Perhaps the most traumatic repercussion of a divorce is the inability to see one’s children every day. I have met many a client who has refused to pursue a divorce merely because he could not contemplate separation from his children. Even (and perhaps especially) in a failing marriage, parents are comforted by routines that involve our little ones in so many aspects of daily life. Waking up, eating breakfast, coming home at the end of the day, dinnertime, evening entertainment, bath time, bed time. Whether we participate in every activity or not, we are simply happy that they are occurring. We take for granted the fact that the kids are sitting at the breakfast table as we make our coffee and sleeping upstairs as we watch Game of Thrones. Even when we are not directly interacting with them, there is comfort in proximity.
That is what makes divorce so traumatic on the father/child relationship – the loss of that regular proximity and contact. So on this Father’s Day, here are some suggestions for all the divorced dads out there to help maintain that contact, and with it the strong bond that every father and child want and need.
Be a proactive dad. Too many times in my practice, I see fathers rely on their ex-wives to keep them informed of their children’s progress. They rely on their ex-wives to forward report cards and activity schedules or to notifying them of the results of doctor and dentist appointments. That reliance is misplaced and unnecessary. There’s no need to rely on your ex-wife when you can procure this information yourself. Cut out the middleman. Call your children’s school and get on all the distribution lists. Call your children’s teachers and care providers directly for updates on your children’s progress and health. Schedule your own conferences and appointments. Keep yourself informed by getting this crucial information firsthand. You will be a better, and better informed, parent for it.
Parenting time is kid time. Even in a fully intact home, quality time with our children is hard to come by. So when you have that time, dedicate it to your children and make the most of your time together. Put your phone away when your children are over. Those emails can wait a few hours until the kids are napping or off with their friends. Then talk with your children and listen to them. That’s all they really want. Engage with them on a personal level. Trips to the park or simple outdoor activities, away from audio/visual entertainment, are extremely valuable in strengthening that father/child bond. One of a father’s many roles is to teach social discipline and proper interpersonal interaction, and that’s taught through practice outside with other kids and adults. There is always time for video games, and they can be a great bonding activity as well, but first and foremost help them socialize by practice and example.
Exercise your time consistently. Your children know the parenting schedule (probably better than you do) and they look forward to seeing you every time. Don’t disappoint them. Be there to pick them up, on time and ready, every time. Don’t miss your parenting time. That sort of disappointment sows mistrust and feelings of neglect and distance. Call or text your children every day, even if it is just to say, “hello and I love you.” FaceTime with your children. It is a great tool to keep that connection intact. Being a dad is hard enough when you see your children everyday. Seeing them half the time (or less) only makes your job that much harder. So cherish the time you have together and use it wisely. Put your children first. The rest of the world can wait a little while.
On this Father’s Day take a moment to consider your priorities and what is truly important in life. Fathers want to be providers. It’s in our DNA. If we work an eighty hour week and bring home a nice paycheck to support the family at the end of the week, many of us consider the job done. But in truth, the job only starts when you walk in through the door. Be the best father you can be this year and every year.