Being a single dad puts you in a special minority. A minority you are happy to be in. But the reality is, it’s not easy. There’s plenty of single mums out there that will tell you what it’s like having to raise a child by yourself. Here’s my view. And it’s not all good.
In the UK single dads account for just 10% of single parents. A figure that hasn’t changed in 10 years. I know I’m very, very, lucky to be in that minority. I wouldn’t change that for anything and I’m thankful for that. It’s what gives me purpose.
That said, I am writing this post about the realities of being in such a situation. Well, my reality. This isn’t going to be sugar-coated. It’s not all pretty. And you’ll probably end up thinking I’m a selfish git. You’re obviously entitled to your opinion.
For the record there are people who would say they are single dads when they are actually co-parents. They have their child or children at certain times of the week. And they have some days to themselves. I’m not one of those dads. My boy is my responsibility 24/7.
Of course, his mum calls around almost daily for an hour or so to spend time with our son. And she calls on most Saturdays or Sundays so I can spend time at my self-defence class or do some writing. When I’m out, she might iron some laundry I have yet to do, or clean some floors. When it comes down to it, I practically do everything. Her help is minimal at best.
I’ve written before about the mess I was in just after, and for the months following, our separation. It wasn’t pretty.
I’d like to say that now, 1 year and a few months later, everything is much better. I’d like to say I’m in a place where I have gained more mental and emotional stability. I’d like to say that. But it wouldn’t be completely true.
Yes, there have been a lot of positive changes. Yes, in general, I’m more together now than I have been. Yes, I feel like I’ve got direction in my life again. I mostly feel positive and hopeful.
The reality is however, there are still days where I’m struggling to cope. There are days when I feel like breaking down. Where I feel so overwhelmed. Some problems still have not been resolved. And some new ones have appeared as well.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”Cayla Mills
So what’s happening right now?
The reason I am starting with this one is because it’s happening at this moment. Both my boy and I are sick. We are both running a high temperature, have sore heads and sore limbs. We feel like crap.
As a result of this we are both off. He’s off school and I am off work. For the 2nd time in 2 weeks. Last week we were off because he had a little breakdown. One that pops up now and then when he’s missing his mum. It’s an ongoing thing we are still working on.
Whilst my employer and his school have been very understanding. That understanding has its limits. I’ve had meetings with an Educational Welfare Officer, the school Principal, and his teacher. I have previously had a warning from my work.
The difficulty with being the sole full-time parent is that when my boy is off I have to be off too. Today, I’ve been lucky that we were both sick. I don’t have the luxury of being sick myself. I have to save my sick days for when he is off. When it is just myself that is ill there is no choice but to go to work.
As a single parent there is also the added responsibilty that means you just can’t curl up into a ball and lie down. There is no one to take care of you. You have to do that for yourself and your child. Duties call no matter what. They don’t care how you are feeling.
Social Life Problems
This is simple really. When you have to do everything by yourself and work. You have no social life.
That one self-defence class is it. And that doesn’t get to happen every week. Since the separation there was 1 day I got to drive to my parents house for a few hours and 1 night out I had with friends. That night out my boy refused to go to bed until I came home.
Having a social life is another luxury I cannot afford. This leads nicely onto the next point…
Intimate relationships fit right in with the social life. They are non-existant. And they are going to be for a very long time.
Obviously things aren’t as simple and straightforward as they are when you are single and childless. There are a lot more issues to consider.
The main problem is that it just wouldn’t be fair of me to have a relationship with someone. A relationship has to be given a lot of attention. That person has to feel special and important, and rightly so.
The reality is, that person is always going to come second to my son. I will never choose anyone over him or his needs. It’s just not going to happen. That person will never be as important to me as my son is. I will never place their, or my, needs over his. That sort’ve kills any relationship even before it has begun.
Of course, this assumes that I would have any time to have some sort of personal life.
Relationships In General (Family and Friends)
Again this comes down to time. For me, at the moment, any social activity fits into that ‘luxury’ category. I have a finite amount of time to do anything for myself. Be that exercise, this blog, a life coaching course. Spending a hour or two talking to friends or family (who live 100 miles away), either in real life or online, is an hour or two out of the time I could be using to make our lives better. The occasions where I take time for myself I feel so guilty about it.
