The Single Dad’s Burden

There’s a lot of weight on the single parent’s shoulders. Most of society’s focus is on the single mother, which statistically is the largest portion of single parents. There are a lot of things we could discuss regarding why this is, but the point here is that while women make up the largest portion of single parents, they aren’t the only ones. Yet they get nearly all of the attention.

When was the last time you saw advertising for a single father’s work group, charity, or help system? When was the last time you saw a single dad with his kids and realized that it wasn’t just a dad “babysitting” while mom was otherwise occupied? When was the last time you offered to help a single dad with.. well anything? How many single dads do you know who are on any kind of public welfare? How many do you know who receive child support from their ex?

There’s a good chance that you know of a single dad. There’s also a better than average chance that all of the above questions were answered with a “no.” Swap the “dad” with “mom” and the answers will change dramatically. Do you wonder why that is?

It’s not because men make more money than women or because men are more capable. It’s because the programs for single dads are few and far between as most single parent programs are aimed towards women. Women are also more likely to be seen as “victims” in a single parent scenario.

There are three reasons for this, as I see it:

  1. The scenario of the “deadbeat dad” is based on truth. There are many fathers, mostly very young ones, who walk away from a girlfriend or kids for various reasons. Yet as a society, we fail to note that a big part of this may be the fact that it’s encouraged by certain segments of society and that our social expectation is for the dad to just send a check and occasionally show up on weekends or holidays to hang with the kids. It also ignores parental alienation, which happens to fathers far more often than it does to mothers.
  2. Men make money. Fathers are expected to be capable of providing for their families without complaint. That’s our social expectation. So why would a single dad need child support or social welfare? That makes them less of a man. At least, that’s what we seem to promote.
  3. We don’t believe that fathers are good at raising children. This is the preconceived stereotype that we promote as a society. The bumbling father who doesn’t know anything about child care, the dad who routinely ignores the kids and lets them “run wild,” and the rest of the biased cliches we promote in our society. Somehow, this is not seen as the same as promoting sexist cliches about women.

The problem here is that no matter how great the single father is at raising his kids, most of society will likely see him as terrible at it. They’ll focus on the fact that maybe he takes a day off once in a while to date, or that he doesn’t have a Martha Stewart house, or that his choice in clothing for the kids isn’t theirs, or whatever.. They’ll see whatever they think is wrong as proof that he is not fit to be the one raising those kids. And they’ll assume that the children will have serious problems when they’re older. Because of him.

Yet statistically and in studies, fathers are extremely influential in their kids’ lives and far more likely to have children that are well-adjusted, productive adults. The incidents of drug use, school dropouts, and other indicators of troubled childhoods are far lower when the dad was there to raise the kids. Including when dad was the only one there.

The long and the short of it is that judging a single father based on the tiny glimpse you might get into his family’s life is wrong. Your assumptions say far more about you than they do about how he is doing as a dad. Instead of spreading falsehoods about the single dad, why don’t you try to get to know him or even offer to help out once in a while? He struggles just as much as does the single mom. Perhaps more, since he’s not recognized nearly as often.