Making it work as a single dad

Author: Caroline Davey / 15 June 2013

“It’s a sort of bereavement, when the life you used to know just goes,” says Andy, a father of three, of the time after his marriage ended. “Throughout, my main focus was the children. They really needed me and I needed to be there for them in any way I could.”

Modern fatherhood includes men like Andy, one of around 186,000 dads in the UK bringing up his children on his own . Around 8 per cent of the UK’s 2 million single parents are dads. Statistically, single dads are more likely to be widowed than single mums (12 per cent of single fathers are widowed, compared with five per cent of single mothers ), but many find themselves parenting alone after marriage and relationship breakdown. Regardless of their route into single parenthood, single dads surveyed by Gingerbread tell us they are very unlikely to know other dads in their situation, and can find parenting alone even more of a challenge as a result.

Indeed, although one in four families with dependent children is headed by a single parent, balancing working life with the demands of caring for children alone can still be an uphill struggle. Andy, who works part-time in a secondary school, describes the efficiency he needs to ensure life runs smoothly for the family. “You always have to think: what can I achieve at this moment in time? What is the most important thing for me to do right now?”

In a society still not used to seeing men as main carers, single dads often find it even more difficult to combine work and single parenthood. “I don’t think employers expect a man to be on his own with a child, let alone a baby,” says Eddie, a 50 year old father of one, who became a single dad following his wife’s death when his son was just five months old. “Nobody seemed interested in giving me a job so I had to try a different route.”

For Eddie, that route was self-employment, the only working option he could see that would give him the flexibility to be there for his son. Others, like Andy, take on fierce competition and lower pay to secure a part-time job. Some choose trying to balance higher salaries gained in full-time, yet usually inflexible, work with rocketing childcare costs. And there are those forced into a cycle of short-term jobs and out-of-work benefits to keep their families afloat.

But single dads also tell us of the huge pride they have in themselves and their children, and their real sense of achievement in bringing them up successfully. “You learn things you never imagined”, says Gareth, a widowed single parent to Max, nine, and Polly, five. “You find these immense resources of strength and character you never knew you had.”

At Gingerbread, the national charity for single parents, we’re campaigning to break down the barriers to finding, keeping and progressing in employment, and we’re challenging the government and employers to Make it work for single parents. And when it works for mums and dads raising their children alone, it will work for anyone who wants to combine work with family life.

This Father’s Day at Gingerbread we’re celebrating the brilliant job being done by the UK’s single dads in a special video shining a light on the skills they have to offer, gained from what can be an intensely difficult job.

“It’s probably been the biggest challenge of my life”, says Andy of his time so far as a single dad. “But I desperately love my children and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


  1. Posted by andy / June 19th, 2013

    Some single Dads are on their own because of their partners bereavement, whilst other single Dads are cast adrift by a society which sees Mums as the carers of our children. This is very sad because Dads are very good at being fathers to their own children. It’s only right for the whole family that he should continue parenting along with his partner, post-separation. It’s only what the children would expect. Kind regards.

  2. Posted by Paul Apreda / August 20th, 2013

    Thanks Andy for sharing your experiences. We tend to see very few widowed fathers as our charity supports dads – as well as mums and grandparents – who are facing exclusion from the lives of their children. I appreciate your acknowledgement of the main issue here even though it is not your own. We see parents who are facing allegations of abuse or simply flat refusal to allow them to see their own children. The injustices that are routinely shared at our meetings are appalling – yet the story still persists that fathers don’t face prejudice and discrimination when they’re fighting to play a positive role in their children’s lives. We’d love to work with big charities like Gingerbread to find ways to improve collaborative parenting following divorce or separation because we know that this would be a powerful force to improve the lives of children in Wales. Maybe this could be the start? Paul

  3. Posted by kym / April 18th, 2014

    Hi im a widow im 39 i have been for this october 6 years with 4 kids its hard to meet people

  4. Posted by Elisha / June 24th, 2014

    I’m a single 19 year old dad of 16 months, to my 2 year 4 month year old daughter. I also seem to be looking towards self employment as I had to leave college half way through my course. So with nothing but a few gcse’s to my name I can’t seem to find a job anywhere with the right hours and amount of pay to work. Just as Eddie, looking for something which I can gain income and grow as a business in time. Thanks for sharing

