Fathering Alone

Posted on 19 July 2010

As socially advanced as we like to think we are, the onus of child rearing still seems to fall largely upon the shoulders of women.  We tend to focus, therefore, on the struggles faced by single moms, while ignoring those confronted by men forced to raise children alone.  In some ways, this huge responsibility can be more difficult for men.

I discovered this when someone close to me was thrown into single fatherhood. Soon after his child was born, this man’s wife passed away suddenly.  Grieving for his wife, he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to mourn her in the way that most widowers are, for he had to figure out, very quickly, how to care for his infant son.  Adding to the poor man’s torment was the fact that he had been having some difficulties in his marriage, a situation that created guilt.  Lacking the normal closure due to his wife’s unexpected death, the man was further anguished by the unresolved issues in their relationship.  It was a terribly difficult time for him, but for his son’s sake, he soldiered on.

First-time mothers lack blueprints for child rearing, but I feel that women in general are better programmed for motherhood, physically and emotionally, than first-time fathers.   Many nights, my friend walked the floor with his crying child in his arms, at a complete loss as to how to quiet him.  Eventually, he found the right recipe to calm his child and then moved on to even great challenges.

He had to juggle his work schedule until he had located a trustworthy adult to care for his son while he was at work.  As the child grew and began to walk and talk, other issues cropped up, including the Terrible Twos.  This is the stage in a child’s development in which he begins to gain self-awareness.  He understands that he is an individual separate from his parent(s) and explores his independence.  As much as he may wish to do things on his own, he is constrained by motor skills that are not fully honed, a mind awaiting its full development, and a parent or parents who tell him “No!” when he tries to walk down a flight of steps alone, approach a hot stove, or put himself smack in the middle of other potential harmful scenarios.  The child responds with resounding “No’s!” of his own and often, temper tantrums.  While treats of various natures have quelled many a temper tantrum, it is not the best path for a parent to take, as the child comes to associate bad behavior with a reward.

The Terrible Twos tax the patience of the most serene parents, often leaving them wondering if they’ve qualified for canonization after death, even if they are not Roman Catholic!  But this stage of a child’s development is important, as it establishes the relationship between parent and child, letting the little one know who is in charge and who must be obeyed.  At the same time, the parent must balance discipline with the kid’s need for self-exploration; as the child matures, the parent(s) learn to let go, little by little.   

When a child begins to explore his world, it’s almost inevitable that he’s going to hurt himself.  Scraped knees, bruises, singed tongues, and all manner of minor maladies are going to befall him, not to mention the usual childhood illnesses and ailments.  One of the biggest lessons my friend had to learn was how to react when his child was hurt or sick.  Many men take the macho approach of, “Suck it up,” for that is how they were raised.  Women, on the other hand, lean more toward babying their children with soothing words, hugs, and little indulgences, such as kissing tears away.   In days gone by, many child psychologists advocated letting the little ones cry when they were hurt or lonely or just plain frustrated.  Fairly recent studies have shown that this approach can actually be harmful to the child.  The nurturing and special attention actually bolsters his self-esteem and sets the stage for him to become more confident and independent as he grows.

Ground rules had to be established by my single-parent friend.  When the little boy had a nightmare, the father’s tendency was to take the kid into bed with him.  This was an expedient solution, as it allowed the adult to get the sleep he needed to maintain his job.  However, the nightmares came a little too frequently, leading my friend to think that his son was getting one over on him.  He had to be firm with the boy without making the child think he was “being bad.”

Learning how to cook, with the emphasis on nutritious meals, was another challenge for my friend.  I think that most men love to tend the barbeque grill but leave all the other cooking to their wives.  This single father had to learn to triumph when his son refused to eat, particularly his vegetables.  He also had to keep the child on a regular feeding schedule and not indulge him too much in terms of junk food.

When the boy started school, a new wave of issues cropped up.   My friend had to build time into his morning in order to pack lunches, and vacation time into his work schedule to accommodate all the school holidays as well as teachers’ workshops — not to mention, snow days.  He also had to plan his child’s wardrobe, ensure that he got to bed early, and check that he’d done his homework properly each school night.

I think that men, even when married with children, are more footloose and fancy free than women with children.  How many men do you know who’ve blithely sung out, “I’m going bowling (or golfing or fishing, etc.) with the boys, honey; I’ll see you at dinner!” as they sail out the door, leaving their wives to serve as chief cook and bottle washer, chauffeur, nurse, teacher, and referee?  I’ll bet you know a lot.  Well, guys can’t pull these stunts when they are the only one raising a child.  Adult weekend activities had to be curtailed for my friend.   He also had to spend time ensuring that his son got to his sports practices and games, which he had to attend.

