What Your First Year as a Single Dad Looks Like


“When things would hit us was a little bit different for all of us. But, overall, it felt like there was a pattern to it and we shared many common experiences. And what we shared in common was more than what happened. Without taking away from the uniqueness of each man’s experience, in talking to other single dads, there was also a similarity in how these events made us feel.” – Edwin

Though the amount of time in each phase varies, the first twelve months as a single dad roughly shakes out like this:

It’s A Process

The beginning of the graph represents where you are before the split. Though some will say their separation “came out of the blue”, the reality is, this rarely happens. Even if you didn’t see it coming, your partner did, and the relationship is in decline.

The reasons for this are numerous, but, in most cases, it’s been on the rocks for a while, and you’ve been unable to stop its decline. You and your partner have been living consistently below the baseline of being pictured above as the “Good Life”.

And then it happens.


The split happens, and it feels like you’ve been dropped off a cliff. Confusion reigns.

While trying to navigate the logistics of custody schedules and who’ll live where, along with the legal wrangling involved with the division of assets and co-parenting agreements, you’re dealing with the grief of your broken relationship and trying to hold it together for the kids.

And life doesn’t stop to wait for you to catch up. The job, the laundry, the cooking, the bills, and the rest of life’s commitments keep on coming.

It’s the worst.

But, eventually, with focus and hard work, the initial chaos subsides, and things level out.


This phase feels like just existing. A lot of guys describe this as a sort of “zombie-like” state of being. You’re going through the motions and plodding through while you lick your wounds.

On the positive side, as you come into acceptance of your new circumstances, you’re also learning. Every red sock in a load of whites, botched attempts at painting fingernails, or awkward conversations about puberty, is you coming into your own as a single parent.

In short, you’re starting to get the hang of it.


After what feels like an eternity of stumbling around, you can start to see a break in the trees and sunlight ahead, as you push past the discomfort and start to piece your new life together.

Though expressed above as a straight line heading upwards, it’s seldom that smooth. The Rebuild phase is littered with peaks and valleys. But, when you take a step back, you can see you’re on your way back to the Good Life you had before, and maybe…somewhere better.


Though it’s unlikely you’ll get here in the first year, it represents the goal you’re aiming for. And it’s always good to have a goal.

This phase sees you emerging from this difficult experience as a new person. You’ve learned from your experience and ideally have an even stronger bond with your children than you did previously. There are still ups and downs with the ex, but overall you’re co-parenting well. You’ve got newfound energy for work and life, and are possibly even open to exploring a romantic commitment to someone new.

Why Does It Matter?

For many of us, seeing our experience as not only part of a process, but also part of a shared journey which many others have walked before us, is helpful. It can give you hope.

The key to this is understanding that your journey, though it will have its unique aspects, is similar to that experienced by many other single dads and me.

But the biggest takeaway is that it will be okay.

I got to the last of the 4-Rs, and my daughter and I are enjoying life Redefined.

You’ll get there too.

Chaz Thorne