Going from a chaotic, kid oriented household into a new place can be an awfully strange transition. You go from tripping over toys and a highly structured, kid-centered world to an adult world devoid of all of that. It can feel liberating but also lonely. You might end up missing the kids. In fact, it can even feel like you divorced them along with their mother. You can feel a deep sense of loss. You may even question your status as a parent. With that, a sense of the loss of your old identity can follow. You want to know who you are and what kind of dad you will be now that things have changed so dramatically. When a stepdad comes on the scene, it can feel even more awkward. It seems like they spend more time with your kids than you do. You may feel as though you are cut off from your children but you aren’t. In fact, one rule of divorced dad 101 is that this dramatic change in your family interaction could be a chance to connect in a more meaningful way with your children. Really, if it’s up to anyone, it’s up to you. Whether or not you are together with the mother of your children, they are your children. You have a right to see them, be there for them, spend time with them and teach them the things only you can bestow upon them.
Commit to regular and responsible time with the kids. Put your differences aside and co-parent in the best way possible. Do your best to set up the same rules and consequences in both houses. Attend parent teacher conferences together. Show solidarity and let the kids know that just because you two aren’t together, you are still their parents. You both love them and encourage a relationship with the other parent. And you will both be there for them, for the long haul. Though some things change, like the living arrangements, if you can set up good structure and communication with your co-parent the kids will make the transition better, as will the two of you. The thing is you both have to be able to compartmentalize things. Let parenting be one thing and conflict about the splitting of assets be another thing entirely. Don’t use the kids to find out what their mom is doing or who she is dating. Don’t put them in the middle and don’t let your ex do it either. If the kids become a weapon of war, they also become its collateral damage. The ones that lose the most is them. Having a good parenting relationship that is professional, logical, courteous and straightforward will be in the children’s best interest. So no matter what happened between the two of you, it has to be put aside. The children must come first.
Lots of guys feel marginalized after a divorce. They feel out of the loop with the kids. But un-marginalize yourself. Coach their sports teams. Be a scout master. Find out what the kids are into a do it with them. Build a culture of what you do when you hang out together. Having familiar activities that the kids enjoy and want to take part in with you are a great way to make them feel comfortable and to bond. Hiking, biking, playing sports together, comic book collecting or collecting other items, building models, chess and so much more are available. Don’t lavish the kids with gifts as a way to allay guilt or buy their love. Your time, energy, commitment, thoughtfulness and concern will be the most important things you can give a child. Really listen to them. Allay their fears and give them the skills and strategies they need to be successful. Always leave the door open for them to come and talk to you. A divorced dad is not the only person who has limited contact with the kids. Doctors, soldiers and others. But it isn’t the hours and minutes you spend but the quality of the time you spend with them. It’s the impact you make on them and the one they make on you. Father’s Day may be once a year, but fatherhood lasts for a lifetime. For a unique and funny look at being a divorced dad read, The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad byJoel Schwartzberg.