Tips for single dad
July 13, 2009 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Looking for tips, advice, how-to's, words of wisdom, dire warnings, helpful websites/blogs/books, and general info on single parenting in general...and for single parenting for a dad raising an almost 3yo in particular.

My daughter's mom and I have been separated for several months now...its all well and good and not the crux of my question.

The first few months of the separation were survival mode: living arrangements, bills, divorce stuff, etc.

Now that the dust is settling I am looking forward to honing my routine and techniques as a single parent. To that end I am looking for any advice or tips or resources you might have found helpful. Specifically to a dad raising a daughter.

Pertinent info: I have my daughter half the week. She is 2 2/3rds years old. I am single, although I've been on one has met my daughter yet of course. Mom is about to cohabitate with bf. Mom and I get along well and it gets better as time passes.

I am looking for very practical advice (pigtails still elude me, is there a how-to?) and more inspirational abstract type stuff as well.

I know there is a plethora of websites to be had from a simple google search, but I am hoping to separate the wheat from the chaff.

posted by ian1977 to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's awesome that you will be spending time with her in spite of the divorce. I don't have the experience of being a single father but I do have an 8 year old daughter.

- Real live pigtails STILL elude me. I go with scrunchies or an elastic bandana.
- Ice cream solves everything.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:23 AM on July 13, 2009

There are hairdo how to videos on youtube, but I can't find a plain pigtail one. Here's a simple one:

Anyway, the trick is to use something pointy but not sharp to draw a line to part her hair. Drag the thingy down the middle to get a good straight part. (You can get a comb with a long pointy bit on the end, I use whatever I can reach.) Also, I hold the two rubber bands (the goody covered kind) in my teeth, or else they get lost and I have to start over. Once the hair is divided, grab one side and brush it and gather it together and put it in a ponytail and wrap the rubber band around. (Do you know how to do that? Put the rubber band around all the hair, grab the ponytail, twist the rubber band so one half is tight around the ponytail, then put the loose half around the ponytail. Grab one bit of the band, pull it, twist, put around, repeat until everything's tight.) Then, brush the other side and do that pig tail. The hard part is getting them in the same place. Yeah. I've sent my daughter to school with one high one and one low one, you'll get the hang of it.

If you master this, you can then take each of the pigtails, twist the hair and wrap it around the first rubber band in a spiral. (Like a cinnamon roll.) Then secure it with another rubber band or a scrunchie on top of the mess for messy buns or with bobby pins for an up high princess Leia, Minnie Mouse ears look. Very easy once you can do the pigtail. Also, I got my daughter two hot pink and purple $2 Walmart hair extensions from the kids dress up aisle. If I secure the messy type buns with these (very messily) it looks awesome (to her and her friends.) The extensions are just a pile of really fake plastic hair stuck on a rubberband.

The only really useful routine I've managed to make into law around here is to put out clothes at night so there's no fighting or searching in the morning. Also, the order is breakfast, brush teeth, dress. Or else there's always toothpaste on shirts.
posted by artychoke at 9:40 AM on July 13, 2009

Reading over that, I don't think my explanation of pigtails would help anyone! Ask me lots of questions until it makes sense, if you want.
posted by artychoke at 9:42 AM on July 13, 2009

Don't overestimate the value of just spending time with your daughter. It seems like a lot of single fathers choose to make up for their single parenthood by spoiling their daughters rotten or trying to pack their days as full as they can, but I bet your daughter won't know much of a difference- spending time together is what counts. Yes, take her to the zoo and the aquarium and the movie theatre if you want- but don't overlook staying home and watching a movie on the couch, going and playing at the park, giving her jobs in the kitchen to help you prepare dinner (even if it's as simple as putting pre-cut lettuce in salad bowls), or having a coloring session. And don't forget the coloring, if you sit down and color with her you'll be the coolest dad ever (or at least mine was). Similarly, it's not always necessary to buy the new "cool" toy- I was happier at a young age with coloring books, playdough, and baby dolls than with any of the new toys that were coming out.

For what it's worth, my dad (who had a nasty seperation from his first wife, who my niece lives with) spent a weekend with my niece and she asked him if he could put her hair in pigtails. He agreed, and they were rather...sloppy, mostly because he'd had no pigtail practice in 15 years. When he took her back to her grandmother that night, her grandmother tried to fix the pigtails and my niece threw a fit. She didn't care what they looked like, what mattered was that grandpa did them. So I wouldn't worry too much- little girls usually aren't that picky!
posted by kro at 9:52 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a pretty good pigtails video, if you ignore the fancy bits about zig-zag parts and wrapping and whatnot. You want a good comb, and you want to comb each side very smoothly. It takes a little practice because you want it to pull each bunch of hair almost too tight so that when you wrap the elastic band and let it go, it relaxes a bit. Unfortunately, three year olds will tend to whimper about it.

