How to be a good dad to your children after a divorce

It will take time for youngsters to adjust to their new family dynamic, so your stability and presence are key

Special to The TribuneJune 15, 2012 

You and your wife have decided to call it quits. You’ll be moving into your own apartment at the end of the month. But even though you won’t be living full-time with your kids, you still want to be a good dad. Below are 10 suggestions to keep your relationship strong.

1. Be present in their lives. Of course, you have lots of responsibilities to attend to. You’re often pulled in different directions at once. Still, your children need your undivided focus when you’re together. They don’t want to feel as if they’re an afterthought in your life. Avoid making work-related cellphone calls during your outings. Don’t watch ball games on the sofa when they’re at your home. Let them know they’re your top priority, that being Dad is your No. 1 job.

2. Spend lots of time together. Sharing custody with your ex means you miss out on important daily events. Therefore it’s imperative to schedule regular visits to keep you in the loop. Seek out creative ways to see youngsters midweek; have dinner together on Wednesdays or drive the carpool to swim practice Tuesday after school. When they’re with you, plan age-appropriate outings and include them in your routine chores. Joint time is your best ally when it comes to being close.

3. Be involved in their activities. Show kids you care by joining them in what matters most. Coach your third-grader’s soccer team. Go surfing with your teenage son. Build sets for your daughter’s upcoming dance performance. You’ll be spending time with your children while building memories that will last a lifetime.

4. Create a comfortable living environment. Choose a new house or apartment that supports frequent contact with your kids. Make sure it’s conveniently located so that travel between homes is a snap. Find a place that is kid-friendly and has enough square footage for children to play. Allow kids to make some decorating decisions so that the space says, “You live here, too.”

5. Call them every night. Develop the habit of nightly contact. It’s a great way to learn about their days. Schedule a regular time for your conversations. Keep them positive and short. Ask open-ended questions, such as “Tell me what you did at recess.” Young children won’t remember much of what happened in the past 24 hours, so engage them in a discussion about what they’re doing now. End each conversation with, “I love you,” and promise to call them tomorrow night.

6. Don’t expose them to any of your new relationships. Ideally you’re not already involved in another relationship. A new partner is a distraction that pulls you away from your duties as Dad. If you are involved with a new person, keep her away from your children. They have enough to adapt to right now.

7. Don’t ask children questions about your ex-wife’s activities. Kids’ relationship with their mom is private. Never attempt to pry out information about what she’s doing or whom she sees. Instead, focus on the time you have together. That’s what matters most.

8. Keep your commitments. If you make a date with your children, be sure to keep it. Boys and girls in dual households miss their absent parents. They look forward to upcoming visits for days. They’re sorely disappointed when a parent breaks an engagement. Your consistency also teaches children about being dependable. It helps them rebuild trust.

9. Make transitions smooth and stress-free. Hand-offs can be tense for both parents and kids. Ex-spouses dislike being together. Youngsters dread another argument. Assume a casual, pleasant demeanor toward the children’s mother. Avoid potentially contentious topics. Arrive at the agreed upon time. Keep the conversation light. Respect your ex-spouse’s personal and physical boundaries. Stay outside of her home unless she explicitly invites you in.

10. Be patient. Your children’s lives will be upended as a result of the impending breakup. It may be months, even years, before they’ve established a new routine. You can help them acclimate to the changes by being the psychological rock they sorely need. Your strength and wisdom will serve as a beacon to guide them through this difficult time.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.

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