So, we know and hear about single mums (usually not in a good way; see my previous post below about the myths surrounding single mums), and equally we hear a lot of falsehoods about single dads. Here are some of those myths.
Myth One. All single dads are deadbeat dads. There is a general perception that if a family has become a “broken” family (I really hate that term. Sometimes the family is broken when the parents are together. But I digress) then it is the man’s fault. He must have cheated on her. Or not looked after her. Or mistreated her (physical violence, emotional violence, psychological violence, and so on). Whatever, it is All. His. Fault. In addition, there is a perception that if parents have separated, then the dad is certainly not paying child support. Or he is not paying enough child support. Or he refuses to have custody of the children on his allocated days. Let’s break this down.
Firstly, I’d like to put in a disclaimer. I will agree that some of the statements above can be true for some single dads, but they are not true of all single dads. For example, some men do abuse their female partners in many ways, and I am certainly not denying or minimising the incidence of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a crime that is perpetrated by men and women, against men and women. However, that’s not what this post is about. I’m acknowledging that some single dads have committed acts of violence against their partners. Some dads who still reside with their partner commit domestic violence too. However, not all single dads are guilty of this, and we should not put them all in the same box.
Some single dads do not pay child support, or they do not pay it on time, or they do not pay enough. However, some single dads do pay a fair share of child support, and they do pay it on time. Keep in mind that while you think that all single dads should be paying child support, you are reinforcing stereotypical parental roles based on gender. You should consider the possible variations of the stereotype where the dad works outside the home to support the stay at home mum who is in charge of all domestic duties including child rearing (a stereotype that applies to families regardless of whether they are single parents or not). It is possible, for example, that a single dad pays less support because the mum is the primary breadwinner, or perhaps he has custody more than she does.
The idea that a relationship has broken down and it is All His Fault is so ludicrous that I’m not going to waste valuable words on it. Sure, it’s at least partly his fault, partly her fault. Maybe it’s more his fault, maybe it’s more her fault. Each case is different, but just as I’ll say it’s not all her fault, it’s not all his fault either. So, in summary, I will agree, it’s true that some single dads are deadbeat dads, not all of them fall into this category.
Myth two. This is kind of associated with the above; the second myth is that single dads have acrimonious relationships with their ex-partner. That’s why they have split up, right? And probably he uses the children as a weapon, right? Both not always true. Let me give you an example from my research (yep, still unpublished and yes, I’m still working on that). A story I heard many times – many times – is the story told by Eve and Steve (not real names, I got them from a randomiser). Both Eve and Steve tell me they broke up because they no longer wanted to spend their lives together. They still respect each other, and they both put the interests of their children first. Sometimes they even get on better because they are no longer in a relationship. Of course, yes, some break ups are acrimonious, sometimes the dad uses the children to manipulate the mum (sometimes the mum uses the children to manipulate the dad). However, just because he’s a single dad, don’t assume he hates his ex-partner. Also, remember that apart from being a single dad because of separation/divorce, it’s possibly a result of his partner’s death. Now, before you all jump up and down and tell me that most single dads hate on their ex-partner and/or manipulate their ex via the children, let me tell you that this is not what I’m hearing when I’ve done my research. I would have spoken to 300+ single mums by now and 200+ single dads, and they mostly tell me that they have a good relationship with their ex and they both put their children first. That’s not to discount those of you who do not have that experience, nor am I minimising you if this is not your experience. I’m just saying that the idea that the nasty ex-husband manipulating his ex-wife via the children is not as dominant as you might think.
Myth three. The idea that single dads don’t know how to parent is definitely a myth. This comes from the misconception in general that men don’t know how to parent. The idea that men don’t know how to parent comes from the well ingrained misconception that men do not know how to be nurturers, and that women are the ones who look after children “right”. This is doing both parents a disservice. Women know how to parent. Men know how to parent. Women know how to work outside the home. Men know how to work outside the home. They may do it differently but that doesn’t mean they do it badly. I contend that dads, whether partnered or single are, like mums, doing the best they can with the tools they have. If you know a single dad, by all means, offer him a helping hand with school pick ups, baby sitting, or cooking a meal. Just don’t be patronising about it, and offer the same to your single mum friends.
Myth four. When the kids go to dad’s house, it’s all fun and games. There’s no rules, and he gets to be the fun parent, while the mum gets to be the disciplinarian. Think about that some more. That doesn’t even make sense. Even if the dad has custody for, say, just two days a week, it can’t be fun and games all the time. Nobody can sustain that sort of routine. It might be different rules at dad’s house than at mum’s house, but that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games. It’s better if both parents can have similar rules and boundaries, because children thrive on consistency. Children like to know what the rules are because it helps them understand the consequences of their behaviour, and it also reminds them that their parents are there as a safety net.
Myth five. The final myth that I will be discussing here (and let’s face it, I could go on and on) is that single dads don’t care about their kids, and/or they don’t think about their kids when they don’t have them in their care. This is simply untrue, and largely nonsensical. Applying the same logic, it means that when parents are in paid employment outside the home, they don’t think about their children. Applying the same logic, it means that parents don’t think about their children when the children are at school, or the parents are away from home for a short time (for example, if they go away on holidays, or for work purposes). Applying the same logic, it means that parents don’t think about their adult children when the children leave home. It’s a ludicrous concept. The vast majority of single dads care deeply about their children, and they think about them often, even when physically separated.
So, in summary, what is my message about single dads? It’s the same message, really, as the message about single mums. Yes, there are a few bad eggs, but the majority of dads, single or partnered, are doing the best that they can with what they have got. Remember that nobody likes Judgy McJudgeface. Don’t be patronising, don’t be judgy, but extend a helping hand when you can to your single dad friends and your single mum friends. Let’s all try to do better by supporting each other, and build people up rather than tear them down.