I was a single dad through most of my children’s life. It was a choice - not a consequence. I learned early on that there were many differences having children with two parents in partnership and two parents not in partnership. Since both my children were boys and the amicable divorce from their mother occurred at mid-young ages (7 & 9), it seemed natural that the boys should live with me. Their mother agreed and so it was. I embarked on a journey that not only bonded me permanently with each boy but provided me an extraordinary opportunity to learn how to build a relationship from the beginning. At first the thought of going it alone was a bit scary and filled with uncertainty, not all that different from when we began as a partnership 8 years previous. However, the trepidation this time was different.
I was aware that the consequences of my daily decisions and choices were going to be mine and only mine to manage. I was not going to have another ‘equal’ party in the decision process. This started out as a bug, not a feature, and ended up being a feature. The feature was not having to get ‘buy in’ on all decisions. True, this may have limited my perspective, and certainly diminished the possibilities of a better direction lacking the combined resources of two parents. But it created a more simple daily life situation and allowed me to get more accomplished and more tasks completed. It is not to say that it was the best, it was just more efficient.
Another aspect of being a single parent was the setting of rules. With only one authority, it was significantly more challenging for the boys to try and manipulate the situation to fit their interests. It kept life a bit more simpler and allowed me to maintain a consistent pattern, particularly with regard to discipline and behavior. Without a different opinion on correct behavior, which is very often a point of disagreement and contention among partners, the three of us could move through behavioral issues more clearly. In the end this was much more readily acceptable by the boys because it was simply not confusing (and the little squirts could not make it confusing!). The boys, not being able to play one off the other, was indeed an advantage.
Getting ready to go places, moving to events, visiting friends, and simply eating dinner was made more simple because there was one less adult person to accommodate. This may sound a little selfish, but in reality single parenting for me was just a simpler life process that enabled a more efficient and functional daily life. From a selfish point of view I loved the one on one time I had with my boys and not having to share that. They love their mom and have had (and still have) a great relationship with them. Spending 90 percent of their time with me was special but it always felt very unfair to their mother. That is just how it worked out as a single parent. I selfishly consider this a big advantage to me - probably the best part of being a single parent. This more than compensated for the significant sacrifice in time, money and corroboration by not having a second parent. It is not for everyone but is definitely fit me.
I may have over simplified some of the positive effects of single parenting but the fact of having one less adult in the mix did indeed streamline function. Keep in mind that I had two active and energetic boys who were a lot like me, so building a life with them was not far from my own interests. Had I had a girl, things may have been considerably different.
On the big missing side of the two partner equation was the rather constant sense of loneliness and feeling separated from an important part of a child raising process. Not having their mom living with us felt out of place and put me in a subtle sense of discomfort with regard to assuring that I was indeed on the right course and everything would be good. I also missed the companionship and the feedback, even though it made daily life more simple and efficient as I mentioned above. I was never sure this journey of being a single parent was the better road. There was a lot of regret floating around as the boys passed through some of their life changing experiences like sports, girls, mistakes, etc. Much of this was missed by their mother, or she experienced it second hand. It is just not the same. Our children's life experiences are a big part of the joy that comes along with being a parent and single parenting by definition leaves one of the two out of the game.
A second and equal parent brings a considerable amount of additional energy to the process and can be the difference maker in many situations, that if for one reason or another, one of the parents needs support. If this energy comes in the form of genuine support and not conflict, then it is truly nourishing and beneficial to all parties involved. All too often, however, this is not the norm in partnerships that are struggling and thus, separation generally will evolve. A single parent does not have this support and additional energy and it is almost always missed. It is probably better for the child, as well, if two parents can combine their resources with regard to their energies and time.
Single parents struggle trying to get everything done and this can lead to fewer experiences for the kids and missed opportunities to enjoy the many situations kids naturally attract. This is a very difficult and challenging job for one parent and often it is the child who loses. The single parent in most cases has to ‘dedicate’ his or her focus and attention on creating a daily life that can be managed by less energy. Thus, it has to be more efficient. This is not easy and many single parents can not quite get there. Many real and practical situations impede ideal efficiency such as money, time, and understanding. If any one of these, much less all of them, are short then a single parent will have a considerable challenge. Two parents can usually fix this.
Obviously having a second parent around can spread the responsibility and burden and add considerable value to a ‘family’ experience. A single parent ‘family’ is strange and often does not readily conform to our social system, often presenting awkward experiences for our children. Single parents get through this, but having a second parent would be way better.
Perhaps the single biggest downside of single parenting is ultimately the lack of genuine “family”. Family events are a constant ‘work around’ and our kids are the ones who have to emotionally manage through it, often with dubious success. I realize that single parenting is on the rise. In part, it is easier, and in part it is necessary at times. But is it right?
It may indeed not be right, but it is often necessary and unavoidable. Most of the time it seems that all the various family members are able to work through the multiple challenges of maintaining a ‘family’ interaction, but it is never quite the same for single parents. It seems to me that two parent families have a richer and more meaningful experience that is difficult to have as a single parent. This broken family model is threaded through not only our lives as single parents, but through our children's lives long after we have relinquished our parent responsibilities. It is part of the ‘family’ connection (or disconnection) that we leave for them to manage. It is difficult to ascertain or estimate the negative impact, but it cant be negligible.
For me, being a single parent was a fantastic and wonderful journey that helped form me as a human and gave me the most significant meaning to my life. I have an unbreakable bond with my two boys and a cherished relationship. This is not to say it would not have happened otherwise, and perhaps my experience as a single dad was exceptional, but sometimes single parenting is not as impossible, difficult or as unnatural as it is perceived. It does, for sure, require a different kind of commitment.