If you’re managing as a single dad, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. It’s certainly challenging, but there are ways to make it easier on yourself – and the kids – and slowly improve things in your household.
If your relationship has just ended, you will be feeling shell-shocked and may have been taken completely by surprise. If it’s at all possible, try and take a few days off to just get your head sorted and catch your breath. Try and get some child free time while the kids are at school or preschool so you can be angry/rage/cry or recover from the latest panic attack without an audience. Then you can take a deep breath and get ready for the kids to arrive home and face your new life together.
Probably the first few steps to take in your new life would be:
- Manage your anger – there’s a lot of disappointment and anger at the moment. Remember that the relationship break-down is between you and your partner, and while you may be feeling sad and angry, you don’t need to drag the kids into the battle.
- Honesty – be honest with your kids and explain the situation in an age-appropriate way. Admit to how you are feeling, and acknowledge their feelings, but remember to give them time to process the change and answer their questions.
- Behaviour – expect extra behavioural challenges from the kids as they adjust to the new family situation. Keep rules and boundaries in place, but be understanding.
- Kids need structure, and most of them like it, because they know what to expect and when to expect it.
- Consider family therapy to get you through those initial rough patches, and then you can decide if it needs to be ongoing.
- Acknowledge to your kids (and yourself!) that this is tough, you’re not alone and everyone will get through it and will be okay.
- Keep in contact with your kids’ school or preschool so they know there are family changes happening. They will be able to keep a lookout for problems at school and make sure extra supports and understanding are in place.
As a new single father, the most important things for you to do are:
- Talk about what has happened, with the kids and with your friends. Once you become more comfortable talking about it, you become more approachable by others, and ways to resolve any problems will begin to present themselves more readily.
- Reassure the kids that this was not their fault, and that there is nothing they can do to fix it (to get you back with mom).
- Get on with your life. Don’t spend too long trying to figure it out and trying to work out what went wrong – keep looking forward.
- Don’t jump into a new relationship too quickly. It can be easy to think you need someone to share your life with, but you need to focus on your family and getting you all through this. Suddenly starting a new relationship can just add extra complications and isn’t the right answer on how to cope.
If you weren’t the one managing the household tasks, and getting the kids out of the door in the morning, you have an extra challenge in suddenly figuring out how that all works. And in getting your kids to accept that you are now the one responsible for the household tasks!
- Accept help from others for a while if that helps.
- Plan and prepare meals ahead of time. If all else fails, eating takeaways or heat-and-eat meals more regularly for a while won’t be the end of the world.
- Make sure schools and employer are aware of the problems so if everything goes really badly in the morning, you can make a quick phone call to say you will be late.
- Get the kids helping with household chores, getting ready for school, making lunches – in an age-appropriate way.
- Plan and prepare as much as you can the night before, or get up before the kids to get things organised early. Select clothes the night before, pack lunches, make sure any homework is finished and packed into bags.
If your kids are old enough to understand and follow a few basic rules, a few that relate to housework are:
- No dirty dishes in the sink, they always go in the dishwasher.
- No food or drink allowed in carpeted areas of the house.
- Don’t do anything that creates more work for other people.
- Sit down and made a list together of things that the kids like to eat and will eat. Then go to the store and buy those things. When dinners are made, it is stuff they picked out and have already agreed to eat. Make sure to cover the major food groups, and encourage a balanced diet.
- On days when there is just not enough time to make a full meal, frozen pizza or takeaways is fine.
- Go out when you just can’t do anything else.
Time for Household Tasks and Your Own Time
When do you find time to do these things? If the kids are involved in out of school activities, use opportunities when they are at classes, visiting with friends, etc. to do major things like mowing the lawn, vacuuming, etc.
Work out when you work best at extra tasks – is it better to stay up late once the kids are in bed, or go to bed earlier and get up early and do tasks before getting the kids up?
Some important things to remember during the transition to your new life:
- If this is a separation situation, forget about your wife, she has gone.
- Talk about what happened with your kids and friends. Kids need the emotional outlet and talking about it helps heal the hurt.
- Keep the house under control as much as possible – it’s easier to cope if household tasks are controlled and the house is clean(ish!) and tidy so you can find things.
- Simplify as many things as you can.
- Kids like and need structure.
- The kids can pitch in in an age-appropriate way.
- Accept help from others when offered.
- You have to give up some sleep to get things done.
- Take some time off to focus on your new family structure and plan for getting things done. It’s unreasonable for anyone to expect you to continue working at the same performance level through an event like this.
- In the midst of the emotion, it is often difficult to think clearly.
Check in your neighbourhood to see if there are any support groups for single fathers. If there aren’t any local groups, search on-line for discussion groups and support resources – there are a lot of good ideas out there that you can use. You don’t have to recreate the wheel to get through this, someone else will have solved that problem before you.