There’s a sense in our culture that if someone’s going it alone as a parent without the other partner involved at all, it’s the Mom and the Dad just split or was pushed away. And the reality is that’s true in far too many cases. According to that unimpeachable source Wikipedia, there are 13.6 million single parents in the United States [see also the graph below, from The Atlantic], 80% of them are mothers, and 45% of those single mothers are currently divorced or separated, 34% never having been married and 1.7% are widowed. Flip the equation around and that means that there are 2.7 million fathers raising one or more children alone in the nation.
That’s just the math. Surprised by the number? If we relied on the media, we’d conclude that there were maybe 20-30 single fathers raising children in the entire country and they’re probably all struggling or failing completely. But no, that’s not the reality. In fact, that it’s so rarely discussed suggests that those millions of single dads are doing just as well as the single moms, with some doing poorly but most struggling and making it.
And yet, single fathers have all the same stresses, strains and tensions that single mothers do, with the added layer of being questioned about your competence simply because you aren’t female. It’s no surprise to me that I get emails from other single fathers who find my site and realize that we’re brothers in arms, even if I’m blessed to have an ex who is still quite involved and shares joint custody.
Like this letter I received a few nights ago, from a guy who basically has full custody. Mom shows up every so often, and then she gets to be what’s known as a “Disney Dad”, as he explains:
I struggle on some days. Sometimes for months I struggle with stress, money, emotions, being the mom and dad while the mom just gets to be mom every other weekend. She’s the “good guy”. I feel that every friend and family member I have does not understand my struggle. I don’t miss my ex one bit, I miss the role she used to have within the family.
He goes on to share an experience all single parents have, the challenge of being everything, all in one package:
I have several jobs: I’m a doctor, a psychiatrist, a provider, a taxi driver, an inspector, disciplinarian, cook, police, judge and jury every single day. I feel that my actual salaried job overwhelms me with responsibility and I lack the ambition that I used to have. I don’t know the point of what I’m writing but it’s been 4 1/2 years of this. I have three girls and if I didn’t love them so much it would be easy but I get weak and depressed. My friends are married, parents aren’t involved and my ex is unemployed and busy raising someone else’s kid. She’s paid no child support in over three years too. Got any suggestions on how to improve things or improve my outlook on what I’m doing?
Hard to know how to respond. Parenting is incredibly draining, without having three children, financial anxiety and a major dose of sheer exhaustion. But sometimes a “yeah, it’s tough, brutha” is all a guy needs, so here’s what I did write to him:
Hey amigo! I wish I had some great insight and the winning lottery numbers, but fact is, parenting is a long road. Hopefully your kids are becoming a bit more self-sufficient, particularly the oldest? It’s work, no question, and it’s always a moving target.
I just try to stay optimistic, socialize with friends to retain my sanity (your teen is plenty old enough to supervise a pizza + movie evening so you can grab a beer with a buddy) and watch the days click on past…
Hope things get better. Good luck!
What advice or insight would you share with this exhausted single father?