Being a weekend Dad isn’t easy on you or your kids, but taking the focus off the breakup and putting it directly on the kids will help you to create a meaningful, lasting relationship with them.
Make your time with the kids exclusive
If you see your kids every other weekend, as many separated/divorced Dads do, that means you get an average of four days a month with them. It’s not the time to be hanging out with your new girlfriend, shuttling them off to Grandma and Grandpa’s or hiring a babysitter so you can go out with friends. While your relationship with a new girl (or guy) may be important to you, it’s really not that important that you introduce your kids to any new love interest until you’re thinking about putting a ring on their finger or moving in together. Your friends can wait too. Your kids need your undivided attention for now.
Stay in touch
Make it a point to call your kids on the weekends you don’t have them, and even reach out to talk to them mid-week, when it fits their schedule. This will let them know that you’re thinking of them, you’re genuinely interested in their day-to-day lives, and it will help you build a stronger relationship with them. If you’re travelling or busy with work, you can always send them an email if your kids are online. It’s important to stay in touch regularly, and hopefully your kids will learn that they can talk to you if they don’t feel like talking to Mom.
Don’t leave it all up to Mom
For the first year following my separation, I found myself providing my ex with copies of report cards and information about upcoming school meetings and award ceremonies. By being the go-between with the school for him, he was distanced from the kids’ educators. If you’ve agreed to partial custody, step right in and get involved. Contact their school and arrange to have report cards sent to you directly. Let the school know that you’d like to be informed of any parent/teacher meetings, and show up for them. Let them know if you’re willing to be involved in any school outings. At report card time, go over their report cards with them, praise them for good marks and improvements, and discuss with them how they could improve in other areas.
Observe any religious rites, ceremonies, and holy days with them during their visits if your family is religious. Pay attention to their medical needs. You should have their family doctor’s name and contact information handy, and a list of all medications that your kids are on, including those that are taken only for acute illnesses such as seasonal asthma or allergies. Keep in touch with Mom with regard to their medications and health. Familiarize yourself with their medical history, in case you need to bring them to the doctor or emergency room for treatment while they’re with you.
Create ways to be involved
One of the most wonderful things my ex has done since the separation was to ask me how I would feel if he volunteered to be a Leader in my son’s Scout troop. I thought it was a brilliant idea. He lives about an hour away from us, yet he realized that he could spend more time with the kids if he came to our town once a week and spent some real quality time with one of our sons at the Scout meeting, and hung out with our other son before the meeting. Consider volunteering in an activity that your kids are in. Even if you arrange something as simple as swimming lessons to attend with your kids, they will love the extra time with you, and you’ll create some wonderful lasting memories with them.
It’s not about you; it’s about your kids
However I may feel about my ex, and him about me, it cannot be passed on to the kids. Keep negative feelings and opinions about your ex to yourself. Always speak respectfully of Mom in front of your kids. By doing so, your kids will be far more likely to talk about their everyday lives, and they will have a lot more respect for you than if you do a lot of bashing. They love you both; make it okay for them to feel that way. Like it or not, you and Mom are tied to each other for life through your kids, so put your personal issues aside and start developing a working relationship with Mom. The two of you should try to come up with a common set of rules and expectations for the kids. If this is difficult because Mom is less than cooperative, consider counseling to develop a co-parenting plan, and pitch it to her by reminding her that it’s for the kids.
Kids are smart, and they may play you against each other if they figure out that one will say yes when the other says no. Remember that if you’re lucky, you get to hang out with your kids until they’re about 18 before they get busy with their own lives, and your weekend visits will eventually come to an end. You’re going to have to let some things go by the wayside in your own life, and it takes a conscious effort to remember that for now, at least, it’s all about them. While your kids would no doubt prefer to have both their parents living in the same home, you can still give them a happy childhood filled with wonderful memories by ensuring that you’re there for them, and focused on them, as much as possible.
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