What’s it really like as a single parent / single dad?

single parent survey from student ohio universityI received an email survey from a college student at Ohio University asking about life as a single parent and, more specifically, as a single father. Instead of just answering it back in email, I thought it would be fun and interesting to turn it onto – ta daaa! – a blog post. So here we are. If you’re a single parent, I invite you to answer the questions in a comment below too so we can compare notes!

Hi! I am currently enrolled in a community journalism class at Ohio University and am doing a project covering a non-geographical community. I chose single parents. I was wondering if you had a couple minutes to answer a few questions if possible and any other additional comments you want to add… 

1. What is the most difficult thing in your opinion about being a single parent?

I’ve had many years to figure out the complicated world of single parenting and fortunately most of the chaos has eased off by this point: my oldest two are in college and my youngest is in high school. Still, the hardest part is that there’s just one of you, so if one child needs help with homework while another is acting up and dinner has yet to be cooked, well, there were many times a clone would have been darn useful. That’s also true with transportation: in the old days we all just socialized with kids on our street and in the neighborhood so “going to Susie’s house” involved walking or a short bike ride. Now it’s all about driving them around and that can get quite daunting, particular if they’re involved in clubs or sports.

There’s also no emotional support for parental challenges, which is a sort of slow-burn in the background for single parents. No commiseration and often quite the opposite: an ex who you just know will criticize your handling of a situation regardless of what decision you make. That can be incredibly difficult when it’s stressful. Sometimes all you need is someone to say “well done ” and give you a hug. Single parents don’t tend to get that sort of feedback much at all.

disneyland night with children

Us single fathers who are committed to our children and an active part of their daily lives have it even more tough because institutions generally see the mother as “the real parent” and us guys aren’t as good at being emotionally supportive of each other too. Have a tough day as a single dad? You ain’t gettin’ any positive feedback or support, chum, so suck it up. That gets old after a while, as you might expect.

2. What do you think is the most common stereotype you face that is not true?

That men can’t be good fathers and supportive and loving parents. I recall one time in kindergarten when the assignment was to make thank you drawings for mommy. Not thank you drawings for parents, for mom. So my daughter did just that, even though I dropped her off and picked her up after school that day. That gets old pretty fast, as you might imagine.

(if you’re curious, I had a long talk with the head of school after that incident and they promised to “be more open minded”)

3. Did you ever imagine that you would be a single parent?

Nope. Not a big fan, really, and I can see the cost on my children over the years. But sometimes the person who seems like a great life partner at one point in your life turns out to be, well, not quite that years later. Add the stress and challenges of parenting and it can be quite an alarming change! 🙂

4. Why do you believe there is more media covering single moms versus single dads?

There are more single moms who are actively involved with their children’s daily lives, and while women often find their identity through motherhood, it’s much more common for men to find their identity through their professional pursuits. So a man will proudly tell you that he’s an engineer or manager or cop, but a woman will lead with her role as parent. That’s then reflected in media coverage. Plus, most media – including TV series and advertising writers – are lazy and so the common tropes of super-mom who does it all by herself and looks good in the process and the incompetent father who can barely change a diaper, let alone help their children with homework or counsel about dating.

I hope that helps out this particular student and as I said earlier, I invite you, dear reader, to add your two cents too!

One comment on “What’s it really like as a single parent / single dad?

  1. The stereotype that has most affected me and my kids is the idea that a small family without two parents in the home cannot provide the warmth and love that an intact set of parents can provide. My oldest daughter is dating a guy from a large, close family. She was a bit embarrassed to share the story of her vacation with his family with me for fear of hurting my feelings and that’s when I realised that I needed to her about it. My story to her is below:

    My daughter Virginia just returned from a wonderful week in Hilton Head where she joined her boyfriend Joe’s family: mother Emily, father John, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandpas, grandmas—you get the picture. This is a big, family that gets together on multiple occasions every year.

    The couple of times I’ve been invited over to Emily and John’s we’ve had a wonderful time. Warm welcomes and hugs are exchanged, desserts in hand are added to the burgeoning potluck table. Wine is poured, cheese, olives and salami are nibbled on as everyone sits in the living room and catches up. Then dinner begins. The dining room table is set with a linen table cloth and everyone finds their spot, with Emily at the head of the table and John nearby. We troop through the kitchen cafeteria style, placing heaps of delicious food on our plates, and returning to the table. Kind comments punctuate lively banter. With a twinge of embarrassment, I hear a new acquaintance murmuring about how nice she thinks I am. It is evident that all of the 20-something-aged children present are adored, including my Virginia, who has now clearly become, our Virginia.

    Stories begin to flow and inevitably lead to stirring conclusions about love, fondness, the old days, family. Emily is a supreme hostess: voluble, witty, warm and engaging. There is not a dry eye once she’s finished her tribute to her father’s second wife, an old family friend he started dating a year after his wife of many years, Emily’s mother, passed away. She sits next to Emily and says that what she gained in her marriage to Emily’s father, who has been gone now a few years, is the love of an entire family and a feeling of belonging. Her eyes glisten. She is touched by Emily’s story telling.

    This evening wraps me in warmth. Though new to the room, I am not a stranger but a part of the goodness of this group of family and friends. As sunlight, water and good earth strengthens plants, the feeling of love and belonging is palpable. I become a witness in the touchstone of sincere hospitality, love and humor and I feel the power of its good.

    So when Virginia recounts her vacation with Joe’s family, she begins with an apology to me about how different, in a good way, that Joe’s family is. Me, the twice-divorced mama who served up many a Thanksgiving meal with just Virginia and her little sister Marie and myself in a small home in Harper Woods, Michigan, looking up and realizing what we all crave: the taste of turkey served alongside a large crowd of family and friends. I remember the sweet awkwardness of those birthday parties with just the three of us singing happy birthday and a daughter blowing out the candles to two cheers. Real love, without a big family feel.

    So I say to Virginia on FaceTime that it’s okay, I get it. Of course she loves being with Joe and his family. So do I. And it IS different than our family. There are families that set an example for the rest of us to follow and the Myers family is one.

    Virginia, I am very happy that you recognize and admire the love that lives in their family. No need to apologize, you grew up in a small family, raised in Michigan, far from the mother ship in Colorado. No less loving, though more reserved. It is important to recognize and be grateful for this model of family virtue and to see just how human beings can love and support each other in a large, vibrant family and to be thankful that you are among friends and a part of it all.

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