A Single Father’s 5 Biggest Challenges

(Today’s post is from guest blogger Mark Braivo)

With nearly 2.6 million single father households in the U.S., closing in on 10%, we are no longer a fringe minority. Single fathers have reached a critical mass where their struggles can now impact our nation on a macro level.

The moment I transitioned to being a single father was surreal. Only six months earlier I was a happily married father of three. Now I was trying to fit three beds, like a jigsaw puzzle, into the tiny second bedroom of my newly rented condo.

Over the last 4+ years I have faced many great obstacles, but none as significant as the 5 listed here. Helping hundreds of single fathers navigate the rocky landscape of post-divorce life has helped me understand that my problems are not unique, and nearly every single father faces the same ones.

From my own experience and that of helping hundreds of men, here are the five most important challenges that I believe single fathers face:

#1 Overcoming conflict avoidance

During my divorce I gave away a great deal out of fear of conflict. The same nice guy patterns that led to the demise of my marriage were costing me dearly as a single father.

Looking back it sounds insane, I was afraid to upset the very same woman who destroyed our family through her poor choices. I was still trying to make her happy!

I falsely believed that making everything smooth and easy would lead to the best outcome. No reason for conflict, if we could all get along it would all work out just fine. I was naive.

Talking to hundreds of single fathers over the last 4 years they all tell me their greatest regret was being too accommodating. 

If they’d only been more bold and fought for what they really wanted things would have turned out much better.

It has been a slow process for me, but overcoming conflict avoidance has been essential for my success as a single father. Had I learned this sooner things would be much different now, but second guessing and rumination will get you nowhere.

Conflict avoidance doesn’t mean you need to create conflict either. Unnecessary conflict is detrimental to everyone, especially your kids, and will cost you. I have learned a great deal by reading up on and employing Machiavellian tactics to get positive outcomes without direct conflicts.

#2 Learning to balance nurture and discipline

As a new single father I thought I had to be both a mother and father to my children. I tried desperately to switch between both roles several times throughout the day. It was exhausting.

Men are protectors and providers by nature, women are the nurturers. I have always been most comfortable working toward a goal, something tangible. I naturally create structure and discipline for my children.

The more I tried to be a “mother” to my kids the more miserable we all became.

Finally, I dropped the effort, I focused on being a strong, but kind, father and things fell right into place.

Being a single father is unnatural, there is no need to make it even worse by trying to play a role you weren’t meant to. This will leave you stressed and tired. Focus on your strengths.

My children still have their mother in their lives. I don’t need to play her role. I let it go and a huge weight was lifted.

I supplement things by being sure my kids are exposed to other quality female role models, like my mother. Trust me, they all appreciate the time together.

#3 Coming to terms with the loss of control

Even in the best of situations most men have only 50% of their time with the kids. This means that for the other 50%+ of the time your children are living under a roof that isn’t yours.

This still troubles me. I want to spend every single day with my children, or at least have them under the umbrella of my care and protection, a household that I control.

Now, 1 out of every 2 days, they are completely out of my control. I don’t have a say in what they watch on TV, what food they eat, and what friends they play with. This is a very helpless feeling for any father.

The closest I’ve come to solving this problem is to keep a close eye on what is happening at their mother’s house. Asking my children the right questions can lead to very telling answers as to what is going on over there.

Another tactic I use is to befriend my ex-wife’s new husband. This may sound odd, but it works. He and I are friendly and he often shares things about life in their household. This is quite reassuring to me and I also get a chance to evaluate the character of the man spending time with my children.

Use your perception, trust your gut.

If you sense something funny going on at the other home don’t ignore it, do your best to investigate. Your instincts are not usually wrong.

In the meantime, I focus my efforts on setting a good example for my kids while they are at home. Consistent routines and comforting traditions make for a secure household.

#4 Becoming financially secure

This is often the most discussed topic among single fathers. It’s easy to measure and very tangible. It’s also easy to bitch about. Guys love to say how they got “fucked” in their divorce or child support as if it’s a badge of honor. That mentality will get you nowhere. Take some time to bitch about it, then let it go.

But the financial struggles are real.

Child support, the loss of a second income, and legal fees can easily set a man back 5+ years in his financial game plan.

I am 4 years out and just now seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

Not only that, but kids are expensive. Even with partial custody the costs can add up.

