“Reasonable visitation” may be two weekends per month from a legal standpoint, but most children are intensely dissatisfied with this arrangement. It is a huge decrease from daily contact, and a younger child will be most upset by what seems like a lengthy 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. Reassuring the child of both parents’ love is important. Relationships need to be consistent. 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).
- Encourage the children’s bond with the other parent.
A child does not “get over” a lack of contact with the absent parent. If they felt safe sharing their feelings of desertion and rejection, they will stop talking about it. 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 four tips about fostering contact with the absent parent after divorce.
1. Make a Schedule and Stick to it
Contact should be planned well in advance rather than being last-minute. This benefits both the child and parent. Parents need respect for their time and their privacy. A break-up demands new boundaries, and it also brings a need to redefine one’s self. Barring a true emergency, the absent parent should stick to the parenting-time schedule. This helps the child maintain a sense of trust in the non-custodial parent; they should feel they can depend on the absent parent to keep their word. It also shows respect for the resident parent’s plans: the parent in the home needs a break, and the child benefits if that parent has some rest and recreation.
2. Be on Time to Pick Up Your Child
Sometimes, the absent parent is late picking up their child. The child strongly resents the delay – in fact, the child often feels it more strongly than the parent does. This is certainly true for young children.
3. Short, Frequent Visits are Better than One Long Visit for Young Children
A young child has a very short sense of time. Visits with the absent parent should be short but frequent. Regular short visits are much better for the child-parent bond than long, infrequent visits. Show your children a calendar, and let them see the schedule for future visits. This will help a young child manage the absence.
4. Avoid Being Over-Indulgent: Don’t Become a “Disneyland Dad” or “Disneyland Mom”
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 has been 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. More information and skills to improve relationships with the co-parent and children is available at: online.divorce-education.com