I’m working with a very sad, distressed and rather defeated Dad going through a divorce and I have been supporting him by championing him, believing in him, and encouraging him to focus all his energy on not fighting the old, but on building the new. I simply ask the ‘better’ questions that help him to find his own answers.
The days of being an ‘every other weekend’ Dad are no longer the norm.
Dads are so important to the balance of raising a happy, confident, resilient, independent child. Many studies have suggested that it’s not the divorce that damages children but the amount of conflict they experience. So finding a way through the anger, hurt and grief is important and finding a way for Dads to stay actively involved in their child’s life is crucial.
As the long distance parent, Dads must work hard to maintain their relationship with their child. They may feel angry that this task falls on their shoulders since they may not have initiated the divorce in the first place and it’s easy to feel like a victim and spend their time and energy blaming their ex.
But I don’t advise that as it’s far better to focus on what you can do to stay involved and active in your child’s life. Being a long distance parent doesn’t mean that a dad has to automatically disappear from their child’s life. It just requires some creativity and cooperation to pull it off successfully. It also may require tenacity, determination and patience.
Here are a few tips to help.
Remain interested and involved in your child’s life. Make it a point to know the names of the adults who interact with your child: teachers, friends, out of school activity teachers or coaches, other parents, neighbours etc. Similarly, know the names of your child’s closest friends. Take an interest in their homework, their hobbies, their worries and be proactive in persisting even if they appear a bit distant.
Remember that as the adult it is your responsibility to initiate contact with your child. Don’t sit passively by, waiting for you child to call you or send an e-mail. You take the lead! And on the same subject, try not to take it personally if your child doesn’t call you right back or only stays on the phone for a few minutes. This is pretty normal for children and usually has nothing to do with you.
Initiate a regular schedule for contact and follow it faithfully. If you say you’re going to call, call. If you are going to send an e-mail, do it. Keep your word. All relationships are built on trust and predictability. Your child needs to be able to count on you following through and keeping your word so that means regular, predictable and positive contact.
When talking with your child, try to avoid asking closed questions that will just get you a ‘yes, no or one-word’ answers. They can be pretty frustrating, not to mention very short. For example, instead of asking “Did you have a good day at school today?” which is likely to get you a yes or no and then silence, ask “What made you laugh at school today?” It opens up conversations and doesn’t close them down.
Never use your communication time with your child to interrogate them about their other parent and things that are going on in the other household. Keep your child out of the middle as they will feel like a pawn in a game they don’t understand and shouldn’t be involved in.
Think beyond the telephone when it comes to connecting with your child. Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, text. and if your child is old enough to have access to a computer, get an e-mail relationship going. You can send cards, exchange photos and forward information that will be of interest to your child as well as just say hi. Consider adding web-cam visits to your tool box of communication. While virtual visitation will never take the place of face-to-face time, it’s great to be able to see your child and have a “real time” conversation. Of course you will need to coordinate this with your ex.
In this age of high-tech communication, don’t forget about good old fashioned snail mail. Kids love to receive mail. Send cards, letters, postcards and an occasional “surprise package.” Nothing beats the thrill of opening mail that was sent just for you.
Connect around a theme. For instance, watch the same television programme and then talk or text afterwards. Share a passion for a sports team, read the same book and then discuss it, play chess or other games online.
Maintain a positive attitude with your child. If you feel the need to encourage better grades or improved behaviour, make sure you balance those comments with positive ones. Try for a ratio of 5 good comments to 1 “do better” comment. The simple truth is that children are no different than adults. None of us wants to hear how bad we are or what a poor job we are doing. So sandwich what you want to say in a positive intention set in love. Don’t be afraid to say the tough things you’d say if you were living with your child all the time.
Support your ex when they are doing the more mundane things like getting your child to brush their teeth, do their homework and eat their broccoli – don’t always over compensate by large gestures of fun as this isn’t real life.
Keep respect, dignity and a business like approach to staying in contact with your child’s other parent and respect their house rules.
Remember to agree things with your ex before mentioning them to your child.
With a little planning and cooperation, a positive and determined mindset being the distance parent doesn’t have to be the end of being a great parent. Stay positive and above all else, tell your child how much you love them.