20 January 2018

Do Single Dads Have It Easier Than Single Mums?

I'll be honest. When I was first thinking about the difference between single mums and single dads, it was in relation to how much easier the dads have it. Not in so much the day to day stuff. That's going to be the same struggle. You're on your own and the same jobs still need to get done whether you're male or female! But easier for single dads as they are less judged by society than a single mother is. How they are often seen as 'brave' to be raising their children alone, seen as strong and heroic rather than a blot on society. That I imagine they can hold their head high with less stigma attached. Yes, in my head both single mums and dads were doing it alone, struggling with similar issues but treated quite differently.

Siblings. Besties. Single parents.

But a late night phone call with my brother the other day altered my thoughts on whether a single dad does in fact have it 'easier'. My brother is a full-time single dad to two. He has a school age child and a little one who does mornings in a pre-school and this is the only time he is child free. We were discussing some of the difficulties we face as single parents and I was shocked at some of the things he mentioned that I'd never considered.

Sweeping generalisation alert (and I am aware that this is not always the case) but in a two-parent family it is often the dad who will continue to work and the mum who will take maternity leave. It's still the case that there are more stay at home mums than dads and I think this goes some way to explain why nearly all the groups for babies and toddlers are aimed at mums. Hell, most are even called 'mother and toddler' groups! Occasionally a dad will go, and from stories my brother has told me, those dads are very much a token male. I don't even remember any dads being part of the groups I attended, except for one guy who had turned up in place of his wife at the Baby Sign class on the odd occasion. Groups that are marketed at dads are often run on a Saturday morning because that's when more dads would be free and able to attend. You know, to 'give mum a break'.

Single dads make up around 10% of the single parents in the United Kingdom, but the more I think about it the more I can see how they are an underrepresented group – and I don't mean in a Fathers-For-Justice-we-don't-see-our-kids kind of way. Where do single dads go for peer support and to chat?

Mums often have the baby groups, the school gates where things can be discussed and there are even apps to find mummy friends. I'm aware that this also isn't a single parent issue and would apply for stay at home dads or those who work part-time and are part of female heavy activities with the kids. But at the end of the day when these dads go home? They would have a partner to chat to or offload to. Another adult to speak with. 

My brother was at the school gates this week chatting with some mums. He mentioned a trampoline being blown away with the winds we've been having. Before he knew it the mums were talking about poor pelvic floor muscles and how they'd wet themselves if they were to go on one (I would totally have been part of that chat!!). This kind of topic doesn't offend or embarrass him, but it is something that sets him apart... Well, I'm assuming so and that his pelvic floor muscles are OK and in working order!

I feel incredibly lucky as a single mother to have a huge support network behind me, made up of some pretty wonderful people, who offer me emotional support as and when I need it. They check in on me, make me laugh until I cry and be with me during the low moments. This is in person but equally over the phone, text or social media in an evening when I would otherwise be alone. And other mums can often understand the single mother hardship even if they themselves don't do it alone, because mums are often taking the lead within the household anyway. 

I don't think men are able to open up the same way, to be as freely emotional, to admit that they're struggling. Male friendships aren't always the easiest place to talk about difficulties and a lot of men find it hard to open up at the best of times. But for a single dad, it's about knowing others that are able to relate to him as a dad and male who is doing it all and can understand those hardships. Which, with lower numbers of stay at home dads and only 10% of single parents being dads, must be pretty hard to find.

Parenting is not a competition, and sometimes the negatives are the ones we end up being most competitive on. Think who got less sleep last night, who is more tired at the end of a busy day, how having two children is more difficult than one, that men have it easier than women... 

But in all honesty? We all get lonely at times. We all get tired. We all want space and time to ourselves. To be able to go to the toilet to pee alone or drink a hot cup of tea in peace. Most of us find it difficult to ask for help, to admit we're struggling. None of us want to be judged, patronised or thought badly of. Mum or dad, single parent or not. So do single dads have it easier? No. They may have different struggles. But I'd say that's the same for us all.

Written by @pizza.for.tea

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