As parents, we have a whole host of responsibilities to our children. It’s up to us to keep them safe, happy and healthy. We’re responsible for creating memories that they’ll treasure forever and informing the kinds of adults that they grow up to be. This latter aspect of parenting is one that can test even the most dedicated of us. After all, as parents we need to be educators. Everything we say and do is a lesson to our kids, whether we want it to be or not. As Dads, we’re all too aware of how toxic masculinity can be passed down from fathers to sons as well as warping what our daughters expect from the men in their lives. Everything gets logged and filed subconsciously in their mental binders marked “grown up stuff”. Everything! Every interaction you have with your children, or with your partner, how you treat the barista who pours your coffee, what you shout at the TV when your team’s losing… it all gets filed away whether your kids are aware of it or not.
For single Dads, the responsibility is felt even more keenly. Single fathers may feel that in separating from their co-parents that we’re showing our kids that all parental relationships are doomed. But this is only the case if we let it be the case. We can lead by example and give them the tools that they need to form happy and satisfying relationships in adulthood. In this post, we’ll take a close look at what single Dads are (and should be) teaching their kids about relationships…
You Need to Love Yourself First
Self love is extremely important. If we can’t love ourselves, how can we be expected to love anyone else meaningfully? But self love is a tough concept to sell to a developing mind. Go too far with it and you might inadvertently tell them that everyone else’s needs are secondary to their own. And that can create just as many problems as raising an adult who’ll love their lives trying to appease everyone and becoming bitter and resentful as a result.
Self-esteem is important for children at all ages. They need to grow up comfortable and secure in who they are while also retaining a sense of humility and empathy. Encourage them to push themselves and celebrate their achievements. Challenge them and encourage them to challenge themselves. Encourage introspection and, as they get older, ensure that they’re thinking about what they want out of life. Encourage them to engage with and talk about their feelings, and discourage repression. Even little things like telling your son to “man up” can warp his perspective of what a man is and give rise to the notion that feelings should be repressed and compartmentalized rather than engaged with and overcome. You want him to be strong, tell him to be strong. But that’s not an inherently masculine trait.
Many young people, especially when they get to college age, are in such a hurry to form long term relationships that they don’t take the time to develop a good relationship with themselves and establish their own goals for life. This can push them to see their lives solely through the prism of their relationships (not just their partners but their friends and social groups). And this can lead to anxieties, insecurities, anger and resentment.
Some Relationships Don’t Go the Distance… and That’s Okay
We, as a culture, need to stop treating relationships that don’t go the distance as failures. The term “failed marriage” benefits nobody. Not you, not your Ex and certainly not your child. Every day, your child grows up surrounded by images of perfection. When was the last time you saw a single parent on a cereal box? Or a car ad? Or toy commercial? We’ve been conditioned to believe that the two parent, two child, one dog, one car and one picket fence model is an inherently superior way of living and one that we should all aspire to.
But when we subscribe to this conservative mentality, we can set ourselves up for years of misery. The last thing you want is for your son or daughter to grow up in a relationship that makes them miserable, is beyond redemption yet feels impossible to leave because they don’t want to be branded a quitter. It’s always better to be honest with your partner, give each other time to grieve for your lost relationship and get in touch with a family law attorney than it is to dedicate years of your life to a relationship that no longer functions as it should. There’s no defeat in acknowledging that the relationship has come to its conclusion and that you should both get on with your lives.
Image by Ljcor via Pixabay
You Don’t have to be Friends with Your Ex, but You Do have to be Civil
When relationships go awry, our first instinct is often to assign blame. All too often we assign more than their fair share of blame to our exes while retroactively making ourselves look and feel blameless and mistreated. But rarely do relationships deteriorate because one half of the couple is entirely in the wrong. And as tempting as it may be at some times to trash talk the ex in their presence, this can be extremely damaging to them in all sorts of ways.
You may remember this post about whether you can and should be friends with your ex after a breakup. In many cases this can prove beneficial and healing for both parties. Because friendship requires forgiveness, and a willingness to accept the things about your relationship that worked. However, there may be many reasons why becoming friends with your Ex simply isn’t possible. It may be too emotionally complicated for you, and you may not be able to maintain a focus on what’s best for you and your child when you’re around them. And that’s fine, too.
But while you don’t have to be friends with your ex, you do have to be civil. Your child needs to see that adults can disagree and acknowledge that their relationship isn’t working, yet still come together on amicable terms to do what’s right for them. Turn on any kids TV show (or any blockbuster movie for that matter) and you’ll inevitably see some form of conflict where the “good guys” beat the “bad guys”. But real life rarely works like that and most problems cannot be beaten into submission by displays of aggression. Sorry, Avengers.
Let’s keep the “good guys” and their enemies in the realm of fiction, and show our kids that civility, co-operation, patience and forgiveness are the real superpowers.
Forgiveness is not Weakness. Ever
We want our kids to develop meaningful relationships. And not just the romantic / sexual kind either. We want them to have respectful relationships with their coworkers and satisfying friendships with people from all walks of life. We want them to be someone people can turn to in fair weather or foul. We want them to draw happiness and comfort from their relationships. But there’s no getting round this… sometimes people will do them wrong. And how you teach them to respond to that can make a huge difference in their relationships.
While there will be instances where a toxic friendship needs to be cut short, your child cannot grow up equating forgiveness with weakness. It takes enormous strength to welcome someone back into your arms when they have done something wrong but repented and sought forgiveness.
Remember, it’s not enough to just talk to our kids about this stuff, we need to embody it in what we say and do.