Visitation time will feel awkward for a while after your divorce. Your children — the same little folks you diapered, fed, bathed and played with — are now visiting with you. Gone are the idle moments of just lying on a hammock with one of them napping on you. Gone are the fun moments of washing the family car together, deliberately letting them have the hose to squirt you. Now you’re visiting, and the visit will be over. So how can you best spend your time together?
Simple Time with the Kids Is Good
First, realize that your lives are continuing much as they have before. Not every weekend or overnight needs to be a festival of fun. Still wash the car. Still lie in the hammock. Making the best of visitation time really starts with a few simple ground rules:
- The bank is not bottomless — Do not turn into Uncle Dad by turning visitation time into an orgy of spending; children still need to learn basic economic realities with you, so learn to say no to unreasonable expenses
- Family is the focus — Time together needs to be about doing things together; avoid having your visitation turn into a series of family taxi rides or hook-ups with their friends (or yours)
- Nobody spies — Your children are there for you to love and nurture, not turn into tiny spies to pry into your ex-wife’s life
Embrace the still-magical moments of blowing soap bubbles together, making ice cream sundaes in the kitchen, or simply playing a board game.
Put Limits on Screen Time
One of the most damaging things a divorced dad can do is weakly submit to the tyranny of screens. This means the screens you deem important as well as the screens that capture your children:
- Game systems
- Cell phones
- Notebooks, Chromebooks, netbooks
- PCs and laptops
The Mayo Clinic cautions parents to reduce screen time to increase mental health, physical fitness, and socially appropriate behavior. Some of their suggestions are so simple to implement, you can accomplish them before the visit:
- Keep TVs and computers out of bedrooms — This simple solution promotes healthy sleep patterns and allows you to monitor viewing habits
- Set a good example — unplug yourself before asking them to unplug
While the children enjoy their visit with you, quietly apply limits:
- No background television — TVs are often left on as an external stimulus nobody needs
- No meals in front of screens — Banish devices from the dining or kitchen table, and avoid eating in front of the television
- Have alternatives — Provide books, art supplies, sports equipment, cookbooks, board games, cards and tools for your children to explore other creative play
Plan a Field Trip with Your Children
Plan a day trip together. Part of one visitation can be used to plan the next, such as a trip to The Children’s Museum of Virginia or Hunt Club’s Petting Farm. Save a few bucks and pack a picnic lunch that you and your kids assemble together.
Buy a few inexpensive souvenirs and take a few pictures, so on the next visitation date, you can put together a little display — a diorama or memory box — of the day.
Well, Maybe Some Screen Time
Satisfy your kids’ desire for screen time by making a home movie together. Involve them in making props, creating a spontaneous story line, and editing the piece. Then pop the popcorn and watch your creation together.
Depending on the age of your children, you need not be a video or computer expert. They probably already are. Ask them what they think of Pinnacle Studio versus iMovie; even if you have no idea what those two apps are, they will take up the cause and educate you.
Don’t Over-schedule Your Children for Visitation Time
Many child advocates worry about over-scheduled children. You may be guilty of this, trying to cram in all the fun and sun of a great outing with every visitation. If you are concerned you are over-scheduling your kids during your visitation time, ask them. Ask them what they want to do.
One of the hardest things for parents to do is sit and listen, say the experts at The Center for Parenting Education. Active listening means not interrupting, listening to their words and emotions, and listening to understand (instead of listening to respond).
You can get buy-in from them because they will be responsible for the plans you make together. If they want to sun themselves in the backyard, do it with them. No cell phones — maybe a radio — and just time together. If they want to go for a ride, you do not necessarily have to go somewhere, you can just go.
For helpful advice on getting visitation with your children, rebuilding relationships with your children after divorce, or fighting a reduction in visitation time, contact The Firm for Men for a consultation by calling 757-383-9184. We have your best interests, and those of your children, in mind.