big picture is on the kids. That they're happy."
Part of keeping kids happy and healthy is consistency, according to both Bill and the National Association of School Psychologist's guide to parenting children through divorce. Children who experience consistent boundaries between mom's house and dad's house are more likely to be well-adjusted, the NASP guide says. While this is difficult to practice, Bill advises co-parenting single dads to carry the same rules and consequences from one home to the other.
On the same note, however, Bill says that dads have to remember that they "can't really control or manage anything that's outside of [their] house." Instead of worrying about what goes on at mom's, he says to "be the best parent you can be to your kids in your own home."
Bill's suggestions line up with recent studies cited on fatherhood.gov showing that involved fathers – custodial or not – raise healthier, happier and better-educated kids. "Just be involved," he says. "Put away your cell phone. Put away your laptop. When it's your time with the kids, really invest in that."
Resources for single dads
Single & Parenting
Several of these church-based courses are currently operating in Indy. Check out www.singleandparenting.org for more information.
An online community of dads share their knowledge and experience on better parenting practices, dating, fitness, recipes and more. Visit www.singledad.com
"Because Dads don't always think like Moms" says this site. Click on www.greatdad.com for a wealth of resources devoted to being a father.