Some Thoughts on Being A Single Dad
I'm three months into single parenting. There are challenges. There are also blessings, although none that I would have necessarily chosen. As I've processed it, I wanted to offer some observations about this new stage. Just a note on what follows: I've actually felt extremely well cared-for by family and friends. However, I also think there are things that you miss if you haven't been in a certain place, and hopefully these will be helpful to at least some of you.
1. The biggest challenges of single parenting are relational and emotional, not practical. This doesn't mean it isn't at times hard to stay on top of having the house clean, meals planned, etc. However, the extra time this takes is offset by the fact that, well, marriage took a lot of time and energy too. The trouble is, those marital commitments were also a source of relational and emotional support. What (many) single parents need most is not so much a meal or a cleaning service, although those things are great, but people to spend time with them, be available to bounce ideas off of, etc.
2. There is a crucial distinction between parenting faithfully and parenting perfectly. We should always strive toward growth, but perfectionism kills an appropriate hope and rest we can find in knowing we have discharged our basic duties in raising out kids (loving them, telling them about Jesus, etc.) This difference is especially crucial in single parenting, as you simply cannot provide the same amount of attention and support offered by two human beings. Perfectionism will destroy you.
3. Being a single parent has also exposed areas of my own sin. Marriage is a huge blessing, but it also allows you to ignore certain failings because there is someone else there to take up the slack. If I fail to be there for my kids, no one else will. If I'm lazy and don't do something around the house, it will 100% of the time be hanging over my head tomorrow. Because of those consequences, I'm recognizing ways I wasn't as engaged as I thought I was.
4. My devotional rhythms, both personally and with the kids, have become even more crucial. In marriage to someone else who loved Jesus deeply, there was a sort of spiritual laziness we each indulged in at times, knowing the other person would be there to chase us down and call us back. That isn't an option anymore. I am especially grateful for the habits I was able to cultivate in prior seasons which are serving me well in this one.
5. A few specific thoughts on being a single dad. First, it is striking to me how much more credit I get than is given to the many single moms I know. They often seem to be expected to still work and keep their home perfectly and just be bummed that their kids lack a male influence. If mine get out of the house with their shirts on the right way, I'm slapped on the back and told what a wonderful job I'm doing. Which I appreciate; I just think some single mothers could use the praise as well.
6. On a related note, I just have to mention the interactions I've had with women who seem to assume I don't know how to do things like cook or do laundry and with men who seem uncomfortable with the fact that I do. Just going to leave that one there.
7. A lot of people seem to assume that my particular journey (with widowerhood and grief) makes this season somehow especially hard. Certainly, I and the kids are grieving. However, no single parent gets that way without experiencing some significant sadness. Every one of them is walking through their own emotional journeys of betrayal, guilt or loss. At the same time, being a single parent who lost a spouse is in some ways a blessing. Grief becomes especially destructive when you don't have a purpose to move you forward. Jesus is ultimately that purpose, but his calling to love these three little ones is a concrete embodiment my task that helps me continue living with intentionality and even real joy.
8. Christians should think carefully about some of the rhetoric they use when discussing marriage. This isn't a new observation, and I want to be careful because I do think that marriage is a God-given norm for most peoples' lives. You don't have to be so afraid of giving offense that you can never speak about it. However, there are also some real issues. I'll just name two. One is the comments people make about how kids need two parents, that they somehow cannot grow up right without them. Absolutely, having a mom would be a blessing for my kids. However, our hope for our children is not in the nuclear family. It is in Jesus being faithful. And also, it's not real helpful to me if you make it sound like, even if I am as faithful as possible, my kids are just inevitably doomed.
9. The other is the normalizing of marriage and the weird social dynamics in the church if you don't fit into that box. Some of my single friends have expressed it before, but I see different manifestations of it as well. The structures of the church and our habits of fellowship revolve around married couples and families. If we aren't mindful of intentionally inviting and including those outside of those boxes, it is easy for them to feel left out. Fortunately I've had many people who are doing that, but I've also seen the Matrix in a way I hadn't before just by being in this position.
10. Jesus is still very much faithful in this season. The loss of Elizabeth makes me even more aware of my need for Him alone. My prayers are more urgent, and He continues to faithfully meet and support me each day.