Single dads are better dads (and control freak moms ruin fatherhood)

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A couple of weeks ago Thomas Matlack wrote on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog about how hitting rock bottom and losing his marriage made him stop drinking and be a better dad.

I’ve seen many times how divorce has made men better fathers – including in my own family. One of this blog’s commenters named Kirsten wrote that limiting the time her ex spends with their kids makes him appreciate them much more than when he lived with them full-time:

I saved my ex-husband’s relationship with his kids by getting his angry self out of here. He couldn’t handle being selfless everyday but he can do a decent job every other weekend. While I want nothing to do with him, my kids now have a dad who is happy to see them and he’s not yelling and screaming and scaring the crap out of them.

Again, a rather extreme example. Mine is also extreme – my husband and I separated while he was recovering from a brain injury, and he was in no state to be a co-parent. But gradually, thanks to the structure that a visitation schedule provided, he has become a more reliable presence in our kids’ lives.

But more than these tragedies, I’ve heard from everyday guys going through garden-variety divorces who thrive in their new, part-time parenting schedules. Several report that their ex-wives dominated domestic decisions and habits, and the men consciously or unconsciously acquiesced to her way of parenting while married. Now, left to their own devices, they’ve flourished in their new roles as independent parents. (Hear that ladies? Control freaks make men bad dads!)

Other stories are simply about men no longer taking for granted their time with their children and role as fathers. Some so cherish their visits that they find themselves more present and focused during those hours, when compared with when they lived full-time in the same home as their kids. Other dads struggle with guilt over not being around as much, worried their kids will one day have memories of the “weekend dad” — and do all they can to be involved and available.

I was recently chatting with a colleague contemplating divorce, and he said, “I owe it to my 3-year-old daughter to make it work.” That is certainly a noble and common notion, but I challenged him. A loveless marriage is no gift to any child. And there are so many examples of parents of both genders finding their groove after divorce — to the betterment of everyone involved.

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29 thoughts on “Single dads are better dads (and control freak moms ruin fatherhood)

  1. This has 100% been my experience.

    Professionally, I see this happen quite often during divorce or custody disputes. I think the trend is that fathers more and more want to be active and participate in the day-to-day. Unfortunately it is taking the courts a little while to catch up to this idea. Dads in these situations need to be persistent to get the time and access that they want. And moms in these situations need to realize that having an active dad is a blessing!

    On a personal level, my ex- is a wonderful dad. He’s told me many times that having the kids on his own forced him to realize how much I did during the marriage and it forced him to realize that he can excel at this.

    1. i work from home as a consultant and author. i have two kids, 9 and 6. i am still married and heading towards a divorce. its not my decision. i was willing to try to work it out. she got tired of me. my wife works outside the house.

      my soon to be ex wife isnt a bad parent. shes not a good parent either. her version of parenting is to take the kids to a friends or her parents, turn on the tv for them, and then chat with whomever. she resents excessive demands on her time, loses her temper and shouts, and get impatient.

      i have been the primary care giver almost since day one. i am an exceptional father. even my soon to be ex wife admits that. i take them to school and then work. i pick them up. i play with them. we disconnected the tv in the house and unless they want to play or be alone, then im there with them. i do homework with them. i feed them. take them to the doctors. i put them to bed at night. i wake them up. everyday.

      except saturday night. then my wife puts them to bed. she spends about half of sunday with the kids too, despite being off all day. the rest of the day she feels is “her time”. i havent had “my time” in years. i know whats she talking about conceptually but i cant visualize it. i cram 8-10 hours of work into 5-6 hours of day so when the kids are home i am there physically and mentally for them.

      from what i am discovering, it doesnt matter what kind of father i am and what kind of mother she is. shes gonna get custody. shes going to get the house too. shes gonna get the dog and the car too. the kids will be VISITING me yet LIVING with her. there is a huge difference.

      i read the article and laughed. the system is so skewed towards women that its unholy.

      1. Hi William, You note makes me feel really sad on so many levels. I’m sorry you’re going through this. One thing: I urge you to get a good lawyer and fight for custody if you believe that is what is best for the kids, and it a) sounds like you do, and b) sounds like it is! Don’t assume that the courts are stacked against you, and fight for what is right – both in terms of custody and the house, etc.

  2. The visitation arrangement ordered by the court in our case really does ensure that my daughter sees the very best of her Dad. He flourishes in the structure provided.

