Divorced dad (or separated dad), this is for you. If you are trying to regain your balance after an emotionally painful legal process, you likely have not even considered the new opportunities for growth that lie ahead of you. What I am referring to is the potential you have to build upon and strengthen the relationship you have with your kids. As a psychologist and marriage and family therapists who has worked for over a decade with fathers going through divorce, I have seen the stress, fear and sadness when fathers are faced with the possibility of having reduced time with their kids. Your separation and divorce may have led you to feel powerless, bitter, and angry with a legal system that can seem arbitrary and stacked against you. While it may be true that you were powerless over much of the process, one aspect of your life over which you can have a significant influence is on developing solid relationships with your children. Focusing on what you can control, that is, the efforts you put towards connecting regularly with your children will help you regain balance and emotional stability.
Children have better outcomes in a divorce situation when former spouses aim to provide consistent, respectful, and communicative co-parenting. I realize that this is sometimes easier said than done, but it will reap dividends in your relationship with your kids if you focus on the following:
- Don’t make parenting decisions to try to punish your former spouse. Your kids want to love both parents, so don’t make them choose a favorite. While it might feel good short term, it’s not a good long term strategy because kids resent parents who try to do this.
- Grow more comfortable naming and expressing your own feelings; this sets a great example for your children, particularly sons, and shows them it is okay to feel and express feelings, and will create greater opportunities for closeness.
- Provide opportunities to learn about and exhibit healthy eating patterns and exercise habits. Learning to cook healthy dinners (and breakfasts and lunches) will save you money, save you calories, and teach your children how to provide nutritional fuel for their bodies. Integrating regular family exercise, like walks, running races, or bike riding into your parenting time creates opportunities for conversation, bonding, and happy memories.
- Teach your children how to recover from adversity. If you don’t act like a victim your kids won’t see you as one. While you will no doubt miss your children when they are with your former spouse, creating and sustaining a busy and active life, and allowing your children to see you as happy and adapting well will benefit all of you.
- Teach your children how to respectfully treat others with whom you disagree. The way you engage with your former spouse teaches your children that you can treat another respectfully even when you strongly oppose their opinion.
- Gain a better work/life balance. Being a single parent may force you to leave the office earlier than you would have if you were still married and your spouse was available for child care. Your co-workers will eventually learn when you are available and when it’s “Dad time”.
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