My dear friend M was visiting this past weekend. We were celebrating my son’s High School Graduation and the room was filled with friends and family: those near and far, dear loved ones and acquaintances, teachers, coaches, classmates, family friends. All sorts of people I had surrounded my family with as I raised my children these past many years. M was here - other than family, he and I have known each other the longest. We spent hours working together in college and have happily remained friends on and off for years. He was also the first friend who got divorced out of my peers. He had a six-month-old at the time and raised her every other weekend like most divorced and single dads. He also inspired and showed me how it was done!
When I was around M as a single father, I was struck by his focused, directed attention, his constant surveillance of this beautiful child and his willingness to guide her into a responsible, creative, soul. He nurtured her imagination and directed her mind. He marveled at her talent and drive. (She takes after her dad!) And he picked a terrific step-mom and step-sister to add to her life experience. In all, he clearly was an inspiration not only to me but to the many lives he touches day in and day out as a leader in his professional and personal world.
I mention this because M became my standard for how it is to be done. For most of us, we marvel at how single dads do it. We think they don’t have a clue. There’s often stigma in being divorced with a baby. We worry they’ll be in over their heads. (News Flash: there’s no stigma in my world for men raising families - I personally know several male-only couples with kids) Yet, there’s often a big misunderstanding that dads can’t take on running a home. So Why does everyone give parenting advice to a single dad? What’s going on with that kind of thinking?
Like so much else these days, I think we’re living through a two steps forward, one step back kind of environment. Our politics, values and cultural discourse is being re-evaluated. In many ways, it feels as if some are trying to reverse the world about 40 years while the rest of us are marching forward to new ideas, values, and marketplace realities. What makes us think that a single Dad would be left out of this conversation?
Sometimes, I mistakenly think it’s just women giving the advice, but the older I get, the more I hear men give me parenting advice for my teens. I’m amazed at their outspokenness and their unembarrassed confidence at knowing exactly what to do. I know guys who have put their kids first and stayed single completely focused, due to death or divorce, on their parenting. They’ve chosen to parent first so they can concentrate on raising their kids with their own family values. I am constantly reminded, that by and large, things have totally shifted and moms are no longer the only ones who own the domain for raising kids!
The way to deal with unwanted parenting advice, as a single Dad, is to focus more your self-confidence than on anyone else's opinions. You really do know what you’re doing and how to do it. And they don’t. They don’t know your child, your home, your values and your routines. You’ve been raised in a world where men are involved with parenting and you have probably lived on your own for a period of time. You’ve got this!
So instead of getting all upset about any unwanted parenting advice, try to figure out why you’re getting the advice instead of who is saying it and what they’re saying. In other words, if a woman is giving you, a single Dad, parenting advice, my guess is that she’s really flirting with you - no matter what her age. She may be misinformed on how to get a guy’s attention because pecking a man into order never turns him on, but she may still be trying to get him to notice her! So, enjoy the attention and thank her for seeing what you're up to!
From there, it’s up to you as to how much you’re going to take her advice to heart. I mean, just because she may have an idea of how to raise a kid, she doesn’t know you. You also don’t owe anyone other than your ex and your child, anything. So those people on the street or in the school hallways, are only owed common courtesy. If there’s nothing of value being added to your life, simply exit the conversation as quickly and kindly as possible.
Sometimes a single Dad gets unwanted parenting advice from a Pediatrician or a school teacher and that’s where you may find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard spot. So often, doctors and teachers focus primarily on children in divorce (understandably because you’re paying them to take care of your kids and their focus is on helping you raise them after all) but too often for many divorcing parents I work with, that advice ignores the pain parents are suffering! So the rock might be, you know what to do and the hard place may be that they assume wrongly that you caused the divorce or wanted out or don’t know how to take care of a small person.
How do you tell a doctor or a teacher that you’re aware of what’s going on? Easy. You take the time to get to know them. You call them and run your ideas by them. You volunteer in the classroom. You go to the doctor appointments with your child. You volunteer on the baseball field. Investing some personal one-on-one time with those hired to help raise your kids will pay off in the end because they’ll learn to respect and understand you more. Too many assumptions run the opinions of some professionals and it’s up to you to demystify who you are!
What do you do though when that advice ignores your pain and suffering? You have a right to be upset with their ignorance, but there’s unfortunately, no place for you to stand up for yourself. This is tough! People always assume a single Dad is doing great - guys seemingly date more easily after divorce, they often have less time with their children, they appear to have their work routines less affected by separation. All of which is an enormous generality! Too many single dads are not doing great with divorce! They’re lonely, confused, a bit lost and missing their kids terribly when they're not with them!
This is where the parenting advice for single Dads seems one-sided. My advice always includes both parents’ well-being! If a parent isn’t doing well, how can anyone assume a child is doing well? That’s the ignorance of most people standing on the outside of your divorce. They simply don’t understand what’s going on in your heart and your mind. They don’t understand how much pain you’re in. They can’t quite grasp how much you miss your kids and their nighttime routine! They don’t get how uncomfortable dating is and how much you struggle with setting up your new home. And this is the moment that you’re the one who has to step into leadership because other people just don’t get it!
Leadership looks like thanking them for their concern and getting out from under their limited beliefs! This means changing the subject, looking for safe zones, grabbing those sports stats and shifting toward politics, music, economics and anything other than parenting advice. Because other people, men, and women outside of your personal experience, do not get what’s really going on. They are filled with huge assumptions looking for a way to peck you into order and in the process, making themselves feel especially good about their own lives. Gross. Total ignorance!
Leadership looks like keeping safe lines of communication with those you know well. Revealing your pain only to those you trust (and that’s not always the friend you once knew!) Keeping your family as close as you can (again, not everyone will be on your side). Finding yourself a place that’s only yours - like with a coach, a group or a therapist - so you can process and regroup. Keeping your kids’ teachers at a safe distance, meeting those extra-curricular coaches and tutors, leaning into those your gut tells you to believe and staying on guard! By this time you realize not everyone has your best interest in mind!
Over the years as I watched M raise his little girl, there was nothing left for me to say! I could listen in, bounce his ideas back to him, keep an eye on how that little girl was doing, but who was I to tell him how to raise a kid? Never mind, how to parent one I barely knew?
I witnessed an incredible single Dad! That diaper bag was always ready at his elbow, her hand was firmly in his as she explored the venues he was working in, a babysitter was nearby when he had her on his parenting weekends, he kept up to date on her high school projects, her college explorations in sight and her trust in her dad, firmly earned and respected. Here was a single Dad who knew what to do, how to do it and who had enough faith in himself to show others the way! Leadership in action.
I firmly believe that every single Dad has the capacity to show up for his kids. I have had the privilege of watching men raise kids in healthy and happy environments. I know that the old sexist vision that “mom knows best” isn’t always right. Which isn’t to say that moms can’t do it, just that single Dads are doing it just as well many of the time these days! And the times are changing. I do not believe that we’re going backward when it comes to single Dads and divorce and the raising of kids. We are marching in a different direction and single Dads are inspiring us every step of the way!
If this is your lot in life right now, and you’re a little unsure of yourself and your new role, reach out. Sign up for my Scarlet D™ Letters and get to know my thoughts. I totally believe in you!