A built-in disadvantage: the challenges of single fatherhood

It’s never easy being a single parent. For single fathers, it’s especially difficult because society typically associates parenting with mothers as more nurturing and caring. It’s a persistent stigma and untrue, but it’s part of the challenge that men face trying to raise children without a partner. Consequently, dads win custody battles less frequently and are apt to be regarded with suspicion, a regrettable outcome of an increased social awareness of sexual abuse. Yet to saddle single fathers with assumptions about their parenting abilities and motivations is to overlook the fact that single fathers are highly successful parents, just as capable as women of expressing a caring and attentive nature. 

Mental health

There is a high rate of mental health issues associated with single parenthood. While there are more single mothers, recent studies have shown that single fathers struggle with mental health issues at the same rate as single moms. The hectic lives that single fathers lead can make it difficult to address such problems, and there’s the age-old male tendency to just ignore health issues. Mental health experts note, “The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing.”

Seeking help

Single dads are half as likely as single mothers to seek help from a counselor or other mental health worker. Much of the stress and mental anguish men face as single parents comes from a lack of income. A sizable proportion of single-father families are impoverished, with nearly half of them getting by on incomes that are less than 50 percent of the poverty line. Most custodial fathers are not married, which reduces earning potential and makes it difficult to actively seek better job opportunities. 

Impact on children

With just one parent on hand, there often isn’t enough help available to take care of everyday household duties, which means children are frequently pressed into service just to keep things running. It also means they don’t have as much time to be kids, to hang out with their friends, play sports or enjoy video games. Having to take on grown-up responsibilities at an early age can take an emotional toll on children, who may suffer from increased rates of depression as a result. Confusion may ensue over the child’s level of authority in the household; if he or she is accustomed to having adult responsibilities at home, confrontations with teachers and other adults may occur. One of the most troubling issues children face is feeling conflicted about their parents’ separation, and a perceived need to give their loyalty to one parent or the other.  

Taking control of the situation

Alone and not knowing what to do about such problems, single fathers may become desperate and feel like there’s no hope. Those who battle substance abuse problems or drug addiction are at a major disadvantage. It’s important to begin taking control of your situation. The first step is to take care of yourself. Seek counseling for any destructive habits, and make good decisions about diet (there are plenty of helpful resources online). Try to get some exercise, even if it’s just taking a daily walk around the block. Better yet, get your kids involved in a physical group activity like tossing a football, or walking the dog together. 

Being an effective parent begins with mindful self-care. You deserve a happy and healthy life, and so do your kids. You can lead the way by setting a good example with healthy and wholesome personal habits.

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