Twelve years ago I was a young man looking forward to a career of being a professional waiter who auditioned and acted on the side in the great city of New York. In no way did I think that marriage and children were only a few years down the road; my eyes were too fixed on the bright lights of the big city. But one evening in August of 2003 changed all that—the evening I met my future wife and mother of my two daughters.
There are many fathers who say their whole perception on life changed the moment they held their first child. I know it sounds clichéd, but it's absolutely true! When I held that precious little bundle of love, I had a realization: It’s not just about the here and now as it was before; it’s about the long-term future of this tiny little being whom, without knowing it, is trusting her life to you and your ability to see beyond yourself.
Four years later, our second bundle of love arrived and my life felt complete. I had two beautiful little girls, a loving wife, a nice home, and a good career. But life took a nasty turn in early 2012 when my wife left and the girls were in my primary care. Now, before she left I was doing the majority of duties that both parents would normally do. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, bath time, story time, homework time, bedtime … I think you get the idea. But I always knew she was there if I needed some assistance. When she left, that’s where the major challenge came in—knowing it was all on me.
Being a single parent made me grow up very, very quickly. I am now directly responsible for getting the girls up in the morning, feeding them healthy meals, helping homework get done right, overseeing bath time, following bedtime routines—the list goes on and on. At first, I was pretty nervous because while I had done most of this anyway, I didn’t have backup! And since I didn’t have backup, well, I was going to have to sacrifice a lot in order to make sure all these things were getting done properly. There were things I had to give up to make sure my children were getting all they needed from me in order to have a successful childhood—one they would look back on with fondness and say, “My Dad did everything he could for me.”
I’ve examined the last two years of our lives and come up with a few tips for other single dads as you raise your children.
When I became a single Dad, I was in the midst of a successful career that took a lot of my time and energy. There was a lot of work on home projects to do, and in the beginning, that took a lot of time from my girls. It took a while, but I was able to arrange my schedule in the evenings to be able to give my girls the time they needed and deserved, as well as get the other projects done. This involved making sure they have a set bedtime every night and they stick to it. That way, “Daddy Time” is set aside every evening for my own needs. Sometimes it involves work or other projects, and sometimes I just need a few hours to watch my television shows. Making time is crucial to a happy household!
Obviously, major decisions that involve the well-being of everyone in the household should be made by you; but the little things can be decided by committee. One thing I found to be successful for our little family was keeping my girls involved in the decisions about what we should have for dinner, what we should do that night, what movie they would like to watch, etc. Instead of being a dictator all the time, it’s important to get your children involved. It is our house, not my house. It is our car, not my car. It has really helped my girls realize that we are all in this together, and that has been a key factor that has helped our family.
Now, this tip is mostly for fathers of girls, but any single parent can take something from it. Before the separation, I mostly just brushed the hair—I never really styled it. But over the last two years I have taken it upon myself to learn how to braid, French braid, do pigtails, even style the bangs they came home with after a weekend with their mom. Painting fingernails and toenails is also very important! There is no need to leave that with just their mother. As a single dad, I learned that “Salon Night” is something we can all do together. Find new things you can do as a family, and it makes a tough situation that much easier.
It may not make you the most popular parent at times, but creating a routine that works for everyone is incredibly important! During the school year we come home, cook dinner together, do homework, take baths, play a game, read stories, and go to bed. It’s something my children can always count on. My girls are 8 and 4, so they depend on stability in their lives—whether they realize it or not. Our routine gives them that stability, and it helps all of us.
Finally, communication is crucial! This goes for all parents, single or not. Helping your children feel free to come to you and talk to you about anything on their minds is so important. Even if it’s something they’re scared to tell you, they need to know they can come to you no matter what. This is something that can be a lifelong struggle, but if they know at a young enough age that the lines of communication are always open, it makes things further down the road that much easier.
Being a single parent may be the hardest thing I have ever done with my life, but it has also been the most rewarding. I have no regrets about the life I have with my children. Am I the perfect, model father? ... I certainly don’t think so. I’m learning something new every day about my girls, about our lives, and about myself. But being a single parent has taught me the most important thing a guy can learn, and that is how to be a real man.
Josh Langlois is a father, brother, friend and writer. He comes from the education industry and has been working with people and their educational futures for the past seven years. He is currently freelance editorial writer for wearewrestling.net. When he's not writing or working he can usually be found at the park or the pool with his daughters. He lives by the motto, "You do not stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing."