Not every father has a happy Father’s Day. Often dads who are divorced or separated from their children have a sad or lonely Father’s Day. This need not be. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that the Dads I’m referring to are not drunks, mentally ill, or abusive brutes, that they are just regular guys, not perfect but that they love their children and want to spend time with them. If the dad reading this article falls into those “bad” categories, I advise counseling and soul-searching; you will never be able to form a normal relationship with your children if they are afraid of you.
A good relationship can be maintained with children of divorce and separation, but it’s not easy. It’s important for both Mom and Dad to recognize the role the other parent has in the life of a child. We know that prior to separation, most couples have assumed some sort of pattern, often the traditional pattern that Dad works full-time (sometimes 2 jobs) and Mom works part-time (or not at all) and manages the household and child-rearing. Sometimes it’s the reverse. Without reference to the reason for the separation, we expect that the parties’ prior pattern of family responsibilities is going to change when they separate. If Dad (or Mom) has had little responsibility for child-rearing while the parties were together, we expect that that parent will want to step and take more responsibility for arranging the children’s lives. Since the parties will be not living together, it means that both parents will need to accept changes in routine, that is, that there will be periods when the children are not with them at all, that they will be in the other parent’s custody, and the other parent will need to step up and work out bedtimes, clothing, schoolwork, and discipline for the children. Often the parent who will be seeing the children less due to this change has a hard time accepting it, and the person who will be having more time with the children feels overwhelmed by the new responsibilities. These feelings are normal; they can be alleviated by the parents by learning to work together or cooperate. What’s that you say?? If we could cooperate we’d still be together!!! Well, it’s time to grow up and be an adult. For the “abandoned” parent (who is seeing the kids less), get a hobby. Learn to enjoy time away from the children. Despite what you may think, your children are not your life. If they are, you are too involved in their lives. Accept that things will be different at the other parent’s home, and assume that he or she loves them too. Children do not have to have mirror-image lives in the other parent’s home. So long as they are safe and appropriately nourished and rested, you should not try to control what happens when they are with the other parent. Don’t turn your child into a “buddy” and unload your troubles on them. If you need to talk to someone about your angry feelings about the other parent, talk to your mother or get a dog. Leave the children out of it.
For the parent who is having more time with the children, it’s time to grow up and be an adult too. Don’t be the “Disneyland” parent. Make sure that the children have regular bedtimes and a routine at your house too. Make sure they eat appropriate meals. Speak respectfully about the other parent, even if the children tell you that the other parent is bashing you to the children. Just smile sadly and say, “That must make you feel sad,” when you hear a report such as that, and dismiss it. Resist the impulse to badmouth the other parent, even if you believe they are badmouthing you. Think of the children’s feelings and let your home be the place where they feel safe and comfortable, where they don’t hear negative talk about the other parent.
Cooperation between parents is the best present you can give your children. You don’t have to like the other parent to respect them as a parent, and when you start putting the children’s feeling ahead of yours, you will realize that that is what they need, to grow up in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding, one where they will not be able to manipulate either parent, because the parents communicate with each other.
All this is hard to do, I understand. However, co-parenting counseling is available almost everywhere. Take a deep breath and vow to be the parent who cooperates; avoid fighting. Avoid calling the police. Remember, each child knows that they are made up of half of each parent, so if one parent is really bad, part of them is really bad too. Enjoy your time with your children. Happy Father’s Day.