We thought it appropriate to provide tips to dads who will celebrate Father's Day for the first time as a divorced parent. It is a new world and chances are that the relationship with your children has shifted due to the split. Ideally, it was an amicable divorce and the process went smoothly, but experts believe that fathers will still need to take steps to strengthen the parental bonds.
Steps dad can take
Helping children process the fact that their parents have separated up will take some work. A good starting point, not already done so, is changing your mindset as a parent - patience and understanding will be essential, as will having an open mind and not rushing to judgment. While these are broad suggestions about shifts in one's parenting approach, there are also opportunities for you to take specific actions:
- Make your family the priority: Do this through your thoughts and actions. There will be plenty of alone time to focus on yourself, so throw yourself into the dad role with renewed gusto. Mental health professionals strongly recommend that children not be introduced to a new significant other for 6-12 months after the divorce. Be cautious about a "rebound" relationship. This does not mean that you should not date, but it does strongly suggest shielding the children from new romantic interests. This will let your children know that they are your priority.
- Avoid speaking ill of the ex: Even if the children are unhappy with mom, it is best to take the high road and certainly do not air your grievances about why the divorce occurred. Certain information really is adult business only and it is good parenting to tell the children this.
- Kids are not messengers: Avoid the temptation of "tell your mother...." Good coparenting has clear lines of communication between divorced parents.
- Constant contact: Depending on parenting plans and employment obligations, try to check in with the kids every day in whatever medium is comfortable for them (text, email, Skype, Facetime) if they are not going to see you.
- Steady and reliable: Actions speak louder than words, so follow through on promises and show up on time. Be the guy who can step in when mom cannot be two places at once, or she has something come up. In short, be cooperative, helpful and proactive.
- Attend activities and meetings: Try to be there for all the dance recitals, soccer games or school-related field trips. It is also essential to be there for teacher conferences or other meetings about the children's well-being.
- Attend dentist's appointments, annual physicals and illness visits: Enough said, you either are a supportive parent or you are not.
- Let them bring friends: While a dad may not want to share his time, allowing kids to bring friends shows self-assurance in the new dynamic and comfort with other parts of their lives. Besides, when the kids are talking to each other in the back seat of your car, you will really learn what's happening in their lives.
Better than ever
This all starts with a parenting plan that serves the best interests of the children. However, it can be hard if a spouse is difficult. An experienced family attorney can draft a plan that protects the rights of a parent and help enforce the terms of an agreement, which allows you to better define and strengthen your role as a dad. Thus, if you are contemplating divorce, you are wise to plan and anticipate the path with an experienced family law attorney.