Simply siring a child is far different than fatherhood. A few minute’s fun is nothing compared to a lifetime of worry, attention, and lame jokes. Being an involved father — a Dad worthy of the corny coffee mug or desk plaque — has always been a challenge. Try these 11 time-tested ideas.
Some divorced Dads suddenly feel like they are part-time fathers. They may feel they are relegated to imposters, or make-believe fathers. Not so, says The Fatherhood Project. Your effect on your children is measurable not in minutes and hours of time together but in the quality of that time. Research has shown that your involvement with your children has positive effects on their intellect, physical health, and mental well-being.
The Fatherhood Project emphasizes the mere relationship offers benefits; you do not have to be a perfect Dad to improve your children’s future success. Remind yourself that you are not their gift-giving Uncle (avoid the Uncle Dad complex), not their best friend; you are the Dad, even after divorce. Do Dad things. Spend quiet Dad time with them. Tell Dad jokes.
What do you call a fake noodle? Impasta.
Call Me Dad
Some of the real gifts you can give your child are the simplest, say researchers at the University of Florida. Communicate. Set boundaries. Show them what a model man looks like and speaks like. Be there for them.
- For little children, imaginative play and caretaking (yes, changing diapers, shopping for dresses, making PB&Js with no crusts) are key.
- For older children, be available. That means returning texts, answering calls, sending emails and spending time with faces (whether in person or through, you know, FaceTime).
- For near-adults, be a support network. “Too drunk or drugged to drive? Call me anytime day or night. No questions asked, I will come get you. I want you to be safe.”
“I’ll call you later.”
“Don’t call me later. Call me Dad.”
You may feel separation or divorce makes you irrelevant. You may not have sole custody, or you may only see your kids every other weekend. You still matter. You can be with them in many ways, even in short bursts:
- Read to them — Virginia’s public libraries are free to use; let your kids pick books they like, and you pick a book you’d like to read to each; then read to them with no electronics or distractions
- Eat together — No cell phones at the table; no tablets or toys; whether it’s a family restaurant or your own apartment kitchen table, make the meal about family
- Listen first, then talk — That drive away from their Mom’s house to your tiny apartment? Listen to all the babble, all the drama, all the ideas; children will share openly when they trust you
- Respect their mother — Do not let your personal feelings about your estranged or ex-wife intrude on your children’s relationship with her; at the very least, be civil and polite
- Discipline with love — Guide, teach, coax, and set reasonable limits; your time with your children is not a free-for-all, no-holds-barred circus; maintain rules and expectations
- Teach — Balance your children’s interests with your own; if you like to fish, teach them to fish; if you like astronomy, show them the stars; teach them to tie knots, cook spaghetti, or change a bike tire
What do you call an elephant that doesn’t matter? Irrelephant.
Separated and divorced fathers have to overcome obstacles to keep quality relationships with their children. Experts at Fatherly remind us that old-fashioned U.S. mail works great:
“Writing letters, phone calls — even if you’re not in physical proximity, knowing your dad cares and wants to be involved to the extent that [he] can is really important,” Marcy Carlson, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, told Fatherly.
Writing to your children is a great way to show them how important they are. Be honest, keep things simple, and avoid temptation to make the letters bright, light and trite. Avoid promises but do offer advice. Let them read how attentive you are to their changing ideas and passions.
If you have the slightest artistic talent, put in Dad drawings. If not, clip a newspaper comic. The goal is not to impress, but to keep the ties strong.
Worried you’ll get mixed up on what you said to each child? Photocopy your letter before mailing it, and keep a tickler file to keep up with multiple kids.
Who sends Count Dracula mail? His fang club.
Change in the Weather
Finances are usually tight for separated and divorced Dads. Research at Greater Good shows that economically better off Dads feel they are better Dads because they spend time with their kids.
Yet money is, itself, not the problem. It is your attitude toward money. Avoid feeling pressure to compete with the children’s mother to outspend her when they are with you. Take advantage of quiet, free spaces to spend time together, not to spend money together.
Children will never know what you hoped to do for them but couldn’t (because of time or money). They will only know what you did with and for them.
When does it rain money? When there’s change in the weather.
Laugh With Your Children
You can rely on The Firm For Men to help you with all your family law issues. Contact us online or by calling 757-383-9184. We can help with custody, visitation, support and more. We have even been known to share a few lame Dad jokes, so bring a notepad.