The key here is patience. Like many men, I was hitting my financial stride when the divorce struck. Most divorces occur in a man’s 30’s, just as he’s shedding the last student loan debts and nearing peak earning years.

Ask anyone in my circle and they’ll tell you this hasn’t been easy for me. I preach patience, but no man in his prime wants to find himself in the grocery store checkout lane hoping his credit card isn’t going to be declined, which has happened more often than I’d like to admit.

Acceptance of this 5-year timeline is crucial. You may be able to dig out sooner, and if so, be thankful as you are in the minority.

Find your vision and use it to create a side hustle, that extra cash can go a long way to getting back on your feet sooner.

#5 Finding emotional stability

Most men suffer silently. It’s in our very nature to hide our vulnerabilities. A survival mechanism honed over millions of years of hiding from predators or trying to avoid getting expelled from groups.

Divorce, or the break-up of his family, is usually the greatest loss a man will face during his prime years.

Most men yearn for a family and make theirs the focus of their lives. Its destruction is devastating.

Compounding this devastation is the fact that most men had come to rely on their wives for emotional support. Now, in the midst of their greatest suffering, that support is missing as well.

I won’t get into dating as a single father here, part III of this series will focus on that juggernaut of a subject. One thing worth mentioning, if it isn’t already obvious, is the importance of not using another woman to ease your pain.

Now, as a single father, emotional stability is crucial to being the strong father your children need. I have found that I possess far greater strength than I ever gave myself credit for. You must learn to make yourself your own mental point of origin.

A strong network of male friends, including a solid role model, can also go a very long way to providing the support you need as a single father.

Stay tuned for parts II and III of this series where I explore managing a one-adult household and dating as a single father. If you’re a single father make your voice heard in the comments section, there is an entire community of men that may benefit from hearing your story.

About the Author

My name is Mark Braivo. I blog about divorce and fatherhood over at vigorandspirit.com. I also push the boundaries a bit on my Twitter feed, please follow along.

9 Replies to “A Single Father’s 5 Biggest Challenges”

  1. Hi I’m 26 and I have one daughter who currently lives with her mother . We all lived together from pregnancy until out daughter became about 2 years . While on the relationship I found out her mother was having an affair which led me into a depression because I was crushed to the core . I forgave her and try to get passed it mainly cause I want my daughter to be living with me like author said . And also I wasn’t brought up with my family Foster house to foster house so I guess codependency and having her around was a source to fill in the void . Till I found out her mom was having multiply affairs. This crushed me me even more . Which led me into a more depression and a lot of built of anger till one day I lost my job -the only source of income we had as a unit .apart from my occasional side hustle . I am slowly recovering by letting these emotions out by talking to my male friends (don’t forget your male friends when in a relationship they will always be there for you even when the woman “the one ” is gone ) it’s been a long and slow journey . If managed to keep my composure some how cuz some days I use to quarrel with her for her cheating and my daughter would start crying and I would look like the “bad person” . However your situation is , have male friends and talk it out . I know we suppose to be strong but if your aren’t strong mentally spiritually and emotionally trust me u will be walking until something “wakes ” u up and u find yourself somewhere and don’t even know how u got there . Don’t let yourself get on the negative spiral . Up till this day I would like my daughter to live with me , so I’m getting shit together so I can make that possible . Some woman will use the kids against u , don’t let it get to you . The kids will realize what’s really going on just be strong and have patience . I know I maybe all about the place with this “rant” lol

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  2. Hi Mark. Great article. I have a couple of questions for you. Do you have resources you’d recommend for maintaining the bond with your kids? I really struggle with not having the mom in the picture to bridge the conversational gap with them.
    Also, I am not over my ex and transition times with the kids are difficult for me as they often cause me to become sad of the loss of my family. I also see her at mutual friends gatherings amd thid is quite painful for me. I try to be as stoic as I can and not show her what I’m feeling. Do you have recommendations on how to cope/deal with this? Is it just to grieve and time will heal?

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  3. This article is spot on. I’ve been through this over the past 4 years, including going to court for “round 2” to get 50% parenting time, and these are indeed the top challenges I’ve faced. #3 hasn’t been as difficult for me, I’m reasonably comfortable with my kids life at their moms and recognizing that things are different in their two homes.

    I look forward to more articles, particularly on balancing dating with being an awesome dad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Christian please write something about fit guys/ bodybuilders types and their difficulty picking up woman. Most girls are always intimidated by us regardless of how cool we are.
    Thanks

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