Many divorced fathers are faced with the reality of visitation- an often
negotiated, mediated and all too brief time they are able to spend with their
children. In many cases, visitation is very limited, compared to the relationship
dads used to be able to enjoy, so it's absolutely crucial that dads make this
visitation time the best possible experience for their children and themselves.
Here are a few ideas for making the most of your visitation:
Give it time
There's an old saying that time can heal all wounds. But time is only half of the
equation. Healing old wounds also takes a commitment to getting better. Soccer
players who've torn a ligament just don't give up. They gradually work themselves
back into top playing form, even if their leg will remain tender and sore for
years. Many fathers who have gone through a bitter divorce may find that it feels
like they've got a torn ligament between themselves and their kids. Calling upon
the fathering part of yourself may be painful and feel awkward at first, but with
time, patience and practice, it does get better.
No "Mr. Mom"
You're first visitation may be the first time you've ever been alone and bearing
full responsibility for taking care of your kids all by yourself for an extended
period of time. Or, you may be an old pro at taking care of your kids by
yourself. In either case, never try to be a mom. You'll only set yourself up for
failure because men are not moms, men are dads. First, your children expect you
to be fatherly. Do the things you always did. If you were a husband who cooked,
continue to cook. If you didn't cook, don't try to "show-off" for your kids by
attempting to whip-up some gourmet meal. Rather, be honest with your kids, and
invite them to learn with you, on whatever you're attempting. Let them into your
life. Invite them to sit next to you and read with or to them that article on
bass fishing. Look for ways you can include them in your life and ways you can
continue to be involved in theirs. Second, you just won't feel quite right.
Trying to be something (a mom) that you're not is like trying to wear your shoes
on the wrong feet. You may be able to do it for a little while, but it is
Research tell us that if you can reduce conflict, you're transitions should be
smoother. But if your marriage ended with an unresolved war, you will most likely
need to work harder to make the transition for you and your kids smoother. Men
who have most successfully negotiated a bitter divorce or custody battle remember
that any unresolved conflict they feel about their former family life rests with
their ex-wife, not their kids. And they never openly battled or degraded their
former wife in front of their children. Remember that she's still their mom, even
though she's no longer your wife. Being aware that you still harbor negative
emotions toward your former spouse can help you avoid directing them toward your
children when it's "your weekend." Awareness can also help you put your hurt and
anger behind you. Mentally practice and prepare for visitation. Make a game plan
for how you will handle picking up and sending off your child(ren). Be sure you
know where and at what time you're to be there; it'll be easier for you and your
Visitation may seem very daunting. "How am I going to keep them entertained?"
many fathers wonder. Stop and ask yourself if you worried about this when you
were married? Probably not. Why? Because it was OK just to be in each other's
presence. It was OK just to watch television together. It was OK not to have to
talk. It's still the same. Even though you may have a hundred and one things you
want to talk with your child about (or maybe not) doesn't mean they want to. They
may need time to themselves for a while, just to be, rather than to be doing.
Talk with your kids about the types of activities they would like to do. Ask them
how they would like to spend their time with you. Be open and honest about your
likes and dislikes. Over time, you'll establish a natural rhythm that will
transform what seems to you as "fathering by appointment" into wonderful memories
and strong bonds with your child(ren).
Even though the agreement mediated by the courts may give you visitation
every-other weekend and every-other holiday, there's no reason you and your
former spouse can't vary that arrangement by mutual agreement among all of you,
kids included. There may be times when your kids are invited to a slumber party
or they're going to a camp. Or, you can't get any other dates off work. Being
ridged to spite your former spouse only hurts your kids.
Accept the fact that your child(ren) are living in two separate households. Going
from one home to the other causes children to feel the emotional equivalent to
jet lag. Kids need time to get reacquainted not only with you, but with their
surroundings. Avoid making it harder for them to adjust by imposing a radically
different set of rules or value system, or by making them feel bad about the
different system at their mother's. It's tough enough for kids to sort through
and make personal sense of all the values and beliefs they are being taught. Your
goal is to create as little confusion as possible. Be especially sensitive to
entertainment, religion, holiday traditions, bedtime, curfew, and other
behavioral rules. It's a delicate balance you're trying to achieve influencing
rather than inflicting. You'll never go wrong if you're focused on the needs of
Give them their space
Children feel more comfortable, at ease and connected when they know they have a
place at each parent's home that is theirs. It can be a room, a chest, a dresser,
a desk, a bookcase.... some place they can keep things that are theirs and know
it will be waiting for them when they return. Put up posters that reflect some of
your child's interests; furnish with mementos that have special meaning for both
When they resist
There are many reasons why your child may resist visitation. They may not like
the woman you're dating or are married to, or the new family you are living in.
Some kids reach an age when friends, activities and other interests become
important and they are no longer willing to devote as much time to you alone. You
can't bribe, argue, or coerce your kids into spending time with you. You may have
to wait until they can accept the changes in your life. Whatever their reasons,
try to set aside your fears and insecurities. Be supportive, listening and
accepting of their feelings. Make it clear that your door is always open, and
there is always a place for your child in your heart and home. That's not to say
it doesn't hurt when your child appears to be rejecting you, it does. But the
hurt will pass and it doesn't mean you're losing your child. It's just part of
the divorce you have to get through and move beyond. And you will. Remember that
you're relationship with your child will last a lifetime. They will think
differently next year and the years after. Your understanding now will pay off
for both of you in the future.
You're still a dad
It's important for every divorced dad to remember that even though he is no
longer a husband, he is still a father. Even though the warm, loving, intimate
relationship with your former spouse is over, your children continue to need and
crave a warm, loving, and involved dad in whom they can confide. Give yourself
and your children the time, space, patience, unconditional love and acceptance
you and they need.
Here are a few internet web site you may find useful: National Center for
Parents Place.com, Fathering Reading Room http://www.parentsplace.com/readroom/
Fathering Magazine http://www.fathermag.com
Parke, R., (1996). Fatherhood. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Parker, K. & Jones, V., (1997) Making the most of visitation. Today's Father, Vol
5, No. 2, p. 9.
Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, Madison County
Submitted by: Kirk Bloir *
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