Single parenthood is not shrouded in the mystery and shame it once once; it’s a lot more common in our relatively liberal 21st century. Quite right too. Being a good parent doesn’t automatically equate with having a partner.
That said, there is something to be said for joint parenting. You can share the load between the two of you, to a greater or lesser degree; one parent might always take the lion’s share, and that’s (sometimes) unavoidable. But where the relationship is strong, then the co-parenting is good.
It must be hard to co-parent effectively; you might have beliefs that don’t always overlap, and that can cause tension. But each to their own – someone I once worked with said, “I’m nowhere near as strict as my husband, but we back each other up entirely. If one of us sets down a rule or a consequence, the other one entirely supports them.” Quite right. The children need to know that they can’t split the parents, or else they will end up ruling the roost.
I don’t have that risk, of course, but I do experience attitudes from people who don’t quite “get it.” I’m called brave or courageous, or told “good for you!” Thanks, but I’m neither brave nor courageous, and “good for you” is fine, perhaps, but I suspect is used as a placeholder for “I don’t know what else to say right now, so that’ll do.”. I’m confident that it’s meant in a positive way, but the difference between positive and patronising is a close-run thing. I’m just a man who wanted to become a dad and give my son a good, positive future.
But it’s interesting, seeing the attitudes of people when they come across a single man with a son. I was in my local bank recently, opening a savings account for my son (with him in tow), and one of the staff actually asked me if this was a “boy’s day out.” I didn’t quite follow at first, but then I realised what she was suggesting; that we were out without his mum / my partner. I was surprised, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been; two-parent families are the norm, so it’s probably natural to assume that there’s another parent somewhere else. I corrected her, of course, and she was immediately mortified – which she needn’t have been, as I wasn’t offended by the off-the-cuff comment asked entirely as a pleasantry. My son didn’t even notice the question; he was too distracted by the computer and wondering if there was any potential for playing games on it (there wasn’t, despite him asking).
Being a single parent generally is fascinating. My son doesn’t have a second parent to talk to, and has to put up with me for all of his parental attention. That’s a brilliant thing for me, because I get all of his focus … which is exhausting at times as well. Of course, I’m also solely responsible for him – getting him ready for school, feeding him, giving him his confidence. For both of us, it’s becoming normal; he’s accepted it with amazing ease, but he needs love and support – like anyone.
For me, the best way to get support is from the network of people around me; I don’t have a partner to talk things through with, so I rely on other people to give me a sanity check from time to time. I’ve not handled every situation perfectly over the past ten months, that much is certain, but I wonder how many more situations I would have got wrong if it hadn’t been for those people who steered me in the right direction.
As a single dad, I made changes to my life so that I could try and be a good dad; I sacrificed the type of social life I enjoyed to make sure my son understood that he was the priority in my life. Most people understood that and changed with me, in terms of how we communicated and got together. That helped me stay in touch with adult relationships and remind me of the wider world; my son had his friendships through school, and it was so important I sustained mine as well. Some didn’t entirely understand and chose to withdraw from a changed relationship; I have to respect their decisions even if I don’t agree with them.
Single fatherhood – especially full-time – is still a comparative oddity in this upside down world of ours. Men becoming single dads by choice might be even rarer, but none of that bothers me; I embraced fatherhood because it was important to me – and important for my son to get a home which could keep him safe.
The assumptions around our little unit won’t faze either of us, I hope; my son is seeing it as normal, because that’s who we are as a family, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. It’s tough, of course it is, and I do feel drained at the end of some days; that becomes the time for me to recharge my batteries, by myself or reflecting with people around me. I value that time, but I value my son and the time we have together more.