  3. I’ve noticed more and more men wanting to have full custody and/or putting their kids above their careers. All of the dads I interviewed for The Successful Single Dad had made major sacrifices so they could be a major part of their kids lives. One turned down a major promotion, another actually quit his high-paying law partnership and started his own practice so he had more control over the time they spent with their kids. Whatever has caused the shift, I say “Bravo!” Never underestimate the power of a dad!

  4. I think I’m a better dad now than I was prior to my separation from my children’s mother.

    But, it’s not because I took my kids for granted.

    The biggest issue was their mother and I not having open and honest dialogue about how we should raise our kids before we had them. I raised my kids like I was raised with corporal punishment and yelling when they didn’t listen and I got frustrated.

    On 8/12/12, their mom finally told me that how I dealt with the kids frustrating me was killing her love for me. I haven’t used corporal punishment once since that conversation. I am also a lot calmer than I was previous to that and have read a lot more books on parenting.

    I had to fight hard to get almost 50% parenting time (1 overnight every week, 1 evening from 3:30 to 6 every week, and every other weekend from Friday night to Monday morning). And that hasn’t made me a better parent.

    But, the things that happened during the custody fight (she forced me from our home by getting a stay away OOP claiming excessive corporal punishment so she could tell me she wanted a divorce via email) did make me treasure my time with the kids.

    Although, I have a feeling that she deals with the same issues on the weekends when she doesn’t have the kids.

    So, I think one thing that helps make single dads better is that the communication issues are gone.

  5. Can I hear a man, just one, just once, say that he learned to be a better father for reasons other than circumstances related to something the mother did or didn’t say or do?!
    Let’s make that sentence more simple: Mom had nothing to do with my lackluster parenting.
    The kids had nothing to do with it. The marriage had nothing to do with it. The house and job had nothing to do with it. It was all me. My perspectives, my reactions, my actions, my lack of action, my ego, my naivety, my immaturity, my desire for control, my desire for sovereignty, my various other wants, my inability to know what my wants were, my not knowing that my wants were mostly self driven and unhealthy for the family and for myself, etc etc etc.

    I think what makes parents better over time is when they can really start to trust themselves. It matters not one iota what anybody else says that’s good or bad, because if you can’t live with yourself and make decisions from a rooted place within yourself, you won’t be able to truly care about the well-being of another.
    So many couples start to hate each other for the discomfort of growth that they each must undertake, in order to become whole people and more effective parents, as though the other person somehow caused it.
    The other person may pinpoint that there is a character flaw that needs refinement, or may be needing to grow themselves just as much which brings the thing to one’s attention, but that doesn’t mean anything will feel better with a blame game being tossed about. Really, it’s life itself that is forcing us to change.
    Oftentimes though, neither party is yet willing to do the hard work of redeveloping themselves to adjust to their changing lives, and they think a divorce will help them go back to the way they were before (as single people with no children), not realizing there is no going back, nor should there be. From birth on, you start on a path forward, and as scary as that may be at times, you must continue on. Hopefully you learn something good along the way

  6. The same clarifying exercise can be done by, and would also benefit, women.
    Less blame game from either party, more understanding and compassion, more positive energy going around to shower the kids with, to shower ourselves with, and even eventually to shower the other parent with. Win-win trumps zero-sum. Everytime

    1. It’s crazy how the very things that drive us apart in the first place: money issues, communication issues, self-esteem issues, an imbalance of power, unreasonable expectations, etc all have to be resolved anyways in order to have an effective co-parenting endeavor.

  7. My boyfriend has a son, from a relationship where they broke up just after the son was born, so this doesn’t connect fully to your divorce hypothesis.

    However, he had him only weekends in the beginning but now (at the age of 7) they take care of him every second week, so it’s a 50/50 cooperation. He sometimes tells me about how he could truly be there for his son all the time when spending only weekends with him, and how he feels that now he is more a “regular and boring” father who sometimes needs to work and do other everyday things while his son is here with us. So in that way I agree with your story, this is how he himself experiences it as a father. He would, however, never give up the chance to take care of his son 50% of the time, although this might mean his son finds him less “fun”, less “adventure”.

    What makes me upset with your text is the perspective that the actions and choices of the woman makes the man a better/worse father. “Control freaks make men bad dads”? The man makes himself a better/worse dad! It sounds like you’ve only been in contact with men who are worse fathers than the wife is a good mother, and where the mother has to raise and educate not only the kids but also the man as a father? To me, this sounds tragical.

