A Day in the Life of a Single Dad
For single expat parents (SEPs), parenting is a vastly different experience from nuclear family parenting, and brings both challenges and rewards. To celebrate Father’s Day, a single expat dad from The Netherlands, who prefers to tell his story anonymously, shares the details of daily life with his young son.
What’s it like bringing up a child as a single dad?
When you’re with your child, you’re responsible for everything; you can’t delegate anything. So compared to being in a relationship, it’s 300% harder. It can feel as if there’s no time to breathe; you have to be ‘on’ and attentive all the time. But after a while, this all becomes second nature, luckily!
Could you describe your daily routine?
My son wakes up consistently without an alarm. We usually cuddle and joke around for a few minutes, maybe talk about a dream he had or a thought that popped into his head. While I start breakfast, he gets dressed, then eats his breakfast while watching his favourite cartoon. Then I take him to school and start my own day.
After school I give him something to eat at home. Then, if the weather’s nice, we go to the park or take a bike ride into town; otherwise we stay in and play video games or a board game. He plays while I get dinner ready, and we eat together while enjoying something on TV. We spend a little time together after dinner, and then it’s time for bed. We always read a book together, in turns since he’s learning how to read. And we talk a little after that. I kiss him goodnight, then he goes to sleep, and I wait five minutes until I leave the room; he likes it that way.
What are the biggest challenges you face daily?
Well, apart from the practical stuff – like remembering to pack his lunch and wash his gym clothes regularly – I’m trying to raise my child to be a healthy, happy adult. This requires me to cater to his emotional needs as much as his physical needs.
Also, I’m a walking role model to my son, for every second of the day. If I get bad news, how I react is what he will learn is a valid way to react. Trying to keep all of this in balance is the hardest thing, I think, particularly since I have my blind spots regarding my own behaviours and habits.
I don’t want to be overprotective, but I want to protect him. I want to foster a sense of autonomy, but I do need him to listen to me. This, to me, is the biggest challenge. And getting him to eat enough fruit and veggies, of course!
What kind of activities make your kid happy?
There are a lot of things my son loves to do, ranging from video games to Lego, drawing and playing outside. But it can all be boiled down to this: he loves it when I spend time with him. The activity is secondary. Which is why it pains me when I spend too long on dinner or admin phone calls.
Can you share one of the most joyful moments you’ve experienced with your son?
Every time I’m able to get him to laugh out loud is a joyful moment. But one of my fondest memories is of him falling asleep on my chest, just a few weeks old, as we lay in the afternoon sun, me dozing off soon after him. Few things come close to that.
Any tips for parents?
When your child becomes fussy or unhappy, I find it usually helps to reframe the situation; I might make a joke, or point out the positive aspects of a situation.
With a little effort you can make situations like visiting a hospital or doctor a lot more fun. I pack a bag with goodies for my son – maybe a colouring book, an iPad, a few snacks, and tissues (always carry enough tissues). This makes it more like a fun outing. It can work so well that your child is disappointed when you don’t go to the potentially scary place!
Do you have a message for other single parents?
I try to encourage my son to try things on his own, either by nudging him when I feel he’s ready, or letting him have a go at something when he wants to, even if it might be a little too soon for it. I’m there to support him, no matter the outcome.
That sense of pride of accomplishing something they couldn’t do before is simply wonderful. You’ll never find two people as proud for those few moments right after. Make sure you share those moments with your child.
As for being a single parent, you get used to it. But if you can, build a support network. If you don’t know any other single parents, go do something together with a friend who has children. I guarantee it’ll be fun, plus you’re sending a positive message about being a single parent: it’s pretty damn great!
If you’re a single expat parent, what do you consider your biggest challenges? How have you dealt with them? Are there any unexpected benefits to parenting on your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
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P.S. Thanks to Dimiliana Nikiforou for conducting the interview with this amazing father on behalf of Expat Nest.