Fostering Contact with the Absent Parent after Divorce

A child of a split family will survive best when parents can do two things: deal with their anger and resentment (or at least hide it), and encourage the children's bond with the other parent. Here are some tips about fostering contact with the absent parent.

By Donald A. Gordon (Ph.D.) and Jack Arbuthnot (Ph.D.)
Updated: January 29, 2015
Fostering Contact with the Absent Parent

"Reasonable visitation" may be two weekends per month. But most children are intensely dissatisfied with this arrangement: it is a huge decrease from daily contact. A younger child will be most upset by the separation.

Research shows frequent contact with the absent parent is very important - unless this parent has been abusive to the children. Regular contact helps a child adjust to the break-up and reduces the trauma over the loss of this parent. Reassurance of love is important. Relationships need to be consistent. A child of a split family will survive best when parents can do two things:

  1. Deal with their anger and resentment (or at least hide it).
  2. Encourage the children's bond with the other parent.

A child does not "get over" a lack of contact with the absent parent. They stop talking about feelings of desertion and rejection. They won't talk about the pain they feel. Parents may assume that a few visits are enough for the child - they may even think that having no visits is okay.

Here are some tips about fostering contact with the absent parent.

Plan Contacts. Contact should be planned. It should not be last minute. This benefits both the child and parent. Parents need respect for their privacy. And a break-up demands new boundaries. It also brings a need to redefine one's self. The absent parent should stick to the schedule. This is important. It helps the child maintain a sense of trust. The child should feel they can depend on the parent. It also shows respect for the resident parent's plans. The parent in the home needs a break. The child benefits if that parent has some rest and recreation.

Be on Time. Sometimes the absent parent is late getting the child. The child strongly resents the delay. They feel it more than the parent does. This is very true for young children.

Frequent Access. A young child has a very short sense of time. Visits with the absent parent should be short but frequent. This is much better than long, infrequent visits. Show them a calendar. Let them see the schedule for future visits. This will help a young child manage the absence.

Avoid Being too Indulgent. Absent parents may entertain their child too much. This creates an unreal and rushed relationship. Often parents may become indulgent and permissive. This is an attempt to regain close bonds with their child. Nonresident parents do not like to set limits. They want to avoid conflict. But a lack of limits leads to being too permissive. It also leads to less responsible behavior. A child needs time to relax. They need to have a normal life with both parents; this is important, even if time is restricted. Try to follow the child's normal routines: follow normal chore duties; expect the child to be responsible; maintain normal activities; and expect routine homework.

This article was adapted with permission from What About the Children? A Simple Guide For Divorced/Separated And Divorcing Parents (CDE, eighth edition, 2011) by Donald A. Gordon (Ph.D.) and Jack Arbuthnot (Ph.D.). Based in Athens, OH, the Center for Divorce Education (CDE) is a non-profit corporation founded in 1987 by a consortium of attorneys and psychologists. The CDE is dedicated to advocating for children and helping parents to minimize the harmful effects that divorce and separation has on children.

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May 20, 2014

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