I have a friend who is recently separated from his spouse, who came to me for help in trying to win her back. We tried a lot of things but sometimes a relationship can be so far gone that it’s not salvageable. Once he realized that, he asked me a question, “What can I do to help her and my kids through this?” It’s a question I wished more dads asked.
Divorce brings with it many challenges but none is more challenging than trying to negotiate/navigate the world of co-parenting with your ex-spouse. For me, it’s been rather easy. There hasn’t been a lot of fighting, although in the beginning it wasn’t as easy as it is now. There were a lot of hurt feelings that got in the way of thinking about what was best for the kids. I thought a lot about those early days when I answered my friend’s question.
1. Volunteer To Babysit.
We know you have your visitation schedule but if you live close by and Mom is cool with it, volunteer to babysit. One of the things I think is most unfair about divorce, is that the Mother usually bears the brunt of it. She’s the one always with the kids and if she wants a night off then she has to find a sitter. You could be that sitter. It’s a great way to get more time with your children and show her that you’re serious about being a co-parent. Being a co-parent means you are sharing the parenting responsibility, you can’t do that if you’re just a weekend Dad.
2. Show Up.
Every Friday you’re supposed to pick up the kids at 5. Then, something comes up and you’re either going to be extremely late or can’t come at all. Please call. The reasoning has nothing to do with the upset to the Mother’s schedule, it’s so she has time to explain it to the kids. My children, while very young knew when Friday was coming and they also knew when it got dark that Dad should be there. Don’t assume they don’t know or don’t care because the child is two. They know a lot more than you think. Give your kids the courtesy of not having their feelings hurt AND leaving their Mother to clean up the mess. The divorce itself has already left her with enough to clean up.
3. Keep Up Traditions.
Keeping up traditions is more important for older kids than younger ones. Younger children are more adaptable in that sense. If you have older children and you had a routine of every Valentine’s Day they helped you pick out a gift for Mom, continue to do that. Just because you’re divorced doesn’t mean you can’t help your children pick out a gift for her (same goes for Moms too). I’m not saying you need to resume family vacations but if your family can, that’s great. The most important thing is to keep as much as you can about their lives the same because so much is changing. The more both parents can work together on that, the more it benefits the children. Remember, the children didn’t ask for the divorce, the parents did.
4. Don’t Be The Dad That Only Buys Sneakers Once A Year.
I know many Dads who their contribution to their kid’s closet is buying sneakers every Easter. Don’t be that man. Kids, especially when they are younger grow out of things quickly. If you’re paying child support that’s great but depending on the Mother’s income, that child support might all go to daycare and food. I’m not asking you to get involved in your ex-spouses finances but just be mindful of how your children are living and actually care. There’s nothing stopping you from going to Children’s Place or Walmart and picking up a bag of clothes every time the seasons change. I guarantee it will be appreciated.
5. Put Yourself In The Mother’s Shoes.
Being a single parent is hard. You’re solely responsible for these little people that you created 24/7. There’s no help, no tag teams, no nothing. When all three kids have ear infections and you’ve got the Flu, oh well. There’s no sending the Husband out for Children’s Motrin, it’s up to the Mother to pull on her big girl panties and go get more but you can help. When you get the call that the kids are sick, volunteer. I’m sure you know what to get at the store, or call and ask. When all the kids had the stomach bug, I was so appreciative to get a bag full of Pedialyte, Saltines and Clorox Wipes. It’s these little things that not only extend an olive branch to the Mother but it’s also helping the kids.
Mostly, most divorced Moms wish Dads would take a more active role in their children’s lives. That they take the role of co-parenting serious and not just as a weekend obligation where they have to take them to the park and Chuck E Cheese. Dads should continue on as if they were still living with the child in their level of interaction if they can. Call and say goodnight if you can. Read a bed time story over the phone or Skype. Most importantly, just be there available and say yes more instead of no.