After divorce, John McElhenney worried he might fail as a single father and wondered if he was enough for his kids. Now he’s found they’re enough for him.
When men think about single parenting after divorce, we often worry about not having any help or backup and wonder, as I did at first, if we can give our kids enough. So much emphasis is put on the benefits of the two-parent home that becoming a single father makes us feel somehow less than whole. We wonder if bringing a new woman in would improve things for our kids, or if it would make the situation worse. And we often struggle to balance our work and parenting responsibilities. While parenting alone can be nerve-wracking, I’ve discovered a number of solid benefits to spending solo time with your kids. These pluses not only reassured me, as they should all single fathers, that I was more than adequate for my children, but also serve to remind married fathers of the importance of spending time with their kids without their partner present.
Here are seven things I believe every single dad needs to know about parenting.
- While time with your kids is limited, the time you do get is more intentional, and you enjoy it to the max.
- When you are the ON parent, you experience your children more fully, because every item of their lives, every request they have, comes to you.
- You are always excited to see your kids and miraculously never too tired to engage with them, and they’re excited to see you, too.
- Knowing that it’s all on you to get things right means … you do a better job of getting things right.
- You have full authority and don’t have to negotiate any of your parenting decisions.
- You can create the mood and type of environment (positive, supportive) you’ve always wanted for your kids
- When you are the OFF parent, you think of things you want to share with your kids (absence makes the heart grow focused)
Oddly enough, some aspects of parenting become easier and clearer after divorce. Two heads are not, as they saying goes, always better than one. One thing is for sure: quality time improves dramatically. On my kid nights and weekends, I let everything else drop from my life. My connection with my children and their need for attention from me are my only priority. This hyper-focus on my kids makes it harder to pursue a serious new relationship after divorce but also easier, in a way, to go without one. I’d like to have a new partner, but I’m not willing to trade off any of my precious parenting my time with my son and daughter.
So while my kids are with me, like this weekend, I thrive on doing the errands and chores of their daily lives. When I was married, it was often a negotiation. “You take them to Michael’s for their school project stuff, while I make dinner.” When you don’t have another parent to deal with, things get simpler. You kids need something, you provide it.
I find that this direct approach to parenting gives me additional motivation to do it right. Even as I am driving my daughter one place for a movie, and one hour later, taking my son for lunch and browsing possible birthday presents for him (build-your-own-computer), I am aware of how lucky I am to have them with me and the importance of doing my most important job—raising them.
I don’t resent or complain (internally) about a single thing. Sure, I razz my daughter about the songs she selects on the radio as we’re driving around (Um … Iggy, no!) but she knows our connection is solid. And she also knows that if she needs something (not just wants it—like a new Lululemon top), I will get it.
I also put a priority on harmony, and my kids and I have learned how to get along better with each other. Sometimes as a threesome we have a hard time deciding where to go for dinner, or what I should cook, or who gets to sit in the front seat of the car. But we work through these things in a healthy way, and the general mode of life with dad is positive and happy. My happiness to be with my kids on the days and nights I am afforded—and theirs to be with me—leaves little room for complaints or nagging from any of us.
Even the downsides have their upsides. This afternoon, I’ve heard the same CD three times over today as I’ve been shuffling my kids back and forth. And I’ve still got one last trip to go. But I’ve learned that enthusiasm is a great antidote to frustration. As a result, I am a happy single dad. At some point, I might be a happy dad-in-a-relationship as well, but for now, my kids are enough for me.
back to Positive Divorce
- Upward and Onward After Splitting Up
- I’m Proud of You: The Dance of Fathers and Their Sons
- Dad’s Hand On My Head, Forever
- The Ballet of Waking Up as a Single Parent
- Dad In Love a Happy Story
image: drive, kyle may, creative commons usage