Single mothers are the breadwinner, the disciplinarian, the role model, and chief guardian of their children’s health, education, and happiness. Like my own single mom did, they make a heroic attempt to fulfill and excel at all these roles and more.
There’s one role, however, that single mothers cannot fill: that of a father. Studies show that boys benefit from having contact with a father—even one who lives outside the home. Boys raised with a father somewhere in the picture often do better academically, financially, and socially than their fatherless peers.
If you are a single mother raising boys without men on your own, does this mean your son is doomed? Not at all! In fact, I meet successful businessmen every week who grew up without a dad. But it’s a fact that fatherless boys face extra challenges and have certain behavioral or character traits in common. As a single mom, it’s important that you keep on eye out for these behaviors your son may exhibit so that you can take steps to help your boy become a confident, happy young adult.
What single moms can do: You can support your boy by recognizing his particular strengths, talents, and gifts, talking about these, and giving him opportunities to excel at them.A need to belong. My research shows one of the side effects of growing up fatherless is feeling incomplete, alone, and lacking a strong identity. A fatherless boy will sometimes seek out the company of a group that provides him with a sense of belonging.
What single moms can do: As his mother, help him be part of a church, sports team, club, or other healthy “tribe” rather than leaving it up to him to find his own peer group.
Silent anger. Anger in its many shades can be one of the deep-rooted side effects of having an absent father.
What single moms can do: Be compassionate, and keep an eye out for less obvious signs, such as exasperation at school, bullying, or self-loathing.
Lopsided views about sex, love, and trust. Be aware that boys without fathers have a lot of unanswered questions about sex. They don’t talk about sex and get the practical advice from a dad that would carry them into healthy, fulfilling relationships as men. Sometimes boys also have a deep-seated hurt that leads them to view love as vulnerability. As a result, they may have a difficult time trusting someone with their heart.
What single moms can do: Talk to your boy about the difference between sex and love. Remind him that he was conceived in love. Ask a male relative or other important male in his life to talk to him about sex and about the emotional aspects of dating, having sex, and loving.
Misunderstanding character. Without a father to model character and reflect appropriate adult male behaviors such as respect, self-discipline, politeness, citizenship, and confidence, boys are left to choose character traits from the world around them—from celebrities, pro athletes, popular musicians, and the like. Without strong male role models to mirror, boys without fathers sometimes misunderstand character.
What single moms can do: Keep an eye on who he’s emulating. Because you are the strong, central part of his life, he’s probably incorporating a lot of your values and behaviors, so be aware of what you model. Be sure to surround yourself with the kind of men you’d like him to become.
The best thing single moms can do: If your son has a father who lives outside the home, studies show that even some contact with Dad is very beneficial. You will do your son a tremendous favor to put aside your feelings of bitterness, estrangement, or judgment—if you have these—and do everything you can to help your son and his dad reconnect. If the dad lives far away, I encourage you to help your son stay in touch with his dad. As someone who grew up with an estranged father and an embittered mother, I know firsthand the loss your boy will feel as he grows into adulthood and works to overcome the side effects of growing up fatherless.
Keep up the great work. Single moms across America are doing an amazing job!