Editor’s Note: Orlando Dads Group co-organizer Flor Mercado spoke at the recent Dad 2.0 Summit as a featured “Spotlight” reader. He read this piece advising divorced/single fathers raising children, especially daughters, to the audience in Washington, D.C. A version of this piece first appeared on his website Dad Style 99.
Getting divorced is something no one plans on when they get married. Having a child in that marriage adds a whole different level of challenges. This is a difficult step for either parent to go through. All you can do is hope to have a civil, respectful relationship between the parents and equally provide for the child.
I couldn’t find myself to be without my daughter and I couldn’t take her from her mom. If both parents are present, then that child needs both parents. Co-parenting is a lot more work, but the focus should only be on the child.
Raising a child isn’t a walk in the park. Raising a daughter, though, opens dads up to a world where we aren’t experts. It can be terrifying. You can feel lost and clueless. There are things that you need to know as a parent and also things your daughter needs to learn as she becomes independent. Here are some of those things I have found important during this journey.
Learn and teach
I knew my daughter would go through changes, as a girl, that normally her mom would help her understand and teach her right from wrong. As a single dad, I needed to learn these things. How to brush and style her hair. The importance of female hygiene. How to generally be a lady. The steps to becoming a big girl. These are things dads’ usually do not have to learn. In my case, I needed to do my part when my daughter was with me so she doesn’t only learn this in mommy’s house.
In addition, teaching her to be a problem solver helps her become independent. Now, I do have to get better at this as I’m by her side with every lost direction and every fall. Allowing her to think of how to get herself out of a problem, get herself up and brush off the dirt will help her to be more of a leader in the future. Giving her small chores will give her a sense of responsibility, making her feel like she’s a big girl and included in the household. Kids usually want to do everything and anything, so use that to your advantage. It will help you with time and help your children sharpen those skills.
My daughter knows her immediate family consists of herself, her mom and her dad but the concept of an extended family is made difficult when the parents are no longer together. It’s up to mom and dad to bring this important value to their daughter’s life even though they are living separately.
I make sure I involve my family with my daughter and her mom does the same with hers. Having the support of the women in each of our families and each other’s close female friends is definitely great to have when raising your little girl. Having a role model outside of the parents is not a bad thing.
If either parent chooses to move into another serious relationship, then practicing good family morals is just as important. This new person has to care for your child the way you would. The other parent should not interfere with this relationship because that will affect your child, often negatively. As long as no parent puts their child in harm’s way, there’s no reason for the other to interfere.
Her knight in shining armor
We fathers want to be the man in our daughters’ life. It’s important to be involved, to listen, and have open communication while at the same time, letting go and letting her be independent. My daughter is 7 years old and I’m not completely letting go completely any time soon, but it’s probably a good idea to start. Giving her that trust and responsibility will help our relationship grow stronger over time. I want her to learn that she needs to be respected and deserves nothing but the best. To be honest, that’s all I really want. At the end of the day, I want her to know I will be there for her no matter what. When the conversation of “boys” comes up, she will know how she should be treated.
My journey of raising a daughter has been very eventful so far. There have been some extreme challenges, some great lessons, and some most memorable moments. What I want to say to other single dads is: keep your head held high, learn as much as you can, make time for your little ones and teach them what you learn. But most importantly, show them love in everything you do. You are the GREATEST DAD EVER! Don’t let anyone take that away from you.