The Loneliness Of Being A Single Dad Is Real
Raising a child as a single dad can be immensely challenging.
The stress of educating, guiding, and providing for a kid is hard enough when you’re not on your own.
One challenge that isn’t addressed often enough is the loneliness a single father can experience.
You spend every waking moment putting out fires, chasing rugrats, and working all day to provide for your family — just as a single mother does.
All of that weight resting on your shoulders can isolate you from everyone.
Loneliness is insidious that way.
It slides over you like oil, and most of the time, you aren’t even aware of it until it’s too late.
As a single dad, you’re too busy to put a name to the emptiness in your soul – which can have dire consequences.
On top of everything else a single parent must face, men are often raised to repress their feelings in favor of being “strong” and behaving like “a real man.”
As we are all slowly starting to admit, repressing feelings just allows them to fester — ultimately causing real harm to yourself and even those around you.
Including your kids.
Single dads may experience intense loneliness but by utilizing some great advice from dads I spoke with, they can also find a way out of it.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.
Why Do Single Fathers Experience Loneliness?
Loneliness is a universal feeling, but it hits lonely single dads in a devastating way.
A Canadian study found that when compared to single mothers, single fathers have higher mortality rates.
Single dad loneliness can arise from:
- The stress of navigating your new life as a single dad if recently separated or divorced
- Balancing work and childcare — even (or especially) if working from home
- Not practicing self-care
- A lack of a close social circle or support system
- Feeling romantically isolated after being single or out of the dating game for too long
The change that occurs between having a constant partner to flying solo can become overwhelming for someone new to the single-dad game.
It doesn’t help that the reasons a person becomes a single dad — such as divorce or untimely death — are no cakewalk themselves.
Mark, a single father I spoke with, found himself having to handle everything and it was getting to be too much.
“I felt like I had lost everything and was struggling to keep my head above water. It was a scary and lonely time for me,” Mark shared.
“I remember feeling like I had no one to talk to and nowhere to turn,” he explained. “I felt lost and alone. It was a very dark time in my life.”
Hearing Mark describe his experience, which we are grateful for, is heartbreaking.
Most of us have had periods in our lives where it feels like we’re playing the game on “Hard Mode,” but the need to keep everything together in the face of such a drastic change is like running face-first into “The Final Boss.”
Fellow single dad, Manual, had a roller-coaster of an experience growing into his role.
“When I became a single dad, I suddenly found myself navigating an unfamiliar world,” he said.
“At first, everything was new and exciting: the challenge of balancing work and childcare, the joy of watching my children grow and thrive, the independence that came with being self-sufficient,” Manual recalled.
“But as time went on, I began to feel lonely and overwhelmed. Despite having my family and friends for support, it sometimes felt like nobody understood what I was going through or how difficult it was to be in this position,” he said.
Manual saying his position was “difficult” could be the understatement of the century.
Child-rearing as a single parent is already the challenge of a lifetime, but it is rarely the only responsibility on their plate.
“As a single dad, you are responsible for all the financial aspects of raising your kids,” said Aditya, a dad flying solo for almost four years now.
“It can be difficult to juggle work, child-rearing, and everything else in your life…” Aditya continued:
“It’s a lot of work, both physically and emotionally.
You’re never really off duty, even when you’re sleeping. There’s always something that needs to be done, whether it’s getting the kids to school, making dinner, or doing the laundry.”
With a plate packed with responsibilities, it is no wonder many single dads can forget to take care of themselves.
While men are taught to just grit their teeth and “suck it up,” forgetting to take care of your own physical and mental health can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness.
A major reason for feeling alone is a lack of close friends.
There’s a reason why friends and family are referred to as a “support system.”
People need other people to get through life.
Polls have revealed that adult men are making and maintaining friendships at lower rates than ever.
There are numerous factors as to why this has been happening, but the reality of it doesn’t change.
Not being able to find love or a soulmate can be another source of loneliness, as many older single dads have been out of practice for a while.
David, another man I spoke with, said that one type of loneliness he personally experiences relates to the lack of a romantic partner.
“I acknowledge I’m not doing enough to find another one,” he admits, adding that “it’s hard to get back into that game after 30 years.”
That hesitation is valid as hell.
Men who find themselves single and available after years, sometimes decades, of a relationship have to navigate the dumpster fire that is modern app-based dating.
I’ve only been married for almost 3 years, and if I were offered a billion dollars to explain what Hinge is or how it works, I’d be leaving here empty-handed.
Finding someone in your area around your age and level of life experience may not be so easy, no matter what the banner ads say.
For single dads, the prospect of online dating — coupled with the myriad responsibilities they face every day — makes it difficult to even attempt to connect romantically with others, only further exacerbating their loneliness.
How To Ease Loneliness As A Single Dad
Despite how it can feel sometimes, loneliness isn’t a burden you have to bear alone or forever.
The men I spoke with offered some helpful ways to right the ship if you’re struggling to deal with the loneliness of being a single dad.
