top of page

Becoming a better dad

Updated: Apr 23

Navigating relationships when your child needs help.

“As a single dad who shares care for my son, I really look forward to the weekends when I can spend time with him. But despite having a great time on outings and adventures, there’s a weight that lies heavy on my heart. 

My son faces challenges that are incredibly difficult for him to deal with. He struggles with words and understanding conversations, he tries his best to navigate a world where communication isn't easy. As his dad I feel powerless to help. I watch him struggling and I almost hear what he’s saying in his head but we’re unable to hold that conversation.  I sometimes feel he just wants to hide how he feels. I can feel his pain. Maybe he feels mine. 

I get frustrated with myself because I prompt him with questions and too much information, asking about this and that, pleading with him to just tell me when I know that he can’t. “What are you doing?!” I hear myself say in my head. Then I start to get flustered and stressed which makes him feel more self-conscious about his struggle to communicate with me. I’m conscious that I don’t have the skills to engage with him in a way that makes him feel comfortable. I know he gets so frustrated because he can’t understand what I’m saying can’t respond to me in words. 

The dynamics between his mother and me add another layer of stress to our situation. Our relationship is far from friendly, we always get into arguments and there’s always something wrong or something that I haven’t done properly or that I should be doing. 

I’d go so far as to say I think she gets jealous about the relationship I have with my son, and despite me telling her I do understand that she’s there all week, and I get that she has to make sure everything goes well for my son when I can’t be there, there’s an imbalance in the way that we each can parent. I can’t change that. The agreement in how we look after our son, sets the framework in which we all must work from. If I’m not living in the same place, what do I do? If my son needs me, I am on the end of a phone but it’s not ideal for him as he can’t always express how he feels. My wife yells at me because I am absent but it’s impossible for me to be anything other.  

The way our son perceives us as parents has much to do with the circumstances that we live in. I reflect on the situation a lot. If I cared for my son for the whole week, getting him up for school, making sure he’s had his tea, getting him to bed, making sure the homework’s done, would I be a lot more stressed and frustrated than I am?


The answer is yes. Particularly because of the support needs that he has. I know that it’s difficult because he struggles with frustrations borne out of his experiences at school and his lack of ability to express himself.  He gets tired being at school all day trying to fit in and make himself understood, being in a space where I’m sure he doesn’t cope and doesn’t understand why he must be there. I do try to understand things from her point of view but the relationship that we have means that we just don’t get past point scoring and bad mouthing.  I suppose perhaps when she does see me or have an opportunity to talk to me, her own frustrations need an outlet, and I am the natural target for a verbal attack. Things weren’t always like that, but I guess we are the victim of relationships and how people can or can’t cope with them once they change. 

I get that he is a normal schoolboy who goes through all the angst and difficulties at school and he will come up against his mum for not doing what he ought to etc, and it will be her that needs to provide the regulation and scaffolding that he needs, particularly because of his behaviour and the frustration that he feels as a little boy that can’t express himself very well. But what can I do? If someone doesn’t want to work with you or listen to you or try to understand you’re in a different position from them due to a breakdown of a relationship, it’s difficult to be able to get to a place where we can come together and agree how best to approach what we do together for the sake of our son and his health. 


I see him at weekends, and of course I’m going to spoil him, but we can’t get to a point where we can work together. She sees herself as the primary disciplinarian and organiser, while I'm granted the elevated role of the "fun weekend dad."


It can get quite toxic at times, and I think that we forget that the little boy in the middle listens to a lot of it and understands exactly what’s going on, and I’m sure he thinks half of it is his fault, and that’s why he’s feeling so torn. There is so much that’s not said within the relationship between us all and we’re forgetting that there is a real need and a real isolation for our son, not only because of his inability to communicate but also about him not understanding why his mum and dad are not together anymore or why we argue. It might be that he feels that we are fighting because of him and it’s his fault, and if he’s feeling guilty, what are we doing to him by not being able to come together and discuss things rationally?


I feel like a dad that’s become a bit of an add-on to my son’s life. We go through the motions of sharing care, but my son is passed from one household to another between people who are not able to communicate with each other, never mind try and communicate with him properly, in the way that he needs to do so desperately.


I do feel kind of powerless at times because I don’t seem to count the same way as his mum does.  I can see the signs of distress in my son, and I also see the signs of distress in my ex-wife but I’m not able to go back and fix things that from the past. It’s a heartbreak daily but I must put on a front to try to make my son feel as happy as he can while he's with me.


I have very little time to work on some of the key things that I would like to with him but I’m also conscious that without his mum involved that things might just become too overwhelming for him. He’s already struggling at school, and he has other demands on his fragile mental and emotional health, and one wonders how best to take things forward.


It does seem like we are going through the motions, you know, like ducks gliding in a pond but paddling like mad underneath.  We know what’s going on and we know that we are hurting, and hurting each other, and we’re certainly not helping our son.  We’re just moving with no sense of destination, going round and round.  The paddling is getting so furious we’re not going to be able to swim anymore at one point.  I know that’s how I feel and I’m sure my boy is faring much worse.


I do worry that his mum has so many demands on her, to maintain such a burden of care looking after him and I think I would like to do more but I just don’t know how. 

I did recently find a support group that helped dads like me navigate some of the complexities that we find ourselves in as parents. Not everybody understands what it’s like when you’re a parent of a child with special needs.  It can be all encompassing. There’s not any time off. If you’re not doing something, you’re worrying about something, or addressing something, or needing to talk to somebody about something related to your child. When your child is not like other children, your life is so completely different to most other people’s.


I’ve started to open up and share my story and I think some of the fears I have, I’ve felt able to explore without judgement. It’s an opportunity to lay yourself bare within a relatively safe space; there’s something therapeutic about that. Going along has started to help me gain some confidence but encouraged me to reflect on how I have acted, how I want to act and what I might be able to do to change things in the future. 

Sometimes you feel that you’re the only person in the world that feels like this, and I found through the group that there were others whose feelings and experiences were actually very similar to mine and understood the responsibility and guilt that I feel. Being able to share that very real ache of inadequacy was both cathartic and helpful. Being able to reflect and pull out some of the resilience that was a bit lost inside of me also reminded me that I could work through challenges, with some guidance and support, driven by the fierce fatherly love for my child that drives me forward to do the best that I can. 

I feel that I’ve gained strength and understanding over the last month or so. I’ve found myself in a place where I’m more reflective and I’m calmer. I am developing ideas about what I’m going to do.  I can already see a difference in the way that I’m approaching my son, and the way that he’s responding.  I’m sure that’s all to do with being part of a group and being able to share my feelings and my experience and asking and receiving help. 

I would urge other dads that feel like me to seek support because it does help and I’m actually in a place where I’m looking forward to making changes for the better, not just for my son, but for all of us, because we are still a family that needs to work together for many years ahead in order to provide strength, security, guidance and a sense of together love for our son.


If you find yourself resonating with the challenges faced by the dad in our story, there’s an open invitation to you to seek support and camaraderie within our community. Our family support coaching programme offers personalised assistance in navigating difficult parenting situations, while dads’ group provides a safe space for open dialogue and mutual support. 

Likewise, if you’re a mum or a caregiver that would benefit from a chat or a support group, contact us, that’s what we’re here for.


Relationships can be challenging to navigate.  You need not be alone in your journey. We can explore strategies to address your concerns and help create a nurturing environment for both you and your children.  



bottom of page