This month, my column continues exploring the importance of having fathers involved in their children’s lives and focuses on how to make this goal a reality with some additional insight from Melissa Kester, founder of Madison Marriage and Family Therapy.
Here are some dos and don’ts, especially for mothers and fathers:
Dads: Recognize that your kids need you, regardless of what anyone else says. Only you can play this vital role. Don’t believe it? Take a parenting class. Find a support group for fathers. Read a book like Edward Teyber’s “Helping Children Cope with Divorce.” Stay away from people who tell you that fathers don’t matter.
“Know the things you like to do with the children, and try to make the days you are with them special,” says Kester. “Having this valuable time with them is important; children can carry that with them throughout the week. But don’t avoid parenting responsibilities and discipline to have fun, even though time with the children may be limited.”
Kester encourages parents to “use technology” to be in contact, and go low-tech as well. (For example, put a note in a lunch bag.) Kester says, “Find ways to be with your kids, even when not physically present.” She notes that “living close to each other can allow children to see more of each parent, which can be nice for the entire family.”
Moms: Let your ex know that despite anger you may have toward him, you welcome his involvement as the children’s father. Maybe he failed as a husband; but that’s over. Being a father is an entirely separate, lifelong job, and one that he can succeed at.
Acknowledge that your ex probably has some strengths and interests to offer that you don’t. Maybe he loves sports, camping, and astronomy, all of which put you to sleep. Encourage him to share what he loves, and help your children get the best from both of you.
Remember that “different” doesn’t always mean “bad.” Does dad give the kids dinner and a bath at a different time than you do? Or put them to bed later? If so, how much does it matter? Consistency is good for children, but don’t underestimate their adaptability. Kids have different rules at school than at home, and still others when playing with friends. If the differences between you and your ex aren’t really a problem, don’t make them one.
See to it that dad gets his parenting time, and let your kids know that you, as their mother, support him as a parent.
Moms and dads: Work together to figure out how to be the best parents you can be. When you have a problem with your ex, deal directly with him or her and don’t involve the children.
Is communication between you two very poor? Be open to outside assistance: a mediator or therapist can help you listen to and understand each other.
Grandparents, friends, and others: Play a constructive role, if you can, to foster a role for dad. Like mom, you don’t have to like him to do so. If you can’t be helpful, butt out.
For everyone to keep in mind: See it all from the kids’ level. Young children operate on a purely primitive biological level, Kester says, and their responses are based on survival needs. Even as adults, part of us remains at this level. Kids feel very threatened by divorce.
While very young children may not remember it, “kids in that moment of divorce do have an awareness of something shifting that later could develop emotional triggers that set in and stay,” explains Kester. Having difficulty committing to an adult relationship, for instance, could be caused by a fear of abandonment stemming from a father’s departure in early childhood.
Children need fathers as well as mothers. When both parents can keep their kids’ best interests in mind, they can work together and make divorce as painless as possible for their children.
New York City- and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin, Esq., helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 229–6149, or go to lc-mediate.com/home.
Disclaimer: All material is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Discuss your particular circumstances with a legal professional before making important decisions is strongly encouraged.