It’s been said that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Add to that parenting teenagers as a single dad and the task seems almost too daunting to even imagine. Unending activities, not-always-pleasant attitudes, transitioning adolescents, and sudden acne are just a few of the unique situations parents of teenagers have to deal with. It’s challenging enough to navigate these waters with an in-tact family and sharing the burdens between a husband and wife. But how do you walk through all this drama as a single dad? I’ll be happy to share the 10 steps to being a perfect father—as soon as I find a perfect father! In the mean time, let me share with you six practical ways to being the best dad you can be. Some of these are common to all fathers and others are unique to single fathers. Use these to help you navigate the often tumultuous, always adventurous, waters of being a dad to teenagers.

1. Recognize You’re Not Alone

The first thing you need to know is you’re not alone in your moments of challenge! While Facebook, Twitter, churches, and small groups seem to all be full of perfect parents with perfect kids, raising and nurturing children is full of difficulties. Things go wrong, bad decisions are made, there’s drama, and struggles...but there’s also time of celebrations, things go right, great decisions are made, there’s joy, and smooth sailing. You can probably look back on your own life and remember seasons where things were good and life was full, as well as those seasons where it was all you could do to make it through the day. Guess what? That’s every parent’s life. Seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity.

Heroes of the faith experienced this as well. As Job 1:21 says, “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” It’s so important for you to know that you don’t have the worst kids in the world, and you’re not the worst father in the world. You’re just like me and every other Christian dad doing his best to raise godly children in an ungodly world.

2. Allow for Ongoing Grieving

Divorce happens in a moment but grieving and healing is a process that occurs over time. One thing that is so critical for your children is to provide space to grieve at every stage of their development. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been single for a month or a decade, as your kids get older they will need to process it differently at different stages of maturity. Their needs and grieving will change as they age. What a child needs and how he or she processes the loss of an in-tact family will be different for a seven year old than a fourteen year old. It’s vital for you to recognize and allow for this. It might be easy to assume that as you’ve processed and moved on, your children have too, but I encourage you to recognize your kids move at their own pace. It’s appropriate to ask them questions at different times about how they’re doing with the divorce (or whatever the situation), what are they feeling, is there anything they need from you, etc. Asking these questions acknowledges their feelings and let’s them know you are willing to talk with them. When your kids feel safe talking to you, you’ve hit a major milestone!

3. Love and Accept Unconditionally

Perhaps the most important thing a father can do, and this is true whether you are single or married, is to make sure your kids know you love and accept them no matter what! While they may roll their eyes when you tell them, you literally can’t say “I love you” enough. The thing is, they need to hear it a million times in a million different ways before it really begins to sink in. This needs to be more than a bedtime ritual. Look them in the eyes and make sure they’re listening and tell them you love them. Write it on a note in their lunch or backpack. Send them a handwritten letter for their birthday. Use a dry erase marker on their mirror. Text them. Sing to them. Do whatever it takes for you kids to know in their inmost being that they are the apple of their father’s eye.

This is actually more complicated than it sounds. You see one of the things about teenagers is they are learning to question things and will test your boundaries. They’ll make mistakes that test your patience and may even be rebellious. At times they might push you away just to see if you really mean what you say. That’s when it can be really difficult to love them unconditionally...and this is when it will become real to your kids if you do. Those moments when they are the most unlovable is when they need to be loved the most. So pursue them relentlessly. If you do this one thing, you’ve already done more for your children than you can imagine.

In my next post, I'll continue with the second part of this article. This will include topics from how your role changes with your children to dating and how to introduce your kids to a romantic interest, along with practical tips that are applicable for every father.

» This is the first post in a 2 part series on being a single dad. View Part 2. «

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 grown children, Cooper and Morgan. Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilBDavis.

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