10 Tips for Being a Father After a Divorce
By Eric Rush
For most newly divorced fathers, one of the hardest things they may experience is transitioning from being a full-time to a part-time dad. While on the surface we know that no dad is really ever a part-time dad, something definitely changes when you go from being with your children all day, every day to being with them only a few hours a week and every other weekend.
Believe me, I know.
When my divorce was finalized my daughter was 9 years old. She was old enough to know things were different, but not yet old enough to understand why. One of the hardest challenges I faced was keeping our relationship and bond alive.
When you see each other every day, there are lots of natural opportunities to engage in conversation and activities with your child. On any given day you’re healing hurts, playing games and meeting your child’s physical, emotional and social needs. When you no longer live together, being in tune to your child’s needs and meeting them quickly and effectively seems to become a thing of the past.
If you’re a full-time dad whose been recently moved to the part-time parenting shift, here’s 10 tips that can help ease the transition for you and your child, all while assuring that your relationship and bond stay alive.
1: Establish your own residence – Finding and establishing your own residence is the key to kicking off your transition successfully. While moving in with a few roommates (or a new lady friend) may sound like a good idea, if you plan on creating a stable environment that is conducive to visitation, it’s not. Having your own apartment (even if it’s a small studio) or temporarily moving home with your parents may prove to be a better option and increase your chances of securing the visitation schedule you hope for. It’s also important to remember that you’ll want your child to feel comfortable when he or she comes to visit. Ideally, you’d like it to be your child’s second home where they feel safe, secure and comfortable so be sure to provide a space, even if it’s a simple set of plastic bins for your child to store his or her favorite toys, clothing and necessities.
2: Create a routine and adhere to it – Whether it be a nightly phone call goodnight, a wakeup call in the morning or a set visitation schedule, children thrive off of having predictable routine. Come up with a consistent connection that you can make with your child and strictly adhere to it. Your child is in the midst of transition too and knowing what she can expect from you, and when she can expect it will help her feel safe and secure.
3: Find some common ground – It’s important to find a shared interest or activity that you can share with your child while spending your time together. Caring for a small pet, planting and tending to a small garden or finding a hobby that you both enjoy is the perfect way to foster your relationship with your child. This will also give your child something she can look forward to as she anticipates spending time with you.
4: Don’t introduce your child to your love interests – As exciting as finding a new girlfriend may be, it is important to proceed with extreme caution when introducing your child to any potential love interest. Only after you’re in a serious and committed relationship that appears to be heading in a long-term direction should you consider making an introduction. When you do, make sure that you slowly introduce your child to your new partner. A good starting point would be to meet for ice cream or for a short . The first introductions should be short and sweet and should be somewhere away from your home. You’ll also want to be prepared to answer your child’s questions and reassure her that there is no replacement for her mom.
5: Remind your child that they are number one - With your new living arrangements the potential exists for your child to feel as though you have taken on a new set of priorities. Be sure to be open with your child and explain that while your lives are changing you will always be there for her no matter where you live. You can’t just talk the talk with this tip you have to be willing and ready to walk the walk. For example, there may be a time when your child calls you because she needs help with homework or just needs to ask you for advice. Regardless of what you are doing, it’s important to take the time to meet your child’s need. Doing so will reassure your child that while you may not live in the same house, you are always going to be there to help and support her.
6: Never argue in front of your child – Your child will always love both of her parents regardless of the situation at hand. For this reason, it’s important that you don’t argue with your ex-spouse or bad mouth each other to your child. There may be times where your ex-wife says or does something that makes you as angry as humanly possible but the last thing your child needs to hear is you calling her mother names or ridiculing her. Doing so will set the stage for her accepting and expecting that behavior from men down the line. While this may prove to be difficult at times, you have to remember that your child is already going through a lot of emotional challenges and does not need to hear negative chatter. The last thing you want to do while trying to keep your relationship alive is to scare your child, upset your child or make your child feel like the divorce was her fault.
7: Plan activities during the weekends – It is important to find creative ways to spend time with your child. During the week it may be difficult to do fun things with the short amount of time you have together, but the weekends often provide extended time to do something fun. From a walk in the park to a visit at a relative’s house, try to find ways to spend quality time together away from your home. Being active together can help prevent your child from growing bored and disliking the time they spend with you.
8: Develop a thick layer of skin – Now that your child does not live with you full-time, the majority of their personal items will be kept at their main residence. This fact will inevitably lead your child to feel a little more “at home” at moms. The first time I heard my daughter cry that she didn’t want to come with me for our weekly visit, my heart sank into my chest. At some point most dads of divorce experience hearing their child crying or arguing on their way to the front door about not wanting to go with them. Another heartbreaking situation many divorced dads encounter is when their ex-wife enters into a serious relationship and the new guy seems to always be around your child. Hearing the stories about your child and “mommy’s new boyfriend” watching sporting events or going to the mall will get old quick, but it will eventually pass once you realize that as long as the best interests of your child is kept in mind, this is just another part of the moving on process.
9: Keep your child in the loop – One of the best things you can do for your child is to make sure they feel included in your new life and your new family. For those who of you who have re-married or have moved in with your partner and her kids, there is no doubt that your child will initially resent the relationship you are developing with you r new partner and her children. No one wants to feel like an outsider, especially in a new family so it’s important to make a conscious effort to help your child feel involved. Include your child in new family photos, fill them in on the details of inside family jokes and take time to reassure them that they will always be your little boy or girl.
10: Be yourself – While you may feel the need to “step up your game” when you are with your child now that you are together less frequently, trying to be a different person will only add to the confusion your child may already be experiencing. Remember that your child loved you for who you were before your divorce, and will continue to love you afterwards. Be the dad you’ve always been, or if there’s room for improvement, be a better dad than you were before. Your child needs your genuine love and compassion to help her successfully transition to her new life with dad.