It will probably be useful to stick to a pretty strict routine in terms of eating, bedtime, waking time, etc--confer with the mom on this so that your daughter feels secure knowing that whether she's with mom or with you, the same things are going to happen at more or less the same times. This is really important for preschoolers, they really crave consistency. And for your coparenting relationship, keeping to a similar routine will help you when behavioral problems arise--you'll both know that sleep disturbances or tantrums aren't a result of an inconsistency between the two households and you'll have a much easier time working together to find solutions. Make sure that if something unusual does happen, you give each other a heads up.

Your daughter is really young and is still in a stage of life where she's learning a lot of new things and coming up with a lot of new tricks--make sure that you keep each other in the loop when she does something new on your time, and celebrate that together rather than feeling sad or resentful because you missed your daughter's first joke or Mom missed the first time she read something on her own.
posted by padraigin at 9:58 AM on July 13, 2009

I was raised in a single parent household by my Dad. The gender difference wasn't as big of a deal as you'd think. Although there was an issue when I started discharging perfectly normal cervical mucus and he assumed there was something wrong. I would take the time to learn about female anatomy, helped me fill in the blanks as a kid.

Good luck!
posted by Niomi at 9:58 AM on July 13, 2009

The above website is actually at, my apologies.
posted by Niomi at 9:59 AM on July 13, 2009

It's great that you and your ex-wife are friendly. I was older when my parents divorced (definitely old enough to know what was going on), and both of my parents leaned on me for emotional support quite a bit more than I think was fair. This doesn't sound like it'll be a problem for you, but just make sure you're always pleasant with regards to her mother, even if you have valid reasons to be angry with each other down the line.

One of the best things my dad did for me and my sister when we were kids was to make sure he took us on a trip every year. These trips were usually within the country, just to cities we'd never been to before. We'd do touristy things, nothing too fancy, but it was a great way to see new places, learn about history and geography, and spend family time. (This might be hard to plan depending on your job-- my dad travels a lot for work, so he'd usually pick one business trip that he'd extend for a few days and bring us along)
posted by oinopaponton at 10:17 AM on July 13, 2009

I think the key parenting message is that when people say "My kid did X/was able to do Y perfectly/grew out of doing Z at age A" they always get the age A wrong. Do not worry about remembered "milestones" though listen to the general messages about what works with kids.

I prefer real rubber bands for pigtails. They hold better and cutting them off (think how little they cost) prevents pulling out hairs the way taking off any version does. The downside is that you then need to tie ribbons over them.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:05 PM on July 13, 2009

My SO was the father of a 3year old girl when we met. The only thing I think he did wrong was believe he didn't know what to do with a girl. A boy, fine, let's play catch or watch the football or go for a nature hike. I think he missed an opportunity to be closer to her by treating her as a delicate flower instead of as a person. He'd encourage all the passive, overtly feminine things: cuddly toys, fluffy dresses, colouring books with cute animals and flowers. She grew up very feminine - with a black belt in karate. There's nothing at all wrong with her, I just think he missed an opportunity by being too hesitant. My advice: have fun, do things that every toddler needs to learn whether it's catching a ball or running a race or picking up toys, and bumble through the hair and matching clothes. Just keep in mind that every little girl seems to go though a won't wear anything but pink and purple phase.
posted by x46 at 2:34 PM on July 13, 2009

Yeah, I know that this isn't "how to be a father" thread, so this is getting a bit off-topic, but I'll second what x46 said -- you can still play horse (basketball game) or pickle (a baseball / frisbee game) or whatever with her; you don't have to be like "oh, she's a Girl" and assume you should act a certain different way than you otherwise would (not that I heard you suggesting it). But I hope someone else has some good blogs to recommend for you.
posted by salvia at 4:06 PM on July 13, 2009

Perhaps you and she could start collecting things on walks, trips to the zoo, museum etc...and start a scrap book (now I know scrapbooks sound scary and personally I'm not into them but) A book that contains pictures that the two of you have drawn of each other, pressed leaves, bug carcasses, brochures, photos you take of each other...(You get the idea) would be a wonderful way to share your time in a way that is documented so one day perhaps when she graduates high school or gets married you could hand her this glorious (not perfectly made) scrap book of memories the two of you created. Plus it is a consistent, extremely flexible way to share time and activities together.

What is wrong with a pony tail? Also the biggest thing you can do for any child is give them undivided attention where you really give them lots of eye contact and really listen to what they say :). Who doesn't love and thrive from attention and love...any child with a parent as seemingly dedicated as you will thrive.

Nice job Daddy.
posted by gypseefire at 12:44 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

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