    Of course, I live in Sweden and our culture is perhaps widely different from yours also in this aspect. But if dads are responsible, that’s not “thanks to” the mom handling the dad in the correct way, or vice versa. If someone told you, as a mom, that you take your responsibility for your children thanks to your husband/former husband dealing with you in the right way, or that perhaps if your husband had treated you differently, then you would have made a better mom, how would that make you feel?!!

    My boyfriend has to fight a lot of prejudices against dads, even here in Sweden. Nobody expected him to take much responsibility for his son after the separation. Teachers, coaches etc expect the mom to be the one who wants to get information about the son’s activities, so all info goes to the mom and then – if the mom feels like it! – it comes to us. I think this text cements this view of fathers, and mothers, even further.

    1. Hi Olivia – You make a great point — no one is responsible for another person’s actions or the quality of their parenting. And yet, family dynamics and the way couples relate are the responsibility of both parents. It takes two, as the old saying goes. Anecdotally, I see lots of families in which the mom is the primary caregiver, and being the female (aka the assumed nurturer, historically) the fathers unconsciously defer to her child rearing preferences. Yet this can be emasculating, or at least deflating, which makes him resent being involved on some level. It is something that just happens over time, until a split occurs, when things change and he is now free to parent as he likes – and thrives as a father as a result.

      It is complicated and I don’t pretend to have the answers. It is easy to say: everyone is responsible for themselves! But that doesn’t paint the whole picture.

  8. I’m sorry but are we supposed to pat these men on the back for being able to thrive as part-time parents? For being able to cope with their own children for a day and a half twice a month? I have a news flash for you – almost anyone can be a good parent a day or two at a time. The hard work, the real work of being a parent, is being able to do it day in, day out without fail. Of being able to clean up yet another mess and resolve yet another fight, knowing you’re going to have to get up and do it all again tomorrow. Knowing you’re going to have to do it even if you’ve had a crap day at work or a sleepless night or a splitting headache. And what about childcare? As a single parent now working full time, I have to think about childcare pretty much ALL THE TIME. Every holiday, every time they’re sick, every in service day – I have to make sure I know who is going to be with my children. Their dad might offer to “help” on some of these occasions…but if he can’t, I doesn’t matter. Because he knows full well that I will sort it out.

    So yes, it’s great that the kids feel closer to him and get more of his attention when they are with him. And it’s great that he gets a tiny taste of what it’s like to actually have to take responsibility for his children. But it’s just that – a taste. I fully and wholeheartedly congratulate those dads who have taken on full or even 50/50 responsibility for their children after a divorce, but for those part-time dads, frankly I think they are getting their getting to have their cake and eat it too while they leave us, the full-time carers to still do all the hard work.

    1. Hi Rebecca. I 100% hear you, and it sounds like your experience mirrors mine. I’m not suggesting dads get a high-five for their parttime parenting efforts. I’m saying that in many cases there is an upside to divorce, in that men DO come to appreciate what it takes to parent, and yes, thrive because their time with their kids can be limited, less stressed and ultimately, less responsibility. You are correct — the bulk of the responsibility often does fall on the mother (ahem, like you and me), and that may not be fair. But there is a silver lining.

  9. Hi Emma – yes I agree, there is a silver lining for the kids. They often get a “better dad” than they had pre-divorce. But I resent that the dads get such kudos for their part-time efforts, I resent that the kids end up idolising the “fun, quality time” parent over the one who has to do all the hard slog, and I resent the notion that “control freak” mums make men bad dads. I resent taking all the blame AND all the responsibility. These part time dads step up, not because they suddenly have the freedom to parent according to their own rules, but because they have no choice. When the children are in their care, they are forced, probably for the first time, to be present and responsible instead of allowing someone else to step in and take care of everything. It’s just a shame someone can’t teach them this before they destroy their families, even if we all end up happier apart than we were together.

    1. I don’t believe Rebecca understands how this conversation happened! Fathers who were great fathers and the one to take care of the kids, take them to sports, dance classes, seen them walk,talk and a father who is hands on with there children should have the same power the woman or mothers have in courts, there are so many fathers who are so much better parents than the mothers, and we too decided to bring these innocent children who deserved two parents into the world. Its a shame that many woman don’t believe in there wedding vows, that leaving or jumping ship is better than fixing the one there in. As a father of two young children, i miss them everyday and had the full responsibility when i lived with them and would give my left arm just like many other Dads to continue to be able to still read them bed time stories, do there home work and reports,projects etc. Being a part time dad is harder than you full time Moms can understand, give your kids to your ex-husbands that want them for a year, see your kids every other weekend then speak for us men. Until then i would stop with the woman do everything crap, Because the only thing my ex- did more than me was carry them. i was there in the delivery room!