It may take time to find the light at the end of the tunnel, but you’ll feel better knowing that it is a tunnel and there is an end.
There are effective ways to deal with loneliness as a single father — or even avoid it altogether — such as:
- Admitting to yourself you need help & sharing your emotions
- Finding a social hobby
- Contacting old friends
- Reaching out to other single dads and/or support groups
- Making time for yourself
1) It’s Okay To Need Help
When has ignoring a problem ever solved said problem?
Acknowledging your feelings is the first step to processing them and getting out of the emotional hole.
Andy Heller, the author of Take the High Road: Divorce with Compassion for Yourself and Your Family said, “The first step is simply recognizing this issue and identifying it, so the loneliness does not creep up as a surprise.”
It may be easier said than done, but taking that first step and reckoning with your feelings of loneliness is necessary.
Opening up about emotions is hard, especially for men.
Men are raised to keep their feelings bottled up and to never look vulnerable.
“Men should be able to more openly discuss their feelings,” said David, a man I spoke with earlier, noting, “but that kind of cultural change takes years if it’s going to happen at all.”
Talking through your emotions and struggles with someone, whether it’s a therapist or a trusted friend, can help you to process those feelings and find solutions.
2) Explore Social Hobbies
Making friends is much easier when engaging in a fun group activity.
David, a single father living with an 18-year-old son, realized that one type of loneliness he experiences is due to a lack of close friends.
“That simply takes time to build,” he said, “but at least there I’m making progress through my community pickleball games.”
“A lot of my time is spent working from home, though I play pickleball in the morning, so I meet a lot of people that way,” he explained.
If sports aren’t your thing, activities like cooking classes, local film screening clubs, or even joining a Dungeons & Dragons group are valid options.
Check out what’s going on in your area (apps like Meetup are great for this) and pick something you enjoy.
It’s also not a bad way to get back into the dating scene.
Just do what makes you happy, and someone who already shares your interest will come along.
They may even share your experience of being a single parent.
“It can be tricky to date when you’re a single parent,” Aditya, a single dad I spoke with earlier, admitted.
“But it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one in this situation. There are plenty of other single parents out there who are in the same boat,” he said.
3) Rekindle Old Friendships
Keeping in touch with old friends has simultaneously never been easier and more difficult these days.
Finding a pal from the past is only a few clicks away with social media or Facebook, but the compounding stresses and pressures of modern life can get in the way.
Lots of people lost touch with friends throughout COVID lockdowns when going out seemed impossible.
Additionally, our work lives and home lives are both busy enough on their own — a situation that’s only further compounded by the stresses of single parenthood.
Waving to an old friend and connecting with them remotely — even if just for a few minutes — could help revitalize that friendship and do wonders if you’re feeling lonely as a single parent.
4) Learn From The Masters
“Whatever you do, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone,” single father Aditya said.
“There are other single dads out there who are facing the same challenges as you, and there are people who are willing to help you through the tough times,” he explained.
Manual backs up Aditya by sharing some similar advice.
“I knew I needed to take action if I wanted to regain my sense of
fulfillment and happiness in life,” Manual said. “So I started by reaching out to other single dads who had been through similar experiences.”
“Talking to them helped me realize that there were many others out there struggling with the same challenges as me. And this gave me hope that things would get better in time,” he noted.
It makes sense.
When you want to learn something, whether it’s dealing with loneliness as a single dad or fixing your plumbing, you find and turn to people with the most experience.
5) Take Care Of Yourself
I know most single dads are reading this and saying “When? When would I possibly have the time for ‘self-care’?!”
The hard truth is you need to make time.
Self-care isn’t about taking long bubble baths or getting a massage once a week.
Well, not only about that.
Self-care means making a conscious effort to treat your mind and body well and doing whatever helps you find calm and happiness.
Practicing self-care also means you can be even more of a rockstar dad when needed.
Manual brings the heat again here.
“I focused on making positive changes in my own life,” he explained.
“This meant prioritizing self-care by eating well and getting plenty of rest, spending more time outdoors doing activities that made me feel happy and relaxed, and carving out more quality time with my kids whenever possible.”
“Over time, these small steps began to pay off, giving me much-needed comfort and joy amidst the stresses of single parenthood,” Manual said.
“And while being a single dad is still far from easy, I now have the resilience and strength necessary to overcome any challenges that come along,” he observed.
His experience serves as an important example and a reminder to single dads.
It’s similar to the advice you’re given when boarding a plane — in case of an emergency, you’re supposed to secure your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else with theirs.
You have to take good care of yourself in order to take better care of others — like your kids.
Men may not like to talk about it, but it’s important to understand how to deal with the loneliness of being a single father if you’re living through it right now, yourself.
Being a single dad can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but feeling lonely doesn’t need to be added to that weight.
Talking about your feelings openly and making an effort to grow your social circle can help you to bear the load.
Just because you’re a single parent feeling lonely doesn’t mean you are alone — far from it — and there are ways to navigate this stage of your life with success, and ultimately, happiness.