6 Keys to Successful Parenting for Single Dads

It's challenging enough to navigate the parenting world with a spouse, but how should you parent as a single dad?

Single father and child walking on the beach.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

As a single dad, the task can seem almost too daunting to even imagine: unending activities, not-always-pleasant attitudes, transitioning adolescents, sudden acne. Allow me to share with you six practical things that have helped me. Some of these are common to all fathers and others are unique to single fathers. 

1. Recognize you're not alone.

While your church, small group and Facebook/Twitter feeds seem to be full of perfect parents with perfect kids, raising and nurturing children is full of difficulties. Things go wrong, bad decisions are made and there's drama. Guess what?

That's every parent's life.

Seasons of abundance come with seasons of scarcity. Heroes of the faith experienced this as well. As Job 1:21 says, "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh."

It's important for you to know that you don't have the worst kids in the world, and you're not the worst father in the world. There's no such thing as a perfect dad. You're just like me and every other Christian dad doing his best to raise godly children in an ungodly world.

2. Allow for ongoing grieving.

Divorce happens in a moment, but grieving and healing is a process that occurs over time.

Provide space for your kids to grieve at every stage of their development. It doesn't matter if you've been single for a month or a decade—as your kids get older they will need to process it differently at different stages of maturity. Their needs and grieving will change as they age.

It's vital for you to recognize and allow for this. It might be easy to assume that as you've processed and moved on, your children have too, but your kids move at their own pace. Ask them questions at different times about how they're doing, what they are feeling and what they need from you. This acknowledges their feelings and lets them know you are willing to talk with them. When your kids feel safe talking to you, just know you've hit a major milestone.

3. Love and accept unconditionally.

Perhaps the most important thing a father can do—and this is true whether you are single or married—is to make sure your kids know you love and accept them no matter what. While they may roll their eyes when you tell them, you can't say "I love you" enough.

This needs to be more than a bedtime ritual. Look them in the eyes and make sure they're listening and tell them you love them. Write it on a note in their lunch or backpack. Send them a handwritten letter for their birthday. Use a dry erase marker on their mirror. Text them. Do whatever it takes for your kids to know in their inmost being that they are the apple of their father's eye.

Teenagers are learning to question things and will test your boundaries. At times they might push you away just to see if you really mean what you say. That's when it can be really difficult to love them unconditionally...and this is when it will become real to your kids if you do. Those moments when they are the most unlovable is when they need to be loved the most.

4. Understand your role is changing.

As your teenagers begin to individualize and figure out who they are, why they're here, and if everything you told them is really true, a couple of major things will happen.

First, they will begin to look to their peers as their primary influencer rather than you. What their friends think is cool and acceptable will begin to hold more weight than what you believe is cool and acceptable. It's more important than ever to know your children's friends and their friends' parents.

Secondly, teens are often beginning to figure out exactly what faith looks like to them. As they develop their own faith, it may look a little different than yours. Don't panic. This is a process that will go on for most of their lives. While God is unchanging, our understanding of Him is dynamic. Engage in spiritual conversations that lead to an ongoing dialogue.

5. Watch for a cultural boomerang effect.

In many split homes, there can be what I call a "cultural boomerang." That is when the culture in one home is vastly different from that of the other home, and your teenagers can experience a whiplash effect by going back and forth between both homes.

I've seen this play out firsthand.

My two teenagers attend church with me when they are staying with me, but I live in a different part of town than their mother and in a different school zone. They have no friends from school that attend our church and so they are less interested in getting involved at church. I have to be careful about pushing them too hard but still letting them know the importance of God and gathering corporately.

What I do to help minimize the cultural whiplash is not force them to attend youth activities, but be sure we have prayer and devotional time as a family. Remember: the most important thing you can do to develop a calming culture at your house is never, never, never speak poorly of your children's mother.

6. Be slow to introduce your kids to dates.

One of the unique prospects about being a single dad is the possibility of dating again. This can be one of the most volatile moments in your children's lives, so you'll want to handle this situation with care and understanding. There isn't a formula for how to do this well, but if your love life is like a revolving door, your kids will likely experience a sense of loss over and over again. It also models for them that relationships come and go and commitment is an outdated ideal.

I've made the decision in my life not to introduce my kids to someone I'm dating unless we've been dating exclusively and there seems to be real potential fora lasting relationship. When you do introduce a romantic interest, make the meeting brief. Something like getting an ice cream together works well.

Celebrate the little things in a big way.

My prayer is that this is encouraging to you men who are balancing a career, housework, faith and parenting on your own. It's no easy thing, but it is such an honor and a joy to be a dad. As you go, celebrate the little things in a big way.

The lives of our children go by so quickly—in the blink of an eye, they'll be out of the home. Find anything to celebrate and choose to celebrate it together. Those are the kinds of moments you'll want to remember forever.

Article courtesy of Parenting Teens magazine.

Phil Davis is the executive director for Abba's Way, a ministry he co-founded in 2009 to help provide deeper connections for fathers and their children. A speaker and writer on issues of small groups, fatherhood, single parenting and men, Phil has spoken at men and pastors conferences throughout the United States and internationally. Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilBDavis or at his official site.