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Tips for Parenting When You're on Your Own

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As a single father, there is nothing more challenging or rewarding than being able to parent on your own.

The key is to realize you don't have to be a Superman in order to take care of your kids on your own. In fact, once you are on your own you may find that you are more than capable of tying ponytails and making a well-rounded meal than you ever thought before.

The key in all of this is to end your time as a solo parent with the same amount of energy, patience and enthusiasm that you started with. Whether you have one child, two or a half a dozen, practice the following and you'll be able to rule the roost.

Less is More? Always

The idea of packing up the kids and taking them to the mall, the zoo, their favorite restaurant and ending with a movie may sound like the perfect solution for keeping them occupied and the house clean. You may even think you?re a superstar for being able to do all of that, but is that really the best way to spend your time with your kids? Activities outside of the home are fine and serve as a positive boost for fathers wishing to build their confidence with a tot under one arm and a diaper bag under the other, but they can take their toll on your wallet, your patience and your energy level.

Replaced the urge to take your kids everywhere with the desire to give your kids everything of you through your time and attention.

Plan Ahead

If you find yourself wondering why the mother of your children seems able to do it all?feed the kids, clean the kitchen, do laundry, and attend to her own needs, there?s one secret that she?s probably not sharing because it?s so terribly obvious. She plans ahead! Whether it's going to the store before the fridge is reduced to condiments and cabbage, or placing the laundry by the washer and dryer the night before, she takes the necessary steps to streamline her days and maximize her effectiveness. This allows her to meet her responsibilities and react when necessary to the needs and wants of her kids.

For dads, take note. Make a list of the meals that you?d like to prepare for your kids and buy ahead. Cook meals and store them in your freezer, so they can be quickly prepared. Buy snack foods that are good for your kids (carrots, cottage cheese, fruits).

And be flexible. If you want Friday night to be spaghetti night, but you?re seeing some down turned faces because the kids would rather have grilled cheese sandwiches and slices of green apples then make the switch.

Keep It Balanced

Just because you're in charge doesn't mean that the rules of the house should suddenly change to no rules at all simply because the kids would love you for it. You know better because those rules are the only thing standing between you and a therapist's couch.

Try and work with your ex-wife to keep some standard rules for both households. This will ensure that your kids know the boundaries are the same whether they are with your or their mom.

It's Not a Competition

For all dads, especially single fathers, it's easy to feel beat down by the words that's not how mom does it. The desire to be the better parent is an impossible task. No one can replace the mother of your children. At the same time, no one can replace their father, either. These are unbreakable bonds. Just know when you hear those words from your kids that you've stumbled into a great teaching opportunity.

Ask them to show you how mommy does it. Does she cut off the crusts on the bread? Add olives to the homemade pizzas? Fold shirts in a certain way? Your kids will appreciate the opportunity to show you how they do things with their mom and on a deeper level they'll appreciate your acceptance of her efforts. It's a true win-win situation.

And most importantly there will be numerous occasions when that's not how daddy does it will come from your kids' mouths.

Don't Forget About You

The kids have had three square meals. You've ensured that the bubble baths included a complete shampoo and conditioner treatment. They've had a full day of fun and quality time with you. But what did you do for yourself? Did you find time in the day to catch your breath or to catch up on a few projects of your own? Time for you is essential and there is nothing selfish about getting a few minutes to yourself.

Being on your own with your kids doesn't mean around-the-clock parenting. It?s exhausting and will only sour you on more solo time with your kids in the future, so look for opportunities to recharge.

These can be simple and short opportunities to take a break with or without your child. Step into another room with a good book or newspaper while your child is playing. During nap time, call a friend and catch up on things. Go outside and take three deep breaths and listen to the world around you.

We all lead such hectic lives that it's good to teach our children how to take a step back and simply reflect on the world around us.

Accept Advice and Help

They say no man is an island and certainly that applies to fathers as well. Be open to advice and help. Don't ever take advice or an offer to help as criticism of your efforts. Being a complete father means being able to accept new ideas and support. If your ex-mother-in-law offers to take the kids for a lunch out, accept it with a thank you!? If a friend mentions carrying Wet Ones in the car, make a mental note to try it out (they're the best thing in cars, trust me). These aren't people looking to put you down. In fact, a father with a support group of friends and family has the best of both worlds the opportunity to parent on his own combined with the peace-of-mind in knowing he has others watching his back when he has to attend an after work meeting or pursue a much deserved break for an hour or two.

Clean Is Almost a Four Letter Word

Let's face it; men have always been considered hunters and gatherers rather than dusters and sanitizers. Our cleaning habits were rudimentary at best when we were single without kids and they've probably only improved marginally through the support and direction of ex-wives who grew tired of seeing their husbands pass a wet rag over the kitchen counter and then calling it clean.

There are two options to keeping your place clean when parenting alone. A father can either let the kids run wild and watch as toys and crayons become scattered to the four corners of every room. He can also let the dishes pile up in the sink while a similar pile of dirty clothes grows in the hallway. Okay, that's not really an option.

The best way to keep a clean house and manage kids on your own is to never take short cuts or put clean-up projects off until later. If you can, never leave dirty dishes in the sink. Wash and put them in the dishwasher. Dirty clothes? They always go in the hamper never on the floor. Toys are always returned back to their storage place at the end of the day or at the end of an activity. Make a habit of including your kids in these responsibilities and you'll find these activities can be fun, family-building opportunities rather than chores you do alone.

Show A Little Tenderness

When the roles are reversed and you are the one returning from the golf weekend with the buddies, keep in mind what it was like for you when parenting alone. Extend a heartfelt thank you to your ex-wife because while you were challenged by a 10 foot putt on the 11th hole, she was working as a solo mom and possibly not having the best time of it. So try a little tenderness because you never know when you'll want the same in return.

John Gaetz is a single father and a professional coach specializing in helping single parents reach their full potential as both parents and working professionals. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I won custody of my son because my son needed me to!
  -- David A. - Dallas, TX

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