You dread coming home to an empty house. Dinnertime is too quiet. The kids’ bedrooms are too neat. You spot other dads hanging out with their children, and you wish you could see yours every day. It can be difficult for kids to adjust to two home after their parents’ divorce, but it can be just as difficult for parents to adjust to seeing their kids less often then they would like.
Today, we’re talking just to dads (moms: we’ll have tips for you coming soon!), and want you to know that no matter how your parenting time plan is divided, you are still your children’s father. If you are having a difficult time coping with not seeing your kids as much as you once did, here are nine tips to make every minute count.
Skype or FaceTime with your kids on your “off” days. Skype and FaceTime are great ways to check in with your kids on a daily basis. Using these tools to help with homework or read a bedtime story will make you feel like a parent, even when you’re not with them. These forms of electronic communication offer the advantage of observing body language, so they’re more personal and immediate than a phone call. And seeing your kids’ faces will put a smile on yours.
Stay active at your kids’ school. Even though you may not have the benefit of seeing your kids’ teachers as often as your ex, make an effort to develop a relationship with them. E-mail or schedule a meeting if you have questions or concerns about how your child is doing at school. Volunteer at school events. If you have time, sign up for a committee. Being “known” at school is also a great way to connect with other parents; once you establish a relationship with them, it will feel easier to set up playdates for your kids.
Be present when you’re with your kids. When you’re in the throes of divorce, or if you have a tempestuous relationship with your ex, you may find that negativity has hijacked your mind. Don’t let anger and resentment keep you from enjoying the time you have with your children. Yes, it’s great to be able to take your kids to amusement parks and on vacations, but you don’t need to be a “Disneyland Dad” to your kids and be viewed as the provider of peak excitement. It’s more important to show up and be present for the little things: making pancakes together, helping out with homework or a school project, teaching your teen how to drive, playing with Legos (or Barbies!), and all those other moment that, when you look back, you realize are the glue that make a parent-child bond unbreakable.
Don’t resent the off days. Instead of feeling lonely on the days you don’t see your kids, take advantage of this time to complete tasks, go to the gym, or ramp up your social life. One of the “perks” of divorce is that it’s easier to get stuff done when you’re not dealing with child-rearing duties on a daily basis.
Make an effort to get along with your ex. You don’t have to like your ex, but you do need to develop an amicable relationship with her for the sake of your children. This may be challenging, especially if your former spouse is a difficult person, but do your part to get along (this does not mean being a doormat). Maintaining a peaceful co-parenting relationship with your kids’ mother will benefit everyone’s mental health – especially your children’s.
Stay off the Internet. Unless you’re researching divorce and custody issues from a reputable source, avoid surfing the net for divorce stories and advice. Why? You have no way of vetting the person whose articles you’re reading. The anonymity of the Internet appeals to “trolls” (people who spew venom onto writers) and frustrated people with an ax to grind. You are also likely to read worst-case scenarios that will destroy your peace of mind. If you need advice regarding custody or challenges with your ex and your children, consult your attorney or a therapist who specializes in divorce.
Practice gratitude. The after effects of divorce can make your world seem bleak. You miss your kids, perhaps your former home, and certainly your former bank account. Perhaps you resent your ex and the family court system that let you down. If you focus on what’s gone wrong, you will miss what’s going right. Sit down and write a Gratitude List: your children’s health, your own health, the roof over your head, your job, food, a hot shower, etc. You will probably find that the good outweighs the bad and that your feelings have been lying to you. You may not be able to change the circumstances of your divorce and custody arrangement, but you can certainly change your attitude about those things and enjoy life more.
Coach their sports team. Do your kids play extracurricular sports? Signing up to coach or referee their team is a great way to see them on your off days. It will also give them a sense of you beyond just their dad and enable you to get to know their friends and other parents.
Establish rituals. Scientific American explains that rituals serve many purposes: they help people process grief, manage anxiety and uncertainty, and gain confidence. If done with others, they also serve as bonding experiences. Look back at your own childhood: what are the little things you always looked forward to? Watching the Superbowl with Grandpa? Playing pool with Dad? Create your own rituals that you share with your children. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s something you all enjoy and do regularly. Let these fun times be your “touchstones” on days that you miss your kids.
We are all works in progress, but divorce provides extra opportunities for personal growth. If you’re really struggling to cope – your default setting is anger, resentment, or sadness; you’re drinking and eating too much; you can’t get a good night’s sleep – it’s a sign you need to sweep your own side of the street. Go to therapy, see a psychiatrist, meditate, write a list of personal goals and actively pursue them. By becoming a better person, you will also become a better father.
Going through a divorce and have questions about your parenting time and child custody options? We can help. Please contact us today to schedule an initial consultation with one of your highly skilled family law attorneys.