Working with single dads going through a breakup from the mother of their children, I find guys need to know that they’re doing a good job raising their kids on their own or co-parenting with the other parent. They worry that they won’t be able to survive being a single dad, to always be there for their kids and to have their own needs met at the same time. They worry that they “need a woman” as I’m often told on social media as if having sex will fix the problems co-parenting brings or dealing with the legal separation cause. And they need to know they’ll survive the sacrifices they’ll have to make in order to raise healthy and competent adults coming from the experience of a broken home.
In truth, I find there are a lot of single dads who are stronger, wiser, more competent than men have ever been at raising kids on their own. I’m always impressed by their focus and commitment. I’m the first to affirm they’re doing a great job. There are enormous benefits for young kids when single dads commit to them wholeheartedly and unfortunately, not enough single dads do so. When two separated parents are able to co-parent together, there’s less of a chance that the legacy and stigma of divorce be passed onto the kids involved.
The problem is that most men (and women) going through divorce force themselves to make a decision: act like teenagers and seek sex and relationships with new people or put the well-being of their kids first. On a personal level, that’s not easy; everyone thinks they can easily do both. On a societal level, there’s way too much data advocating you get on the bench while raising young people through divorce.
If that’s a price you, as a single dad, aren’t willing to make, you need to ask yourself if you have the skills and knowledge to survive raising your kids with all the demands of time, money and attention kids require while balancing the demands a new relationship will require of you? More importantly, what makes you think you can’t survive being a single dad without a woman in your life? And what’s keeping you from figuring out how to be the best single dad around?
Sex… it usually comes down to needing to have sex. (Which we all need!) But without a commitment to parenting first and enjoying oneself second, your kids are more likely to be exposed to future abandonment issues, a legacy of divorce in their own future marriages, and feelings of unworthiness stemming from your actions. Statistically, you’re more likely to go through another divorce and your kids will lose another person whom they’ve loved. It’s not a very pretty picture and one that sets you up for what I call Post Traumatic Divorce Disorder.™
This isn’t to say that you can’t have a relationship. Or that you can’t date away from your children like when they’re with the other parent. You just have to decide what’s most important: the 18 - 21 years you’ve committed to raising this small person you’ve brought into the world or your own sexual needs. What’s more important, getting along with their other parent or continuing the fight by engaging in a constant war? What’s more important, maturing up the parts of you that got wrapped up in the fight or learning how to do this marriage thing right?
Surviving being a single dad requires you step outside your own needs and perspective and take on the bigger picture.
Your children didn’t ask to be born (well, they may have on a soul level but that’s another article). They didn’t have the affair, the arguments, do the drugs or whatever else that caused the rupture and heartache between you and their mother. They’re dealing with their first divorce: they’re afraid of being abandoned by both of you and are trying desperately to win your approval while managing to stay out of the way of your anger. They’re caught up in their own grief and loss, and too often, they’ve got no way of talking to you about how they’re feeling.
That’s a lot for a little person to be dealing with and they’re counting on you to help them.
I want to address the #1 thing you must do as a single dad in order to survive (and thrive) through your divorce and raising your kids. You must change how you think about things. You must step outside of your pride and ego, and get on the bench for a period of time. You must keep your sexual needs and dating away from your children if you must date. And you must remember not to bring your dates around your children until and only if, you’re 100% committed to marriage.
Are these old-fashioned ideas? Yep. Any day of the week!
You’re the #1 male role model for the young people you’re raising. Your daughters will marry a man just like you. Your sons will become men that mirror you.
That’s what happens when you decide to become a father whether you want to admit it or not. That’s what we all do and have done to the parents who raised us. Without pressing pause and getting some training on being a single dad, you’re bound to make mistakes (News Flash: you’re going to make mistakes anyway but at least with some help, they won’t be monumental - like putting your kids through another divorce.)
So seek some competent help - a great role model, a wiser man you admire, someone who’s been where you’ve been. Slow down… your sex drive is not going to go away.
And then trust yourself. You have an innate wisdom that comes with being alive. I’ve no doubt you want to protect your kids, you want to do what’s right, you know you’re doing the best you can. And you’d never want your kids to marry someone who will hurt them. It’s time to remember who you are away from the dating, the courtship, the marriage, and the fight. Give yourself some time to heal and to rebuild your life before you spread yourself too thin. Stay connected to what’s really important to you.
How you live your life is the legacy you will leave your kids. They will mirror and model what you do. They will most likely date someone just like you and their other parent. They will watch and follow your lead. Then, of course, they’ll rebel for a bit until they return to what they know. We’ve all done that until we stop and think and learn, and mature up the parts of ourselves that need help.
I believe you’re capable of surviving and thriving as a single dad. I know that you do not have to carry the pain and stigma of being divorced into your future. You don’t have to leave that legacy for your kids either. It just requires you commit to learning a different way - not a harder or longer path but the shortest way through healing from your divorce. This is rare stuff what I’m offering. And it simply requires you open your mind and ask how to do a better job raising your kids on your own or co-parenting with the mother of their children before bringing in another person and repeating the pattern all over again.
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach at laurabonarrigo.com. Laura's a writer, public speaker and the founder of doingDivorce School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com and laurabonarrigo.com.