As I begin to approach the five year “anti-versary” of my divorce I can look back with a clear head and see where things have shaken out.
In the early months and years I was often too clouded with emotion to take a realistic view of where I stood as a mid-30s single father with three young children.
What did my life have in store going forward? Looking back now I can say my thoughts were either cataclysmic or overly auspicious, depending on the day, or even the hour of the day, and how many drinks I had consumed.
Now things have settled down. The strong emotional responses to my divorce and aftermath have faded. I can now look at my life from a realistic and pragmatic viewpooint and see that neither by biggest fears, nor my highest hopes, have materialized.
Every married father out there faces challenges on a daily basis, but the troubles I am going to list here are unique to use single fathers who find ourselves with substantial roles in our kids’ lives but without a partner to share those responsibilities with.
Honestly, a lot of this stuff seems trivial, and in the grand scheme of life, it really is. But on a day to day basis these are the five things I’ve learned pose the biggest challenge in my life as a single father.
1. Losing Stuff
I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to material posessions, I don’t like to have many, but the ones I do have are well cared for and always in their appropriate place. I rarely “lose” things, and as anyone who has every attended a sporting event with me will attest, I need to be the one holding the tickets, I simply don’t trust others as much as I do myself.
Now, life as a father throws a wrench into any control freaks plans, for sure. Kids are messy, unorganized, and can clutter a room in surprisingly quick fashion. In my married days we were able to keep up with the daily onslaught of clutter and messes, but as a single father it is quite a bit more challenging.
I find that I am unable to keep up with messes my kids make, and it creates a great deal of mental stress for me. As they get older they get better at cleaing up after themselves, but their version of “clean” is nothing close to my own standards.
Finally, as they trek belongins back and forth between my house and their moms, inevitably things get lost in transit. Some nice clothing and toys, given to my children by relatives, have never made the return journey back from the other side of those Sunday afternoon exchanges.
Letting go of my controlling nature has proven difficult, and overcoming it is likely impossible. Therefore, I keep things as simple as possible and limit, within reason, what the kids take to their mom’s.
2. SeeSaw Routines
Back and forth, back and forth. I can’t imagine what it feels like for my children, but I know it isn’t enjoyable for me.
I love my kids, but I also love my alone time. What I don’t live is the drastic swings between the two.
For five days I’ll have a full house of laughing and crying children, then the next five days it’s quieter than a library full of nuns.
Over four years of this routine and I still haven’t gotten used to it. Sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night and forget whether my children are home or not. It’s surreal to say the least.
Five days is just enough to full adjust to each routine before it abruptly changes again. On Wednesday morning I drop my kids off to school, then return home from work on Wednesday night to a table full of dirty breakfast dishes, but none of the laughter that usually comes with the mess. It’s a dark, lonely feeling each week, no matter how many times I experience it.
Don’t even get me started on how Christmas feels without my kids around.
I grew up playing baseball all summer long. It was a part of my childhood with very distinct memories and life lessons learned. From about six to sixteen I played every year.
I had always hoped my children would follow in my enjoyment of sports. There is someting uniquely instructional about sports and the things they can teach you about life.
Now that I split time with my children, and my ex and I live in different towns, my kids haven’t had the opportunity to play too many organized sports.
Now, the lack of commitments means we have more time to do other things, like hike and camp, but it still stings a bit to know they’re missing out on something I so greatly enjoyed.
I hope as they get older they can join school sports teams and experience all that they have to offer.
4. Lack of alone time with each child
Having multiple children means I am rarely alone with each child.
Spending one on one time with a child is a unique bonding experience. When I was married this was far easier than it is today, as most of my time is spent with myself and my three kids alone, together.
Every so often I will employ the help of my folks or another babysitter to take two of the kids off my hands so I can connectin individually with one of them.
I consider this time to be crucial and sacred. My children attach strong memories, and hence attachments, to these times spent alone with me.
It is disappointing, as a single father, that these moments don’t happen more often, as I think they should be part of a weekly or biweekly routine for most families.
I chalk this one up to “do the best I can given the circumstances” category.
5. Being a single father is thankless work
Being a parent is thankless work, no doubt about it. Only once your children grow and have children of their own will they truly appreciate things you did for them. This is a long game and the rewards are decades out in the future.
Being a single father, it feels even more thankless because there is no one else to share the grind with. A married couple with kids can share in the loneliness of a never ending parenting routine, but a single father is left with little recourse for this matter.
My girlfriend, a single parent herself, provides some solace from this often lonely feeling, but it is little more than a consolation prize as the challenges we each face are different and difficult to relate to one another.
Thankfulness provides a reprieve from this cloud of thanklessness. I am sometimes, not enough though, thankful for the opportunity to raise three healthy children. A focus on the gravity of my responsibility satiates the ego enough to press forward despite no tangible rewards awaiting anytime soon.
None of these are earth-shattering problems, of course, but I would imagine they are issues that single fathers across the land find themselves facing. I purposely stayed away from the common problems of custody schedules and legal issues, those have been covered on other blogs ad nauseum. I want to keep a focus here on things closer to home, the day-to-day grind of life. I see each passing day as an opportunity to connect with our children that we should be maximizing.
Any single fathers out there I’d be glad to hear about your challenges in the comments.