A few years ago, the Pew Research Center did an analysis of the National Survey of Family Growth. According to the research, 27 percent of divorced fathers have no contact with their children. That is a lot of absentee fathers! And, a lot of sad and confused children.
Your role as a parent will change after your divorce, especially if you are a non-custodial father. It takes extra effort to parent and work around visitation schedules. Add to that, the possibility of an adversarial relationship with your ex and it is understandable why checking out of your children’s lives may seem like the answer to your problems. It isn’t, though.
I’ve heard some fathers say they no longer see their children because not doing so cuts down on the conflict in their children’s lives. They think they are doing their children a favor by staying away when, in reality, they are adding confusion and feelings of abandonment to all their children have to deal with after their parent’s divorce.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by divorce and the new challenges you face in your role as a father, there are steps you can take to assure you won’t become an absentee father. If you are pondering whether or not it’s best for all if you back away from parenting, try the tips below before giving up on your relationship with your children.
7 Tips for Not Becoming an Absentee Father After Divorce
1. Create a Realistic Parenting Plan During the Divorce Process
It’s easy to become sidetracked during the divorce process by issues like dividing marital property, alimony or who will pay what debts. Those things are important but, your children will be around long after those issues have been settled.
It will be easier to stay bonded with your children after your divorce is final if you insist your attorney negotiate a reasonable parenting plan during the divorce process. Make sure your parenting plan clearly states how many nights a month your children will spend with you, how holidays will be handled and how much summer vacation you will have with your children.
Having a schedule clearly outlined in your final divorce decree keeps down any conflict with your ex after the divorce and, if there is conflict, that legal document will give you power should you need to go back to court due to parental interference by your ex.
2. Keep up Regular Communication with Your Children
Your visitation schedule maybe every other weekend and one night a week for dinner. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your children on days they are not with you. Hearing your voice and knowing you love them enough to have an interest in what they’ve been up to goes a long way in keeping your children emotionally engaged with you as a father.
If it is nothing but a three-minute phone call to say, “I love you” or, “what have you been up to,” make the effort on a regular basis. And, have your right to speak with them daily by phone written into your parenting plan.
3. Be Consistent with Visitation and Communication
Before your divorce, giving your children consistency in their daily routine was simple. It was also easier because you weren’t parenting alone. When you were married, you had a partner to pick up the slack when you couldn’t get the job done.
Those days are over, you are on your own and it’s imperative, especially now that they are living in two homes that your children continue to have consistency in their daily lives. Regardless of whether you are still married to their mother, you are aware of what their daily schedule was before the divorce. When they are in your home they will have a sense of security if you put effort into getting them fed on schedule, getting them to bed when they are used to and following the rules they have been accustomed to.
On top of that, you now have to be consistent with the new routine of visitation and communication. If it’s your weekend to spend with your children, show up, pick up and consistently parent your children if it is your scheduled visitation time. And, if you are to make a phone call daily or every other day at 7:30 in the evening, don’t miss a call. Be a father your children can depend on!
4. Be There for Them 24/7
You may be divorced, you may have a parenting schedule but, like all parents, you will need to be on call 24/7. When your children are in your ex’s custody that doesn’t mean you stop being a father. Don’t plan trips out of town without notifying your children and leaving them contact information in case they need to get in touch with you.
Your new girlfriend may be important to you, she won’t ever be more important than your children and meeting their needs. Be willing to cancel or change plans with her if your children need you. If she is a keeper she will understand, if she doesn’t understand, she isn’t a keeper.
You may only see your children certain days of the month after divorce but divorce doesn’t nullify your all day, everyday responsibilities as a father.
5. Be Involved on All Levels
There is more to fathering after divorce than sticking to a regular visitation and communication schedule. When you are with them, be involved with them. Don’t be a Disney Dad who only plans fun activities or buys the latest video game. Engage with them when they are in your custody in ways that help promote an emotional bond. Get to know them, their likes and dislikes, what they do at school and who their friends are. Show them you have a genuine interest in them as little people.
6. If You’re Angry, Don’t Take it Out On Your Kids
If you’re pissed at your ex, the family court system or having to pay child support, get the fuck over it! Put some effort into separating your relationship with your children from all that crap you’re so angry about. Man up, strap on some balls, get into therapy. Do whatever you need to do to keep your anger from hurting your children. You aren’t a victim, you’re a grown-ass man and it’s your responsibility to ALWAYS put your children’s feelings before your own.
7. Don’t Fear Their Emotions
Divorce is a hard adjustment for adults to process, image how much more difficult it is for young children. They will have questions to ask, emotions to express and maybe even some resentment to work through. Don’t shut them down because you doubt your ability to soothe their pain and help them feel more secure.
You may feel you only have a little time with them and you don’t want that time wasted on negative energy but, if you want there to be better times, you’re going to have to help them work through their negative emotions. If you need outside help, be a great father and go to therapy with your children to help them and you better understand how to work through and overcome the instability they are feeling due to the divorce.
Here is the reality, life goes on after divorce and so does your role as a father. You can make the choice to step up and be the best parent you can be to your children or, you can fade away and take the easy way out. Being a father means loving your children more than you love yourself. It means putting their pain, discomfort, and needs before your own, and continuing to be part of their lives regardless of how overwhelming the responsibility.
Good men don’t abandon their children; they don’t become absentee fathers. Be a good man!
This article first appeared on DivorcedMoms.com.