by Daniel Sherwin
Single dads are often operating such a complex balancing act between work, parenting, and the many other adult responsibilities demanding time and energy that their needs don’t even measure on the scale. But solo dads need to prioritize their own mental, physical, and emotional health to keep everything else from weighing them down.
And, while it may be easier to ignore your mental state as a single dad or simply grab that extra cocktail to take the edge off your stress at the end of an evening, neither option offers an effective way to cope long term.
"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,” according to DrugRehab.org. “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."
Taking a step back is sometimes easier said than done, though, especially for busy solo dads. Moreover, one of the biggest challenges many single fathers face is a lack of contact with people in their position.
But single fatherhood is becoming increasingly common, with a record 8 percent of American households with minor children being headed by single men in 2011 compared with just over 1 percent in 1960, according to the Pew Research Center. So it’s easier to find face-to-face support groups and online resources that offer single dads valuable support and perspective on their situations. If you aren’t already involved in one of these groups, take some time to find one that fits your needs.
Single dads might find themselves addressing questions from their kids about why Mom isn’t around. No matter what the answer, it’s important to remain respectful of the other parent. If your child’s mother is actively involved in their lives, it makes sense to come to a consensus about what to tell the kids about the situation and when to tell them.
And, even if Mom isn’t in the picture, single dads should try to accentuate the positives whenever the kids ask about her. Keeping things positive and focusing on the good things about their mom will also help you let go of any anger and resentment you might have toward her. If the kids ask a difficult question, be honest to an age-appropriate degree but don’t frame it negatively. You might, for instance, explain that their mother loves them very much, but has made difficult choices and that one of these includes stepping aside so as to not interfere with their development.
Maintain Healthy Habits
It can be difficult to do all the planning, shopping, and cooking it takes to put healthy meals on the table every day. To keep yourself and your kids from depending on a drive-thru diet, consider scheduling multi-meal prep sessions for weekends. That will help you put together healthy eats on the go during the work and school week.
Combine exercise with family time by organizing activities you can all enjoy together. And, maybe most importantly, cut yourself some slack if you do order the occasional pizza -- especially if it’s after a week’s worth of home-cooked meals and active adventures.
Take Adult Time
Single dads often sacrifice their social life for the sake of their kids. But taking some time away to associate with other adults isn’t selfish. In fact, creating connections with others, whether they’re friends or romantic interests, is essential to maintaining mental and emotional health. So if a trusted friend or family member volunteers to babysit for you on occasion, take them up on their offer. Most likely, your kids will have as much fun as you do while you’re away.
Many of these challenges aren’t unique to single dads. Indeed, it’s common for parents to feel guilty about taking time for themselves or asking for a helping hand. But single fathers owe it to themselves -- and their kids -- to be the healthiest and happiest parent they can be.
Daniel Sherwin is a single dad of two and the founder of Dadsolo, a single father support organization.