I was five years old when my parents divorced; coincidentally, my son was also five when his mother and I split up. While going through my divorce and traveling for work, I created the following tips from firsthand experience to help divorced parents stay connected with their kids – and to forge a positive bond in each other’s lives.
1. Talk to your kids every day
It does not matter if it is just a phone call, long or short. Kids need to hear their parents’ voice daily because it reassures them they still have a connection with you.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask them personal questions.
2. Send your kids postcards or letters
Do this even if you live in the same town. If they are just learning how to read, written notes to your kids are even better. Think about when you were a kid and received mail and how special you felt.
Tip: Have them write to you.
3. Purchase a webcam for yourself and your kids
This is very important if you live far away and cannot spend time with them on a regular basis.
Tip: Flip Cam for the kid(s).
4. Tell them every day that you love them
Do I really need to explain this one?
Tip: Find out what makes them feel loved – then do it.
5. Make Quality vs. Quantity time with them
You do not need to create an “event”. Just being with and talking to them is more vital than you will ever know.
Tip: Make a Gingerbread house together.
6. Read to one another
Find out what they like to read and buy a few books at the bookstore. Read them one of your books, even if it does not have pictures.
Tip: Go to the bookstore together.
7. Embrace their interests no matter what they are
You need to get yourself out of your comfort zone and learn to embrace their interests – even if that means riding a roller-coaster.
Tip: Research their interests to be able to ask them questions – and understand the answers.
8. Volunteer at their school
You get to see them in their environment, which can sometimes be both shocking and embarrassing. I have learned that teachers love when a parent comes to school and lends a helping hand.
Tip: If you can’t volunteer at their school, find another one of their activities to become involved in.
9. Honesty is the best policy
This is most important when your kids tell you they wish all of you were still a family. Explain to them they will always be loved and that you are still a family.
Tip: You may need to show it and say it several times.
10. Create traditions together
Think of things that make your time together special and create your own customs separate from standard holidays.
Tip: What traditions did you have as a kid?
11. You are not the victim
I advise you to see a trusted counselor to help you work through your emotions. Do not use your kids for this!
Tip: Take control of your own healing.
12. Respect the rules
Teach them there are rules in your house just like at the other parent’s house.
Tip: Have your own rules, but try to respect the other household’s rules as well.
13. Two words: Road Trip
Take vacations – even if it is just a weekend in a hotel down the street. Kids love to be in a hotel with a pool.
Tip: Try setting up a tent in the living room once in a while.
14. Understand that they will miss their mom or dad – and that that is okay
The bond between kids and their other parent may be different than the one they will have with you. Focus on strengthening your bond with them and try not to compare yours with the other parent’s.
Tip: Kids will naturally cycle from one parent to another. Be patient – your turn will come.
15. Let your kids see that you are not perfect
It is okay to admit to your kids that you try your best but can’t be perfect.
Tip: This will teach them how to handle their own mistakes.
16. Teach them the importance of being physically active
Encourage your kids to ride their bikes alongside you as you run, or go biking together. Being a role model is tough, but suck it up.
Tip: Your kids want you to be around for a long time.
17. Be in contact with their teachers
Try not to be a pain, but do be an involved parent. Though you won’t always get a solid answer, ask your kids how school is going and contact their teachers for updates.
Tip: Kids need both of their parents to be involved.
18. Respect that your favorite sports team is not always going to be theirs
Heck, they might not like the same sports you do or even like sports at all! Enjoy what they do like and embrace those things with them.
Tip: You can always watch your sports when they are back at the other parent’s house.
19. When you ask them to make their beds, you also need to do the same
Kids want discipline and you need to set the example. When they are at your place, have chores for them to do just as they do at the other parent’s house.
Tip: Kids need normalcy between the two houses.
20. Fast food is too easy
Doing things such as cooking together is a great learning experience for both of you. Make the fast food runs only on special occasions.
Tip: Home cooking is less expensive and healthier, too.
21. Have sleepovers with their friends
When possible, have their friends over for playdates and sleepovers. It is a special feeling for your kids to show off their bedroom.
Tip: It’s a great way to learn about their friends.
22. Take the high road
If your former spouse is not being reasonable, or if you are being hard-headed, remember it is not about winning disagreements – it’s about successful co-parenting. Co-parenting is about the kids.
Tip: You won’t regret taking the high road in the long run.
23. You need to be a positive role model
Though actors, musicians, and sports stars are modern role models, the bottom line is to fill that role yourself and be there for them.
Tip: Do your best to be involved with and a positive influence on their lives.
24. Do not be hung up on dating right away after a divorce
Work on yourself before bringing someone new into the equation. Kids need to know they are your highest priority.
Tip: There is someone out there for you, but just make sure they are the right one for you and your kids.
25. Help make your house a home for all of you
Kids need to have some of their own “treasures” around to be comfortable at your place.
Tip: Take the time to learn from your past mistakes, so you don’t repeat them.
Tommy Maloney is a speaker, consultant and author. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and the Colorado Speakers Association. www.tommy maloneyinternational.com