  5. Posted by Jhowell / July 3rd, 2014

    My problem with Greg’s aruemgnt is that it seems to be reducing parenting down to the physical labor of feeding, clothing, and cleaning. Presumably, as long as sufficient labor capability exists in the house, the problem is solved. By that mesure, children raised entirely by robots should be as well-adjusted as any others. I’m finding that a bit far-fetched.I would argue that single motherhood and single fatherhood are not compaable under the present circumstances, for a variety of reasons. Of course, the largest one is that in our current culture, there is no social stigma associated with not having a father or not knowing who one’s father is. Compare that to the case for adopted children, who do not know who either of their biological parents are. And there is no stigma associated with a household which has no father in it. I am a big believer that, in order to be well-adjusted in regards to how they relate to the oppsite sex, children need to have role models of both sexes. Now, there are different ways of accomplishing that goal, but that’s beside the point I want to make. I don’t have the stats in front of me night now, but a significant number of single mothers were themselves raised in single-mother households. Being that the welfare state has been in place for about 60 years now, this can extend back through three or four generations. A boy may find himself being raised in a family that is otherwise single-sex. This is very unlikely to happen in a father-only household. I would guess that the number of single-parent fathers who were themselves raised in a motherless household is minscule, probably not enough to study.Futher, the child of a single father still has plenty of exposure to female role models. They have female relatives. Some fathers hire caretakers, who are nearly all female. School teachers are mostly female. Compare this with the opposite situation. It’s quite possible that a child in a single-mother household will never meet an adult male realtive, due to the multi-generational chain of single mothering. In public schools, the child is unlikely to have a male teacher. Welfare and child-protective employees are mostly women too. It’s entirely possible that the child’s only “male role models” will be in the form of street gangs.So no, I don’t think that there is any such thing as gender-neutral “single parenting”. And I don’t think that studying father-only households will tell you anything about single-mother households. The two are simply not comparable.

  6. Posted by Mohamed / October 24th, 2014

    The only relief I felt after two years+ now is that I am not alone any more!

    I ‘ve been raising four kids on my own now! three of them are twins!

    It’s like a very hot summer all the time if you know what I mean, I ‘ll keep digging may be I ‘d come across a success story some where.

  7. Posted by Adam Watts / November 26th, 2014

    My wife died on 26th February 2013. She was 46 and we had 5 beautiful boys. At the time of her death, they were aged 10, 9, 7, 5 and 2. I work from home and we were in the middle of a major house extension. I’ve not had many days off since she died and it’s only about now that I can see a light at the end of the tunnel in so far as getting the house finished, which enables me to give myself some quality grieving time which, up to now, has been bottled inside me.

  8. Posted by Steve / February 4th, 2016

    I’m soon to become a single Dad of my 2 year old boy. His mother wants to go back to China (encourgaed by her mother) and leave my son and I.

    To be honest I’m petrified and doubting my own ability to cope.

    Interesting idea about single mothers raising future single mothers. My wife’s mother abandoned my wife when she was young. Now my wife is abandoning her child.

    These circles need to be broken.

  9. Posted by Anna Hovris / May 18th, 2016

    Hello all,
    I am a trainee Counselling Psychologist and I am conducting a study that aims to hear directly how lone fathers who have full time custody of their children following divorce or separation make sense of their experience, how their experience has shaped their relationship with their children and the resources they use to address any potential difficulties they may or may not have. In light of the limited available literature on lone fatherhood, it is hoped that the information provided will raise key considerations in better understanding what it means to be a lone father and the emotional processes involved such that their needs can be addressed. I am getting in contact to see whether or not you are interested in taking part in this study. If you are, please do not hesitate to contact me on for more information. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
    Warm regards

  10. Posted by Sal / May 21st, 2016

    Same here, I am about to become a single dad in a few months due to the mother’s situation(she is with someone else). I feel very prepare but I have to admit that I am a little concern on how to care about a newborn baby. Anyway, I have heard that many guys have done it alone so I am sure I will do fine and after reading your guy’s stories, it motivates me more.

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