Here are my suggestions, from the perspective of one who has practiced divorce law for nearly 30 years. We have seen our share of post-divorce problems and litigation. I believe these tips to be good for children of divorce and for helping reduce litigation. Although some situations are unfortunately going to remain hostile, I hope these six tips will put you on the right path.
Good luck, and Happy Father’s Day!
1. Do not ignore your children’s mother.
Pretending that mom doesn’t exist, even if only for the day, might be easy for you and help avoid awkward discussions, but it’s not reality — even in an extreme case where mom has passed away. Kids naturally desire two parents, and they crave parents who get along. So be sure to discuss mom, not in an investigative kind of way like asking who she’s dating, but in a casual, “hope she’s well” kind of way. You might be amazed how happy children are to know that one of their parents cares about the other.
2. Respect your children’s mother.
Similar to number one, and as hard as it may be, be sure the kids feel like you respect their mother. Yes, Father’s Day sounds like it’s about you, but you are still the adult, the parent, and you must take the high road. It’s a great opportunity to reaffirm to the children that you know their mom has good qualities. Even if you don’t believe it, that’s still their mom and they will always believe that. And you can make their Father’s Day even better by being warm and friendly to mom when you exchange the kids. One moment of kindheartedness towards your ex (even if she doesn’t deserve it), observed by your kids, can make a memory for their entire lifetime. What’s the harm?
3. Do something your kids want to do.
Hopefully it is something you also like to do (fishing, bowling, playing videos) so that it is a fun experience for them. And ask them ahead of time what they want to do. Let them get excited about it. Them looking forward to a day or weekend with you is one of the best gifts you can give them. And be involved in the activity, even if it bores you to death.
4. Don’t bring along your new romantic partner.
While you may be excited to share the day with your new significant other, especially because you want them to meet, or further bond with your kids, the kids may well see this as diminishing their time with you. They also may be less likely to discuss their feelings openly with you. What if they don’t like your new partner or resent them? They need to feel free to discuss that with you so you can know it’s an issue. If your new partner is there, you will necessarily be concerned with their happiness, too, that day, and that could distract from the attention you give your kids.
5. Have fun. Be upbeat. Make sure your kids will remember it as a fun day.
Even if you are still very hurt, angry, or depressed about the break-up, shield them from that. Kids want their parents to be happy. Don’t let them return to mom’s home worried about you. That will weigh on them. Let them know you are doing well and that even though you wish things had worked out better with their mom, you will all be fine. Reassure them. Give them that confidence. They believe you and they believe in you. You’re their dad and they want to know you will be okay, so don’t let them down. While you may wish you had much more time with them, they probably feel the same way — but they had no vote in the decision. They are struggling with so many things that the last thing they need is to be worried about is your mental status. You are their rock, and having a solid dad — one who loves them unconditionally and can help them with whatever their issues may be — is invaluable.
6. Make sure your children know they can confide in you.
A wise woman once taught me perhaps the most important thing you can say to your child, and perhaps it is even more important to say to children of a divorce. And that is, “There is nothing you can do in this world that is so terrible that you can’t tell me.” Making sure a child knows they can confide in you, and that you are there for them no matter what, is truly special. We all hope that day never comes where they have to take us up on that offer, but them knowing they can come to you in times of trouble will make them stronger, and will hopefully give you a chance to help them with any of their life problems well before they get out of control. And wouldn’t that be a great thing?
I wish you the very best Father’s Day, and even more importantly, I wish a wonderful day for your kids.
Randall Kessler is the author of Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids, and Your Future.