      1. Anthony, stories like yours are heartbreaking. While fathers are by and far more involved than ever before, there is still a lot to do to bridge the gap between how much childcare women and men do. Sadly, while these issues should be considered on a case-by-case basis, overriding trends dictate what courts decide. Hang in there. Wishing you and your family the best.

    2. Chicks like rebbecca just dont get it. Im in the same boat as Anthony except me and my sons mom never married. Its the truth, the more controlling mom is, dad usually wont put up with the additional stress. There is NO DOUBT I am the better parent for my son, im the one who can spend that one on one time with him that he needs.mom is usually too busy with other things. However when dealing with the majority of women these days its not about being a parent its all about control. So let me get this correct, I have the responsibility for him money wise but no say so in his education, child care and how hes raised on a everyday basis and if I disagree then mom might get in her feelings and start playin games.so I have to go BACK to court, pay more money to a scumbag lawyer who wont represent me properly(instead of that money going to my kid)headaches, stress, anger for what a couple of days a week? I choose to work at a daycare as a cook for the hope of my son attending so we could spend time and I could raise him as best I could. But for some reason his mom is more worried about control than my kids best interest. After discussing this and other things in a calm adult manner and still gettin the run around (ive been through alot behind this). Ive decided to just back away. Because I truly am tired of jumping through hoops, arguments,csb,childish behavior or just straight up bullshit (sons car seat reeked of weed) I love my son to death and have sacrificed alot for him but at the end of the day im not going to keep trying to beat a dead horse, loose my insanity or frankly wind up doing something stupid. Women like rebbecca have this attitude like they impregnated them selves and for the dads that choose to be involved they get told over and over again “mommy knows best”. I have nothing against mothers, but I get sick of hearing about a dad that has to deal with all that insanity AND deal with the kids. If a father is doing what he can and being responsible why cant he have custody? Especially bsince the only reason it hasent fell apart all the way is because she can run home and play the “poor me” card. If the situation was reversed I would hope if my son needed to live with her because I couldn’t give him what he needs then it wouldn’t be taken personally but for his best interest. But hey if she wanna burn herself and her mother out because she wants to be greedy then by all means.

  10. Giving kudos to part-time dads should be given more thought by the women that have posted on the site. You have to also realize that the agreements that you will make with the dad consistently make it so they are considered part time and not truly a 50/50 partner in co-parenting. My boyfriend is currently experiencing being an every other weekend and every Wednesday father, because his ex-wife would not allow and every other week co-parenting plan. She is too selfish and would not give up any more time and was too worried about her child support and how much she wouldn’t get. She also made it so the children would have to split every single major holiday instead of doing every other holiday. I am not sure how this was to be beneficial for any child to interrupt every major holiday because she couldn’t do without seeing them. In this situation my boyfriend doesn’t have a choice but to be an every other weekend every Wednesday parent. Even with him living five minutes away from their school, his ex-wife still does not feel that he should get additional time and that the additional time will be him being able to attend more of their activities, which may not even be true because he does work. Neither the mother nor the father should be applauded for taking care of their children after a divorce, it’s something that you should be doing anyway and no one deserves to get a pat on the ass just because one feels they do it more than the other because one is a woman. When the ex-wife keeps the children from the father, for selfish reasons, she shouldn’t be patted on the back for anything. Fathers nurture their children different than mothers, that’s a fact. It doesn’t mean that fathers don’t nurture their children at all… Get a grip ladies, just because you gave birth to these children doesn’t mean that you know what’s best for them, that’s why it takes two to make them in the first place.

    1. Thanks for this Bella. Lots of great points to support my arguement. It’s a tough situation – lots of times parents (both of them) need to be flexible and open minded in allowing the other to grow and change. For example, when I first split with my ex — who was barely recovering from a brain injury at the time — I was terrified of leaving the kids alone with him and fought very hard to keep him from having overnight visits. But as he’s worked through his recovery he has proven to be a really great dad and I have no reason to do anything but encourage his relationship with his kids. In less dramatic situations, sometimes one parent checks out for a period and is not an involved father or mother, or maybe there is even an alarming incident. But they should be given the chance to redeem themselves — especially if they fight for the chance to do so.

