There has been an increased trend of diversification of the family model in the western world, particularly in the latest decades. The continued high divorce rate and the spreading practice of having children outside marriage has in recent years led to a situation where children are growing up in families of different types. Whether it is a result of the increased tolerance vis-à-vis family units other than the traditional one, or of other changes, the number of single fathers in the society is growing. Therefore families with only a father, where it is the duty of the father to take care of their children (e.g. they have sole custody) are becoming more widespread (according to Bianchi, Casper, 2000; see Bronte-Tinkew et al. 2010, 1107). Today it is impossible to say how many single-father families there are in Estonia, because the state does not have precise and appropriate statistics about this.
A single-father family represents a unique type of family, where fathers, in terms of their scope of duties, are similar to single mothers and to fathers of families with two parents (Bronte-Tinkew et al. 2010, 1123). Single fathers feel the pressure to be at the same time both the caregiver as well as the breadwinner. At the same time caring for the family is mostly expected of women. Such discrepancy can cause a single father a lot of stress, because taking care of children as a single father is not traditionally linked with the core role of a man. Moreover, single fathers are often not in the same position as fathers in a relationship, because they also need to fulfil the role of the mother. But they are not similar to single mothers either, because they are expected to act like a man (Dufur et al. 2010, 1104).
Any study of single fathers has to consider the expectations that there are towards single men, in the same manner as expectations towards other types of family. The main caregiver role in the family is linked with gender. Men in this position are not equal to women in the same position for the very reason that they are men (Hook, Chalasani 2008, 989). The arguments presented above often point to the fact that different forces steer single fathers towards “performing the role of the mother” more and less at the same time.
Compared with families with two parents single fathers often have to handle a much heavier burden of responsibility, which they often have no-one to share with. They feel more overwhelmed by obligations (e.g. lack of personal time, deprivation of sleep and rest) accompanied with continued financial worries (Morris 2009, 18). A single-father family is mostly in a more difficult economic situation and the father cannot take part in the work life as much as a married man can (Bronte-Tinkew et al. 2010, 1109) Therefore smaller financial possibilities limit the ability of single fathers to offer the same economic and material resources vis-à-vis married fathers (ibid. 1121). Moreover, the daily aspects of the parent that are beyond the matters related to children suffer certainly as well. These aspects of life in which single parents feel the most abandoned are love life, family life, social life and professional life (Morris 2009, 18).
Although studies have found that satisfaction of single fathers with their parental role was lower than in families with two parents and even single mothers, over time they can get more used to their role and become better, which generally also leads to increased satisfaction (Dufur et al. 2010, 1099).
In a research dealing with single fathers Felix Chima (1999) discovered that some single fathers felt lack of support from the society, and had experienced strong negative attitudes even among teaches and family counsellors who believed that mothers are better suited to be the responsible parent. (see Hook, Chalasani 2008, 980). Furthermore, the study conducted by Leslie N. Richardsi and Cynthia J. Schmeige also demonstrated, that single fathers were potentially treated as oddities by strangers. Richard M. Smith and Craig W. Smith (1981) also found that their respondents being single fathers had to often prove that they can cope with raising the child alone (see Coles 2009, 1313–1314).
As raising children causes stress even in the most ideal circumstances, then it is rather burdensome to be alone responsible for satisfying all needs of one’s children, sometimes without any support or recognition whatsoever. Therefore, in addition to the difficulties of performing the role of a parent, single fathers could experience distress because of their own identity as a parent (Morris 2009, 6–7).
Armin Brott (2004), a single father, has analysed experiences of hundreds of single fathers. He came to the conclusion that learning to understand and cope with a multitude of emotional, legal, social and practical challenges, single fathers can nevertheless experience the joys of being a father (Baylies, Toonkel 2004, 205). In order to become the best parent they can be, single fathers need to understand and resolve certain emotional and practical aspects, which arise from raising a child alone.
Some studies have shown that by their behaviour single fathers differ from single mothers and families with two parents.
Single fathers tend to act in a less authoritarian manner than in families with two parents, at the same time single fathers are not as committed as are single mothers or families with two parents (Bronte-Tinkew et al. 2010, 1121). The study of Paul Amato (2002) found that single fathers were stricter to observe sleeping time, TV privileges and eating breakfast at the right time. Single fathers established close relationships with children less frequently but controlled their use of time more. Single fathers noted that they have displayed less affection towards their child and experienced more negative feelings related to their being a parent (see Dufur et al. 2010, 1099-1101).
In conclusion it can be said that along with the development of the society, child-rising traditions are gradually changing, but it is still the parents who give the child the necessary knowledge about standards and tenets in the society. Above all children need the warmth of a home and an environment where their wellbeing is ensured, where they learn how to make choices and where their values are shaped. In a favourable environment a child develops social sensibilities, learns to take notice of other people around them, and becomes a confident and trusting individual. A good parent is the best anchor for a child’s development.