By Richard “RJ” Jaramillo
Founder of SingleDad.com
This article recalls my newly divorced dad journey on how I didn’t give up on getting more custody time with my children. So many newly divorced fathers get frustrated from their initial obstacles in family court, but in my case, I decided to look for every opportunity to make every moment count during my single parent transition.
Back in 1999, I went through my divorce and was met with a frightening reality. Joint custody meant that I was going to have less time with my children. At my final court date, I was told I would only get 30% custody of my three children (one of them was a newborn). As I look back on my own experience, all I can remember is feeling so desperate and angry that the courts gave me a custody schedule of 30% out of a possible 100%. My life had changed in an instant. It just seemed so unfair.
I can also remember the advice my attorney told me over and over again. “This is just the beginning custody schedule; through your time and effort, things will change… Just bite your tongue, make every effort to be available for your kids and we can always re-petition for more time.” Times have changed in some courts, but for most newly divorced fathers, it’s still a shock to see how little time they get in their custody agreement.
Something We Take for Granted
This article is not about the injustice I was served or the fact that I overcame all of my obstacles to obtain 50/50 joint custody. This article is about the time, or the lack of quality time, that single parents have with our children and what we need to do to remind ourselves how to make the best of what we have.
This is a friendly reminder to all single parents, both fathers and mothers, who need to remember a few things about the children we brought into this world. Children don’t choose divorce, adults do. Divorce affects the lives of fathers, mothers, children and the precious clock that ticks from the moment the final divorce papers are signed.
Do You Know Why I Am the Luckiest Dad in the World?
I still randomly pose this question to my children as I am driving them to school. What makes this question special is that it gives me the opportunity to be PRESENT to our situation. “I am the luckiest father in the world because I have a child like you. I am blessed with three children who are beautiful, smart, good citizens, goods students, honest, healthy, happy, friendly and respectful.” I make sure I reinforce good behavior and communicate what my expectations are of them each and every day. I make sure to let them know that every day counts.
When I ask the question out loud, it gets mixed results. It’s amazing that generosity has a karmic response and I gauge how I am doing as a father based on how my children respond. “Because you have a daughter like me and you are a good dad…” is a common response. Occasionally, I will get a few giggles and some sarcastic remarks from my teenagers. They will say something like, “What, you are our father?” or something like, “I guess you are just a lucky dad.” Nothing better than a little humor, I always say. Parents of divorce are often too serious and these responses have taught me a lot about the power of humor.
A Family That Cooks Together, Creates Memories
When I first started cooking, I had my kids in the kitchen with me experimenting with different recipes. I made sure that I gave them 100% of my attention while we were preparing the meal. Sometimes, I felt that having everybody in the kitchen together gave us the extra bonding time we needed; away from the TV, cell phones, the radio and other distractions. There is something special about the kitchen and the teamwork exhibited during the times when I was newly divorced. No fighting, no fussing; just laughter and bonding.
It didn’t matter what we made for dinner and sometimes the meal even turned out horrible. We laughed and made fun of ourselves and it brought us closer together. What was special was that we just had “family time” to be and act normal. Those memories that we shared in the kitchen and at the dinner table will remain with me forever.
Stop the Play Dates and Sleepovers
I wasn’t afraid of putting my foot down early in my custody battle. For some newly divorced parents, there are struggles with scheduling kids’ school and social activities around joint custody schedules. I made sure that I made my voice clear about scheduling activities on “My Weekends” vs. “Her Weekends”. At one point, I remember having a meeting with my ex-wife and explaining the importance of not having so many scheduled “To Do’s” for our kids. What’s the point of having children when all we are doing is shuttling them from one activity to another?
I know I didn’t make any friends with this opinion. I almost became ex-communicated from the neighborhood play groups. The “Anti-Social Daddy” was my name until one of my daughter’s play-friend’s parents went through a bitter, ugly divorce. I remember the father came up to me and said, “Man, I had you all wrong for limiting your kids’ schedules. I didn’t understand what you were up against with all of these activities until now. I am newly divorced and my ex-wife is scheduling all of these activities on my dates. All I want to now is hunker down and keep my kids all to myself!”
Sometimes, you just have to cherish the time you have with your kids and keep them all to yourself. Take a stand. As a reminder to the newly divorced parent: they are your children, too!
365, 182 or Less…
I am now at that stage where this number becomes even more important, and smaller. There are only so many holidays that I get to play Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy. No matter how you look at this fact, my days are numbered and so are yours. Unless you have figured out a way to reverse the aging process your children are growing older by the day. And if you have joint custody, those holidays are getting fewer and fewer. We all will soon be replaced by someone else that gives our children the love, trust, honesty and respect that they all deserve in their adult lives.
The point I am trying to make is this: whether or not you are like me, the simple fact is that we have to cherish every moment while we can. The courts have decided our custody schedule, and it is what we do with that time that makes all the difference in the world. I am still a hopeless optimist and believe that I am making a difference every day in shaping the lives of my children. I know I do many silly things in my daily routine that will make you question my sanity. I still wake up early in the morning to make each of my children their own school lunch because somehow I feel like I am making a difference by setting a positive example.
Never mind me. This is also about you making the time count. What’s important, in all the insanity of parenting, is to believe. Believe that you can make every minute count in a positive way so that our children of divorce will hold happy memories and not bitter memories of the relationship with their parents. Make every minute count and look at each day as just a grain of sand in a very large and endless beach. You can always start now and you can always make a difference today… the choice is yours.
Richard “RJ” Jaramillo, 45, is the Founder of SingleDad.com, a website and social media resource dedicated to single parenting and specifically for the newly divorced, re-married, widowed and single father with children. RJ is a self-employed, entrepreneur living in San Diego and a father of three children. The mission of SingleDad is to help the community of Single Parents “Make Life Happen…Again!”