  11. I’m not to sure where to go from here… my ex (2 year relationship) is currently pregnant with my son (my 1st child)(she already has two kids with a different father) and she is doing everything she can to block me out of her life because she feels like I judge her by cleaning up her place and helping her understand that her 2 kids run her over. What can I do? She even threatens to disappear to Mexico and/or not let me sign the birth certificate. We are due in August possible September. I really love her and the unborn child and would give up anything just to make it work. I would hate to know that my son is going to be fatherless.

    I hope this is not too off topic

  12. Honestly the women on this site make me sick! You never even think about how the men feel. I am a male and was the stay at home parent for 6 years. I will soon be an every other weekend parent thanks to our ridiculous legal system that doesn’t value fathers as anything other than a monthly check. It is impossible to have a meaningful relationship with children when you see them 6 days a month. Shame on you women who think this is just fine. You are harming your children by being so selfish. To you women who fight hard to restrict the men from seeing the thing they love most in this world go to hell. Emma honestly you divorced your husband when he was recovering from brain surgery? Lovely! If brain surgery and recovery weren’t hard enough you then divorce him in the midst of that and then try to restrict how much he sees his kids. Couldn’t you have waited until he was healed to try and destroy the man. Selfish and self centered!

  13. I moved to Arizona with my gf of 4 years so she could get promoted for her job with Starbucks, I didn’t have a job for first 3 months we were there because economy was bad and I picked up a job at spring training and rode a bike to work just to help with whatever it was until I found a regular good full time job making better money. I finally found a job making 70,000.00 a year and her sister moved down to be our nanny and her sister partied all the time so I said this is not right. I said we can’t have random people over here at 1-3am when our son is an infant and you get up at 330am for work (Starbucks) she decided to move out with her sister and left me with all bills and took my son and that lasted 3 months because the problem of her sister followed her and so she decided to take off with my son back to Seattle and I had to quit my good job to follow so I could be with my son and now that we are back she has full control I still have not been able to have my son overnight and he is 2 tomorrow. I am far from unfit I gave up drinking for her over 9 months ago I go to counseling because I am so hurt, if you don’t love me anymore move on and stop controlling me and let me be the great father I am, it’s sick that the only person that gets hurt is the child and the unselfish parent who made a change and fought to keep their family together. I filed court papers for parenting plan on her and had a guardian a litem appointed and she is telling me until I drop G.A.L then she will not think about trying again. It’s all control. My family has never had my son on weekend, instead dad has to stay at work and not see his son while mom is out on her parents boat and on vacation for 2 weeks, her father died when she was very young and he overdosed on drugs and she calls him the sperm donor. So the woman who don’t see the father of their chil busting their ass to change their life and do what’s best for kids is heart breaking. She has no clue what it’s like to not have our son one night because she never has. It’s sad and I am not dropping guardian a litem because I will prevail and fight to have my son have his father in his life as I did not. If people knew the control it’s crazy people say I have no idea how you put up with it? Well sometimes you can’t make a person love you . We all make mistakes but my son doesn’t deserve to be taken from his dad who is an absolute great father. I told her move on with your life as I will because when you really love someone you stick it out and figure it out as a partnership. It takes two to tango. -Danny

  14. i think times are changing when my daughter was born i wanted to be a hands on dad do my part everything but for some reason my ex partner did not appreciate this she turned abusive and made destructive comments towards me on a personnel level used to snatch her of me when i was trying to settle her for a nap and stuff not like i did not let her take part at times as well she caused a very nasty break up and is actively alienating me from my child she has been very nasty and abusive and turned me in to a bag of nerves with my daughter actively smashing my confidence how is that in a child’s best interest its not its selfish i think she broke up with me so she could maintain more control then the lies started omg! going to court i hope they see what is happening and help me i did want a family 2 children but i am terrified of the same thing happening again it feels like your child is being snatched from you and there is nothing you can do!

  15. My soon-to-be-ex is now an awful dad to our children (but apparently a wonderful dad to his “new” love child from his affair 4 years ago (that I forgave him for, only to discover they cheated AGAIN last year).
    He only sees the kids every other week and doesn’t call or contact the kids at all during the 12 days he doesn’t have them.
    When he’s here, he spends half his time playing Xbox with the kids and half on the phone texting his girlfriend.

    It’s awful for my kids.
    They are heartbroken.

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