In part 1 of this article, I shared some some important things for fathers to be aware of as they being parenting from the context of a single dad. Now I'm going to share some ideas that are less about awareness and more about application. So whatever your reason for being single, these ideas can help you not just grow closer to your children but also set them up to soar.
4. Understand Your Role is Changing
As your children progress through their teenage years, you need to realize that your role in their lives is changing. As they begin to individualize, and begin to figure out who they are, why they’re here, and if everything you told them is really true, a couple of major things will happen.
First, they will begin to look to their peers as their primary influencer rather than you. What their friends think is cool and acceptable will begin to hold more weight than what you believe is cool and acceptable. This does not mean your role in their lives has decreased, far from it. You are more important now than ever. What it does mean is it’s more important than ever to know your children’s friends and, equally important, to know their friend’s parents.
The number one predictor for the kinds of decisions your kids will make is their peer group. To a large degree, as your children’s friends go, so goes your children. In other words, your kids become who they're with. The more you can direct your kids to friends with high character and morals, the more likely your children’s character and morals will be supported and developed by their peers. This can be a delicate process and why it’s valuable to know the parents of your children’s friends.
Make it a point to spend more time with parents whose children are similar to yours and who you would want to be around your children. You can also do this by being involved in the things your kids are involved in. Be where they are. If they go to sporting events at their school, be there too. You don’t have to sit next to your kids, but let them know you’ll be there. You can even take out your kids and their friends after the game.
Secondly, teens are often beginning to figure out exactly what faith looks like to them and if all the things they may have learned growing up are what other people believe. Most likely, as they develop their own faith, it will look a little different than yours. Don’t panic or overreact. This is a process that will go on for most of their lives. While God is unchanging, our understanding of Him is dynamic. How much more so for a teenager who’s just beginning to own his or her own faith. What they believe today will change again in two years and will likely change again in another two years.
Your role is to let them know what and why you believe what you believe and to engage in spiritual conversations that lead to an ongoing dialogue. They takeaway here is to always love and accept your children, even if you don’t agree with all their viewpoints (see #3 above).
5. Watch for the Cultural Whiplash Effect
In many split homes, there can be what I call the “cultural whiplash”. That is the culture in one home is vastly different from that of the other home, and your teenagers can experience a whiplash effect by going back and forth between both homes. This can be seen by divorced parents who might agree to similar rules in both homes but still have different styles of parenting, live in different socio-economic neighborhoods, have different expressions of faith, and focus on different values. I have seen this play out first hand.
My two teenagers attend church with me when they are staying with me, but I live in a different part of town than their mother and in a different school zone. They have no friends from school that attend our church, so they are less interested in getting involved at church. I have to be careful about pushing them too hard but still letting them know the importance of God and gathering corporately.
What I do to help minimize the cultural whiplash is not force them to attend youth activities but be sure we have prayer and devotional time as a family, be involved in church myself, share my faith in everyday conversations, and highlight how God is in all the details of our lives. Finally, the most important thing you can do to develop a calming culture at your house is never, never, never speak poorly of your children’s mother.
6. Be Slow to Introduce Your Kids to Romantic Interests
One of the unique prospects about being a single dad is the possibility of dating again. This can be one of the most volatile moments in your children’s lives, so you’ll want to handle this situation with care and understanding. I’ve made the decision in my life not to introduce my kids to someone I’m dating unless we’ve been dating exclusively and there seems to be real potential for a lasting relationship.
There isn’t a formula for how to do this well, but if your love life is like a revolving door and your kids meet and develop a relationship with every woman you date, they will likely experience a sense of loss over and over again. It also models for them that relationships come and go and commitment is an outdated ideal, so be mindful of this. When you do introduce a romantic interest, make the meeting brief. Something like getting an ice cream together works well. That way you have a shorter time period and the kids can meet her without feeling too much pressure to talk and share.
These are just a few of the nuances dads, especially single dads, have to deal with in parenting teens. My prayer is that this is encouraging to you men who are balancing a career, housework, faith, and parenting on your own. It’s no easy thing, but it is such an honor and a joy to be a dad. As such, let me leave you with one final thought. Celebrate the little things in a big way. The lives of our children go by so quickly and in the blink of an eye, they’ll be off to college. Find anything to celebrate and choose to celebrate it together. You and your children will remember these moments forever, and these are kinds of moments you’ll want to remember forever.
Phil Davis is the Executive Director for Abba's Way, a ministry he co-founded in 2009 to help provide deeper connections for fathers and their children. A speaker and writer on issues of small groups, fatherhood, single parenting, and men, Phil has spoken at men and pastors conferences throughout the United States and internationally. Most importantly, he is the proud father of two teenage children, Cooper and Morgan. Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilBDavis.
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