When going through a divorce, it is easy to get bogged down by all of the responsibility, paperwork, and concern that accompanies dissolving a marriage. As a father, however, your child needs you to be a dad to them throughout the divorce process, regardless of your own personal challenges. Here are some tips on maintaining a great relationship with your child, attending to his or her needs, and being the best father you can be during this difficult time.
Take Advantage of the Time You Have Together
If you do not have sole custody of your children, it is likely that you are going to see them less than you have been used to seeing them. If you’ve lived with their mother and now you’re moving out, you might have them half the time or less. This means that instead of taking care of work emails, going out with your friends, or watching television shows that aren’t appropriate for young eyes, you will now have the opportunity to devote your time with your child to your child.
During your time with your child, take him or her to the park, the roller skating rink, bowling, or whatever it is you like to do together. Remember that you don’t have to spend much money to have fun together. You could bake cookies or spend a Saturday morning watching his or her favorite cartoons. Just make sure that your child knows that he or she is your priority during the times you are together.
Go to Their Games, Dance Recitals, and Other Activities
Even if they take place at times that are not your scheduled time with your child, attend your child’s activities as much as possible. You might be able to coach a soccer team or volunteer at the concession stand during intermission at the community theater production that they are a part of. Attend games, recitals, and school performances. Do what you can to go to parent-teacher conferences, doctors’ appointments, and other important events in his or her life. Showing up to these events when you can shows your child that you care.
Make Your New Home Their New Home
You might feel discouraged if you have to move out of your marital home and instead live in a small apartment. You can take steps to make your new place more cheerful and welcoming for your child. First, make sure they have a comfortable place to sleep. This could be a pull-out sofa, an air mattress, or a futon if you don’t have a dedicated bedroom for them to sleep in. You’ll want to make sure you are able to provide some measure of privacy, particularly if your child is a pre-teen or teenager. Privacy screens or curtains are a great option if a door isn’t feasible.
Hang up their artwork and purchase a few child-sized dishes and toys if your child is younger. If you have an older child, make sure there is a place for them to do their homework and age-appropriate movies and activities to use when they are at your house. A drawer full of art supplies is often a hit for kids of all ages. If they have their own bedroom, let them decorate it. If not, maybe they can decorate the bathroom or the kitchen. Do what you can to make your new home their new home as well.
Call Them Frequently
Calling your child each night before bed (assuming your custody agreement allows it) gives you a chance to find out how their day went and to remind them that you are an ever-present and loving part of his or her life. You will need to work it out with your child’s mother to call at a time that is mutually agreeable and not likely to upset your child. For example, if your young child gets upset when you call because they miss you, a call before dinner will give them time to calm down well before bedtime. You could also call a young child in the morning if they are not in school yet.
Don’t Use Them to Spy on Your Ex
While it is likely that younger children will volunteer information about their mother because they don’t know that they shouldn’t, it is important not to take advantage of the situation. You also should not ask older kids to spy on your ex. For example, don’t ask whether she is dating someone new or what she does at night or on the weekends. Remember that the two of you aren’t together anymore and that this is none of your concern. At the same time, do not feed your child information that you hope gets back to her. Keep the topics you discuss with your child age-appropriate and relevant to your relationship with your child; don’t talk about women you are dating or other subjects that your child wouldn’t be interested in.
Be Amicable With Their Mother
One of the best ways you can maintain a good relationship with your child is to be respectful of and amicable with their mother. You might feel the opposite of goodwill toward her, but you don’t have to express these feelings to your child. Instead, go by the adage, “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” Do not badmouth your ex at all to your child; this could contribute to parental alienation syndrome and you could actually be putting your custody at risk.
In the same respect, do not get into arguments with your child’s mother in front of him or her. If a hot topic comes up, agree to disagree in private. This is particularly important when it comes to parenting topics; getting into a discussion about rules, consequences, or anything else pertaining to your child is going to let your child know that he or she can play one of you against the other. Even young children can pick up on this, so do not fall into that trap.
Be Patient When Necessary
Finally, be patient. A parent’s relationship with their child changes over time even under the best of circumstances. If you don’t seem to be bonding as you want to, just continue trying and giving it time. Chances are great that as long as you are putting forth effort, your child will come around sooner or later.