By D. Keith Denton
Author, “Single Dads and Great Kids: Using Humor and Other Successful Strategies”
Being a dad is not about the volume of time spent; it is about attitude and connections.
It should go without saying that your kids need to know you love them but there has to be more. It’s not enough to just care for your kid.
Divorced dads don’t always get to see their kids like normal married dads. You see even “full time” dads who are not really “full time” due to demands from work or other obligations in life. With increasingly both parents working full time and all the distractions our gadgets cause, it seems that kids rarely have any parent that is “full time.”
A strong case could be made that what kids need is not more activities but real one-on-one time with both mom and dad.
Don’t Be A Disneyland Dad
“Disneyland Dads” are mutation that normally only exist after a divorce. Every time I see those Disney commercials, I always smile.
You know the ones where the kids scream when they realize the parents are taking them to Disney World. Well, I wanted to give my daughter something to smile about after her mother and I got a divorce.
Well, that might not really be true. You see that is what I told myself. I didn’t see her as much and I felt like I was second fiddle to her mom. I was the “discipline” one; her mom was the fun one.
So if I am being totally honest I especially wanted her to have a good time so she would like to be with me. I knew I would not be a popular as her mom but at least wanted her to have some things she enjoyed about being with me.
Normally, I am not one of those people who just throw money around. When you have struggled as much as I had paying bills, it leaves you frugal. That sounds better than “cheap” or “tight,” doesn’t it?
But for the first time in my life, I used the phrase, “spare no expense” and set up a trip to Florida. It was to be our first trip alone with just her and me. I was worried she would be bored and especially miss her mom. It was much later, years later, that I realized that four- or five-year-old children would not remember any trips you take. They will not remember how much you did.
Nearing the end of our trip, I asked my daughter what she had enjoyed the most: Disney World, Discovery Cove, SeaWorld, or Universal Studios.
She thought a moment, smiled up at me and said, “Stomping in the mud puddles.” Shocked, I said, “What?” She said, “You remember when it was raining a couple of days ago and we were walking across the parking lot going to SeaWorld?” I said, “Yes!” She said, “You let me stomp in those puddles of rain on the parking lot. That was so much fun!!”
I cannot express in words the sheer shock that I felt. Keep it simple. I could have saved thousands of dollars and simply turned on the hose in the back yard. Next time I thought of expensive trips I tried to think simpler. I got a hose, turned it on in the back yard and let her stop until she was covered in mud.
Stay Connected, Not Broke
One of the biggest fears from dads is wondering when they will see their kids. In most cases involving children, the mother is awarded sole or primary custody. Usually, the dad leaves the home and is awarded visitation rights. Dad gets to “visit” their kids about 50 days a year unless joint physical custody is agreed upon. It is hard for a “visiting” parent to feel effective.
The key is to find ways to stay connected. The more you hug your children, the happier they will be as adults. To maintain strong relationships with your kids you have to be creative and put in an effort. You want to create a comfortable home, not a weekend resort.
It’s not easy or fun for kids to juggle all their “stuff” between homes. So make this part easy for them and have their “stuff” at this home, too.
Your home will not only need your kid’s school supplies and clothing but also those things that make a house a home. Your home needs to have their favorite books, games, toys, etc.
Discipline and Responsibilities
Both homes have to have rules, chores, and consequences. You will need to establish boundaries for work, set aside one-on-one time with the family, and for you. Having routines help kids feel safe.
Most kids will push against routines but that’s normal and you will need to not be trying to always make it a Disneyland environment. Remember when you went to Disneyland, you still had to be the boss. Bosses sometimes must discipline.
At least a dozen studies have consistently shown that even well educated mothers with ample money after the divorce often provide too little supervision, discipline, and household order. Research points out that these moms are often too submissive to their own children.
It would be nice for you if responsibilities for discipline were equally shared but it usually isn’t the case. It is a tough job but somebody has to do it or you’re going to have problems. Kids may not like you being the disciplinarian but someone needs to shoulder that job.
Simply doling out punishment without being a part of a child’s life would never work. You don’t have to be there all the time, but when you are there you have to be all in.
Surprisingly, I have seen many “part-time” dads that are better dads than they ever were when they were married.
Amy Muntz Fisch is the Director of Children’s Evaluations for a mental health organization. She says her ex-military dad definitely wasn’t a diaper bag kind of dad, but he was more than capable.
So what was his secret? When he spent time with her, she truly knew he was “in the moment.” Despite always been busy he took the time to make sure he stayed connected and interacted with her.
With Skype, Facebook, and tons of other Internet tools there is no reason for not being there for your child.
If you want help, please visit my website and click on the Single Dads and Parenting tab. You will find some useful free tools including questionnaires you can adapt to your situation to help you focus on staying connected to your kids and even tools to help you improve your relationship with your ex.
There are also tools that can help you better manage your time so your quality time with your kids does not slip through the cracks. Check it out and get started because love is not enough.
D. Keith Denton, Ph.D., has authored 14 books and more than 190 articles. Any of those publications can be referenced at dkeithdenton.com. The published books, articles and conducted seminars about managing change, work, home and lifestyle issues.
Wendy Ryerson has a degree in child development and a master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling. She has worked in treatment centers, mental health centers, public schools, Universities, corporate organizations and is currently in private practice.
Their latest book is “Single Dads and Great Kids: Using Humor and Other Successful Strategies.” When you talk to anyone about divorce and kids, there is always a sad expression that follows.
This book is different from everything else in print about divorce and single parents because it takes a different approach. Divorce is rarely written from daddy’s point of view, just as rarely written with humor. The book is funny and lighthearted but provides a wealth of information for ending up happier and with great kids.