Being a Single Dad: 4 Tips for Custodial Single Fathers

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Routines Are Your Friend

Dad washing dishes with his son.
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Being a single dad means juggling a lot of responsibilities: the kids, the job, the house, and that's just skimming the top of the list. So my first advice is this: Routines are your friend. Start with these simple routines and then build on them to find the balance that feels right for you and your kids:

  • Schedule meals at roughly the same time each day (cranky kiddos have more frequent meltdowns)
  • Sit down and eat together
  • Create a consistent bedtime routine
  • Make sure your kids get enough sleep
  • Share the household chores
  • Create a homework spot
  • Schedule homework for the same time each day
  • Limit screen time
  • Encourage outdoor play
  • Down time/free time is good for everyone

Next tip: Create Your Own Parenting Style

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Create Your Own Parenting Style

Dad laughing with his daughter
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Being a single dad allows you to spend a lot of time with your kids. Much of it will be fun, but you'll also have to balance a mix of not-so-fun responsibilities ... from meal prep to homework, errands, and doctor's appointments. Use these tips to create your own parenting style:

  • Make the everyday stuff fun. Sometimes just adding a bit of silliness to the mix is all it takes to change your kids' attitude.
  • Develop closer relationships with your kids. Don't just go through the motions. Take the time to check in with with your kids every day to see how they're doing. 
  • Be intentional. You're a huge influence on your kids' self-esteem and outlook on life.
  • Be confident. Believe in yourself. You may not know everything today, but you're learning—and so are your kids. 
  • Spend time with parents you admire. Mimic what you think they're doing well. In time, it will feel second-nature to you, too.

Next tip: Tune in to Your Kids

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Tune in to Your Kids

Single dad listening to his son.
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Your kids will teach you a lot about being a single dad, so tune in to what they're trying to say.

  • Be an active listener. Practice listening to your kids more than you speak. It's tough to do! 
  • Tune in to their non-verbal cues. What are your kids telling you with their body language? Are they saying "come closer," "I need a hug," or "Leave me alone?" Tip: You don't have to do whatever it is that their visual cues are communicating; it just helps to tune in to that language when you can. It gives you more material to work with ... 
  • Ask questions. To get your kids talking, ask open-ended questions that require more than "yes" or "no" answers.
  • Pick your battles. Finally, know when to back off or defer a conversation until later. Sometimes, being patient or letting something less-than-significant "slide" gives you the "in" to have a more important conversation when they're ready.

Next tip: Build a Community

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Build a Community

Dad with his son at a neighborhood party
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It’s not just kids who need community—parents do, too! Being a single dad who's connected to other parents in the area gives you a built-in support system for raising your kids. Don't forget to consider:

Your family. Sometimes it's hard to let go of past patterns, but your family may very much want to help—and they're probably eager to spend time with your kids.

Your ex. If you're co-parenting, then your ex might be someone else you can count on now and then for backup. (In fact, giving one another the right to first refusal may already be included in your parenting plan.)

Your friends. Think about the people you trust, who've been with you through thick and thin. These individuals are part of your community. It may take an extra effort to make plans and get together, but it's important not to let these relationships go unattended, as they can be a tremendous source of support and encouragement.

Your neighbors. Be on the lookout for fellow parents in the area who might be able to provide backup child care in an emergency. Not sure how to break the ice? Try heading to the park together with your kids. You'll be able to observe how they interact with their own children while you get to know them better.

Support groups. Consider joining a support group for single dads in your area. To find one, search the community events section of your local newspaper or town website. And if there are none, start your own single parent support group