Once in a while, my friend was able to escape for some “me time,” but this caused a problem for the boy, who was displaying separation anxiety.  The single dad had to explain to his boy that just because he was leaving the house, he was not leaving the child forever.  He had to create honest dialogues in which his son’s fears were addressed and soothed.

It’s not easy raising a child.  Any man who must do so alone, like my friend did, will soon find himself in Michael Keaton’s character’s shoes, in the 1983 film, Mr. Mom, in which he played opposite Teri Garr, who portrayed his wife.  Jack Butler (Keaton) lost his job in a recession, forcing Caroline (Garr) to give up her full time mothering in order to land and hold down a job.  The problem was Jack’s male ego.  First, he’d lost the bet with his wife as to who would get hired first: him or her.  Then he had to assume the job of raising three kids single-handedly — which, prior to these events, he’d sloughed off as a cakewalk.  Although the movie was a comedy with many hysterical moments, the reality is that it is terribly difficult to take on the role of a single parent.

If you should find yourself in this situation, you’ll want to check out numerous online resources for tips and information, as well as self-help books. Lacking a grandparent or another close adult who will pitch in and help you, it definitely pays to get to know your neighbors well.  They can steer you toward reliable babysitters, serve as babysitters in a pinch, and offer a wealth of knowledge for which you will be supremely grateful.  If your child can befriend their children, more’s the better.  You can take turns carpooling the kids to school and extra-curricular activities, and can arrange for play dates or sleepovers.  Yes, sleepovers.  If you take your neighbors’ kids off their hands for a night or two, you will be their hero and they will probably return the favor when you need it most!

One of the best things you can do to solidify your relationship with your children is to talk with them: not just talk at them, talk with them.  Explore their feelings; their desires, their fears, their hopes, their strengths, and weaknesses.  If they have a dream, nurture it.  Let them know that you are their “safe place” when the world becomes cruel, as it sometimes will.  Let them know that you love them, and always will.  Do this and you will be well on your way to raising a decent human being with whom you will enjoy a loving, lifetime relationship.

During the challenge of child rearing, you may find yourself in need of some comfort food, or a just a recipe for when your kids are being particularly fussy.  Most of them love this cheesy delight.

Easy Bake Macaroni and Cheese


2 cups dry, packaged macaroni *

2 teaspoons of salt (or less, dependent upon your preference)

8 oz. Velveeta cheese, cut into small pieces)

2 1/2 cups milk (whole or part skim)

Black pepper to taste



*  Use small cuts of macaroni, such as elbows or penne rigati.

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until almost tender, according to package directions.  Add a teaspoon of Mazola to water while cooking so that the pasta will not will not stick together.  Drain well.

Place macaroni in a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ inch baking dish or pan.  Add the milk and cheese; stir well and dot with butter. Place in moderate oven (325-350 degrees). Bake the mixture for approximately 30 minutes or until it begins to brown on top.  For extra crunch, sprinkle some seasoned breadcrumbs on top during the last 10-15 minutes.  You may want to reduce the salt content if adding the breadcrumbs, as they are pre-salted and usually contain grated cheese.

To create a balanced meal, add a green salad and some vegetables.

And don’t forget to add the love: the most important ingredient!

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- who has written 82 posts on Write On New Jersey.

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8 Responses to “Fathering Alone”

  1. Vinnie D. says:

    I recently lost my wife, though my child is older than the one you’d mentioned in this article. There are some good tips here. It’s been trial and error but I think with love & patience I will get there.

  2. Jack S. Fogbound says:

    I congratulate the author on choosing a subject that haunts the people who have been down this road. Fathering or Mothering alone happens, and the aftermath can have a happy ending or a life of dedication to the offspring accompanied by the loneliness of a sad situation. These are the choices of a single parent either stay in the situation or find a new mate and move on with their life. A good friend told me after the loss of my wife, “When one door closes another door will open” It worked for me.

  3. Zenobia Lewi says:

    Thanks for sharing this. We’re always looking for valuable resources to send to clients and my coworkers, and this article is absolutely worth sharing!

  4. Giovanni Folsom says:

    Man, talk about a good read! I’ve stumbled across your articles a few times in the past, but I usually forgot to bookmark it. But absolutely not again! Thanks for writing the way you do, I actually appreciate seeing somebody who really has a viewpoint and isn’t just regurgitating junk like most other writers these days. Keep it up!

  5. mae says:

    A helpful hint to keep track of your kids is to give them walkie talkies. If they are only going to be a short distance away this is an excellent way to keep in contact. Much cheaper than cell phones.

  6. Tony says:

    I have done extensive research on this subject, and agree completely with your comments. I only wish I had your eloquence and writing skills.

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