Currently, there are about 2.0 million single fathers in the United States – a 27% jump in the past decade, according to the latest census. I believe that the vast majority of mothers want their children to maintain a close bond with their dads after their divorce but may be challenged with how to help them navigate this important relationship.
As the numbers of single dads continue to grow, so does their presence in the lives of their children. In fact, I recently received this message on Facebook: “Please tell me how I can help my daughter heal her relationship with me after her mom and I divorced.”
This caring dad understands what several studies have shown: The “loss of a parent” is the most harmful consequence of parental divorce. Most often the “lost parent” is the dad.
Here are 8 ways for divorced dads to stay connected with their kids after divorce:
- Cultivate ways to spend time with your kids in everyday situations such as homework, cooking, sports, and school events. Encourage them to invite friends so they won’t lose their contact with peers (this is good for their self-esteem).
- Establish rituals that can help you stay connected. For instance, young children usually enjoy a reading a story with their dad before bed. School age kids or teens might enjoy having pizza and watching a movie one night a week.
- Listen to your children and strive to understand their perspective of your divorce. Leave the door open if they want to talk about it. Be honest without giving them too many details.
- Offer your children reassurance that you’ll be there for them. This is especially true if you remarry and/or have one or more children with your new partner.
- Be careful not to bad-mouth your ex-spouse or his or her family. Your children will gain trust in both parents and feel more confident about his or her relationships with both of you if you maintain a respectful relationship with their other parent.
- Try to co-parent or attempt shared parenting. Hopefully, you will work cooperatively with your ex since your children will benefit from equal access to both parents in the long run in terms of their psychological well-being.
- Encourage involvement with extended family members. Many children who have regular access to extended family see this as more intergenerational support.
- Communicate in a cordial and businesslike way with your ex-spouse. Your children’s bond with both parents will reduce his or her risk of low self-esteem, loyalty conflicts, and difficulty in adult intimate relationships. Never pass messages to your ex through your children.
What’s in the best interest of children after divorce? Dr. Joan B. Kelly, a renowned psychologist and parenting researcher confirms that the outcomes for children of divorce improve when they have equal access to both parents. These include better psychological and behavioral adjustment, and enhanced academic performance. Clearly, the literature demonstrates numerous benefits to children when their living arrangements enable supportive and loving fathers to be actively involved in their lives on a regular basis, including overnights.
Research shows that very young children who have experienced high father involvement show an increase in curiosity and in problem solving capacity when compared to those who don’t. That said, a father’s involvement seems to encourage children’s exploration of the world around them and confidence in their ability to solve problems.
The Father-Daughter Connection
There are many compelling reasons for moms to foster a strong father-child bond after their family dissolves. Unfortunately, a daughter’s relationship with her father is often the one that changes the most after divorce. Dr. Linda Nielsen, a nationally recognized expert on father-daughter relationships, found that girls tend to spend more time with their mothers (and less time with their dad) after their parents’ split. In her extensive research, Dr. Nielsen found that only 10 to 15% of fathers get to enjoy the benefits of joint custody post-divorce.
My research for my book Daughters of Divorce spanned over three years and was comprised of over 300 interviews of women who reflected on their parents’ divorce. The most common theme that emerged was a wound in the father-daughter relationship.
For the most part, a good relationship with an intimate partner is strongly tied to your relationship with your dad. Your father’s presence (or lack of presence) in your life will affect how you will relate to all men who come after him, and it can impact your view of yourself and your psychological well-being.
Keep Disagreements with Your Ex to a Minimum
Studies show that parental conflict is what creates the most pain and anguish for children after parents’ split, and that keeping parental disagreements to a minimum is a crucial aspect of helping kids become resilient. There is evidence that shared parenting actually reduces conflict between divorced parents – which has a beneficial impact on children into adulthood.
Scheduling appropriate parenting time for both parent’s post-divorce and keeping lines of communication positive can be a challenge but it’s key to building resiliency in your children. Psychologist Robert Bauserman’s study showed that couples who have joint custody reported less conflict than those where one parent had sole custody, possibly because both parents could participate in their children’s lives equally.
Whenever possible, fathers need to sustain a close connection with their children – through phone calls, regular contact, holiday time, birthdays, and special occasions – to promote a loving attachment that endures through rough patches.
There’s no denying that a child’s relationship with his or her father is one of the most crucial in their life. The quality of that connection – good, damaged, or otherwise – powerfully impacts children in a multiple of ways. A father’s effect on his children’s psychological well-being and identity is far-reaching. Clearly, children stand a better chance of becoming self-confident individuals if they have a close bond with their father.
Follow Terry Gaspard (MSW, LICSW) on Facebook Twitter. Her latest book, Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship, (Sourcebooks, 2016) offers valuable suggestions for repairing the father-daughter wound. www.movingpastdivorce.com