At the same time, if anyone asked me for help or needed to talk about something I am always here. That I can justify. That is also important to me. But if it’s just talk for talks sake. I just don’t have the time. My only hope is that the friends I do have can understand that.
Lately, in order to try and improve myself and my chances for a better future, I’ve found myself withdrawing from any social interactions. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to these people. I love them after all. It’s just that I cannot justify using my time for anything that isn’t a progressive step in the right direction in trying to improve our lives.
If I wish to change my life, for the benefit of us both, I have to make that change happen. It’s not going to happen if I spend any ‘me’ time enjoying myself. I spent too many years doing that. And look what that got me.
Obviously this poses another problem.
See, after all the heartbreak of separation has subsided. After some sort or routine has been established. The next thing that comes along is loneliness. Ok, it’s mostly self-inflicted due to the reasons outlined above. It’s also got to do with the fact that it is going to take me a long, long, time to trust anyone again. I know that right now I have no intention or inclination to even be in a relationship. I can’t see that changing in a hurry.
The loneliness is also magnified when I keep having to face my ‘wife’ in order for her to see our son. As he refuses to go to where she is staying it means that for her to spend time with him she has to come here. To the house she used to live in.
You wouldn’t think there was a problem when she is here. She talks the way she used to. I talk back to keep things ‘normal’ for our son. At the same time it is just a constant reminder that she is gone. That otherwise she would not be in my life. That I once had someone special in my life and now I don’t. Seeing her only reminds me of how lonely I am.
Feeling Frustrated and Suffocated
Right, I know some people are probably going to be triggered by this one. You don’t have to tell me I should be grateful. I know that. I am.
That doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, admittedly not very often, but sometimes, I get frustrated at the fact I can’t get the things I want to do done. I get frustrated if a day goes by and I feel no progression has been made. I feel suffocated by the fact I can’t get any real time to myself. Not at the moments I need it.
You could be having a day when everything is getting on top of you. A day when you just need a break. Just a quiet moment to yourself. And you just can’t get it. Being ‘on call’ all the time as a parent can easily give rise to moments of frustration and suffocation.
It’s worse when you have no support network. No family nearby. When it’s just you and you alone, being responsible all the time can be a bit of a burden. Sometimes you wish for a second you could have a bit of time away from the stresses of single parenting. And then, quickly afterward, you feel guilty for even thinking like that.
The most important thing as a single dad is knowing where you priorities lie.
Ultimately, I have two priorities in life. My son and anything financial related. Be that things I need to do in the present to earn money or things I am doing with the hope of making a better living in the future. They are dealt with in that order.
Sometimes that isn’t the smartest of choices. Bills do need to be paid after all and I do not get wages if I am off to take care of my son’s needs. But when it comes down to it, if and when my son needs me, I have a habit of thinking ‘screw the world it can wait’. I’ll deal with what it wants after.
I know this post has been very much about me. Truth is I had to write it to release the pressures I’ve been feeling and can’t release elsewhere. I had to write it for people to see that single parenting is tough. Even for us 10 percenters.
I had to write it in case there are any other single dads out there struggling as I am. So they can know they are not alone. That everything won’t always be easy. That we won’t always make the right choices. But that at least we are there doing whatever it takes. At whatever cost to ourselves.
I’m hoping that someday soon I’ll be able to read this and think “Jesus man. What was wrong with you?”. I know the way things are isn’t the way they are always going to be. I know things will change with time.
I still recognise and appreciate all the great things I have. That this is just today’s reality. A reality tainted with illness and negative thinking. Maybe tomorrow will be different.
P.s. If there’s any single parents out there, mums or dads, I would welcome any input you have. Did you once struggle as I am? Are you struggling now? What can we do to improve things?
P.p.s. I wrote this post yesterday. Today we are both feeling a lot better. I’ve debated publishing this. Partly because it’s quite a selfish post and doesn’t have answers to problems, just problems themselves. But mostly because I like to focus on the positive. On ways to improve our lives. In the end I’ve decided to post it because it shows how we can all be consumed by the negative aspects of our lives and that sometimes all we can do it get through them. A new day always brings a new hope and fresh outlook. We all need to be reminded of that sometimes. Obviously, myself included.
Much love to you all!