With nearly 7 million single-father households in the US, this exhausting, all-day every-day parenting work you’re doing is shared by an increasing number of dads every year. And while support for single moms is easy to find online, in support groups, and in media, single dads are less represented and more likely to be “winging it” on their own. And since single parents consistently report higher levels of stress than other parents, we can only assume that you’ve been feeling the weight of parenting on your own, especially following the 2020-2021 pandemic.
This Father’s Day, we wanted to honor you, single dads, by offering some parenting advice and reassurance that we see you, and we’re cheering you on. Single parenting is FULL of challenges, but you have everything you need to meet them – it’ll just take a lot creativity, a little help from those around you, and the thing your kids love and need most – YOU.
Take a deep breath, find a quiet spot, and let us take a minute to remind you of some things we know for sure.
Babies are resilient.
They seem so fragile when they’re small, don’t they? But if you’ve ever watched a nurse handle a newborn, you learn pretty fast that they’re tougher than they seem. Your baby is born to communicate their needs, to seek food and shelter and grow, and your job is just to listen, respond, and provide. You’re going to make mistakes, and forget socks, and not be able to figure out why they’re crying more than once, and you’ll both be better for learning as you go. Mistakes become memories; diaper blowouts become stories you’ll laugh about later. It won’t be easy, but you’ve GOT this.
You don’t have to be both parents.
As single parents, we often feel like we have to be EVERYTHING to our kids. Mom, dad, confidant, support system, BFF, hero, teacher, the list goes on. There isn’t a superhero on earth who is able to be all things to one tiny human. Your job is to be the best dad you can be, and to honor the role of your child’s other parent.
If you co-parent with an ex, do your best to work on your communication and the health of your relationship. You won’t always agree with the choices your co-parent makes, but just like yours, their place in your baby’s life is important, and the way you talk about them and to them will impact your child, even when you don’t think they’re paying attention. Find strong female role models for your child (a grandparent, friend, aunt, or teacher) and don’t hesitate to ask for the help you need.
Bonding matters at any age, and especially with newborns.
The attachment patterns little ones learn in the first few months of their lives follow them into adulthood. New dads are sometimes at a loss for ways to bond with baby, but the formula is simple – time, touch, and response.
The more time you spend actively caring for your baby, the quicker you’ll learn to hear the difference between a hungry cry or a sleepy one, or the unique way they love to be rocked, or the toy that always makes them smile.
Self care (and SOUL care) is essential.
Touch activates the production of oxytocin, a bonding hormone, in your body AND in baby’s. Skin-to-skin, chest-to-chest is the best way to support all kinds of essential functions for your newborn, from brain development to stabilized breathing patterns and stress relief for you both! The more time you can spend with baby on your chest, the better. Invest in a baby carrier so you can stay hands-free and run errands or work while baby naps with you.
And finally, response – single dads have this one on lock. Without a partner, you’ll be the one to respond to all of baby’s needs – changing diapers, feeding, soothing, it’s all you. It won’t take long for baby to learn you are someone they can trust, and that bond is going to carry you through all kinds of parenting tough spots in the future.
You get to figure it out YOUR way.
Dads aren’t told enough that their parenting instincts are GOOD. You, just like mom, are biologically wired to take care of your kids, to keep them safe, to make them feel loved and secure, to pass along wisdom and make them laugh. You might not parent the way your mom did, or the way your ex would, but being a single dad means getting to decide for yourself what’s in your kid’s best interest.
Set a routine that works for you and your little ones, one that has time for fun, time for life’s necessities, and plenty of time for snuggles. If you’re a new dad, get yourself a diaper bag that makes you feel ready for anything, anytime. Find a park that can be your special place to take your kid, figure out a signature meal to make for dinner, play the guitar for them before bed. Make moments that are uniquely YOU – remember, you’re the dad your kids need most. Period.
Build a support team. Befriend other parents.
Maybe the biggest parenting cliché of them all is “it takes a village,” but you know what? Some sayings become cliché because they’re true. You NEED a team of folks who will support you - who will make sure you take care of yourself when you need to, and will help you take care of your kids when you can’t do it alone.
Family is a great place to start, but it isn’t the only place to find your team. Other parents can be the best allies in your parenting journey. They know what it’s like to be sleep deprived, have homes stocked with all the same kid gear you need, and won’t give you a hard time if you can’t make it out on a Friday because you don’t want to miss bedtime. They’re a good place to vent and a great option for childcare.
If you don’t have any parent-friends just yet, try a story time at the local library, a religious or community group that suits your values, or even online forums (some have local meet-ups!). All parents need parent friends, so if you find someone you connect with, it’ll be a win for both of you.
Don’t forget to take care of YOU
You’re the glue, Dad. Without you, this whole operation is doomed, so make sure you take the time to take care of yourself. Schedule a stroller-pushing run with your new parent friend, or ask someone to watch the kids while you take a night off to go catch a show or game with your friends. Find time for hobbies you love and find ways to share them with your little ones. Splurge on the good headphones so you can listen to audiobooks while you’re up late feeding the baby.
However you do it, don’t forget to make yourself a priority. If you aren’t at your best, you don’t have your best to give, and single parenting is one of those gigs you have to bring your best to. It will never be easy, but it WILL get easier, and it will be the most rewarding journey you’ll ever take on.
You are exactly the dad they need, and we’re so proud of the way you are showing up, every day, for this wonderful, exhausting, messy, impossible, beautiful ride. We hope you feel seen and loved this Father’s Day. We’re grateful for you.