There’s no denying that divorce can change your relationship with your kids, especially if you’re the noncustodial parent. The adjustment from living in the same house with your children to only seeing them on scheduled days is a big one, and in the aftermath of a divorce, your kids may be angry with you, they may be confused, or they may feel shy and awkward visiting you in a new home. This can be difficult to deal with as a parent, but there are things you can do to reconnect with your children and strengthen your relationship. Divorce doesn’t have to mean losing your close relationship with your kids, but you have to take the lead and be proactive about staying connected. Take a look at some of the things you can do to stay connected with your kids after a divorce.
Show Up Every Time and On Time
When you’re scheduled to spend time with your kids, make it your top priority to show up, to be on time, and to spend the time with your children. If you moved out of the house that your children lived in, your kids may be feeling abandoned by you. It doesn’t matter what the facts of the divorce are – even if you wanted to try to make the marriage work or wanted physical custody, from your children’s point of view, you left them.
That doesn’t mean that you should rehash the details of the divorce or custody battles with your kids. Don’t do that. But you should prove to them that you haven’t left them and that you do want to be involved in your life, and that means not skipping days when you’re supposed to spend time with them, not leaving them waiting for you past the time when you were supposed to pick them up, and not picking them up only to drop them off with a babysitter or relative while you do something else. This is the time to prioritize your kids over everything else, so don’t put them off so that you can stay late at work, meet up with friends, or go out on a date. Show up for your time with them, on time, and spend the time focusing on them.
Make Space for Them in Your New Home
One important way to show your children that they’re still a big part of your life is to make sure that wherever you are, there’s a space for them. If at all possible, make sure that your new house or apartment has a room for your children, where they can sleep when they stay over and where they can store some of their clothes, toys, and other things. Your children shouldn’t feel like guests in your home, they should feel like they’re part of your new home.
Let your children help with decorating their space in your new home. Let them pick out the color of the walls or the design of the sheets for the beds they’ll sleep on. Don’t limit their presence to just their room, either. Put their drawings on your fridge and their pictures on your wall. Keep their favorite drinks or breakfast cereals in your kitchen. Resist the temptation to make your new living space into a bachelor or bachelorette pad – you may be newly single, but you’re also a parent, and that means that your children should always feel like they belong in the place where you live. You want your home to feel as much like their home as their other parent’s home does.
Take on Your Fair Share of Parenting Duties
It can be hard for noncustodial parents to know what to do with their kids when they have them. You only have limited time with them each week, so you want to make it count – you probably don’t want to spend too much of that limited time just sitting around watching TV.
This desire to make your limited time together special can lead noncustodial parents to fall into the “Disneyland Daddy” pattern of behavior – where all of your time with them is spent indulging your kids with gifts and treats, while the custodial parent handles all of the discipline and day-to-day work of raising your kids. But you don’t want this either – the end result of always being the fun parent can be a shallow relationship with your kids. They may love going to the zoo or amusement park every other weekend, but they won’t feel like you’re available to help them with their homework or to help them navigate the pitfalls of growing up. It’s also unfair to their other parent to leave them with all of the responsibilities while you focus on the fun parts of raising children.
So, show up for your children’s parent-teacher conferences. Join the PTA. Make yourself available to take the kids to their pediatrician’s office for checkups. Don’t expect them to have their homework done before you pick them up – have them bring it with them to do during your time together. Show up for the school plays and Little League games even when they don’t fall on your days with the kids. Volunteer in the classroom and to chaperone school field trips. Don’t send them back to their other parent with a bag full of dirty laundry after a few days at your place – do their laundry while they’re there, and as your kids get older, teach them how to do it themselves. Assign chores during your time together, even if it’s just making their beds in the mornings or washing their own dishes after a meal.
None of that means that you shouldn’t do fun things like go to an amusement park with your kids. By all means, treat your kids to fun times and enjoy watching them enjoy it. But also do the things that you would be doing if you were still married and living with your kids full time. Divorce doesn’t mean that you can be a fun babysitter instead of a parent.
Navigating your relationship with your children and remaining connected after a divorce can be difficult, but what your children really want is to feel that they’re important to you and that they can count on you to be a trusted adult in their lives. You can do that by showing up for them, making your space their space as well, and by taking on your share of the parenting responsibilities. If you are going through a divorce or custody case, contact National Family Solutions to learn about how we can help.