One reality of today's society is that many divorced people - particularly fathers - face the task of making the most out of the limited time they get to spend with their children.
In today's society, many divorced fathers face the reality of limited visitation privileges, and all too often, this visitation time is limited when compared with the time fathers used to be able to enjoy with their children. Because of this, it is absolutely critical that fathers make visitation time the best possible experience for their children and themselves.
To make the most of your visitation:
- Give it time. Your first visit may be the first time you've ever been alone in bearing full responsibility for taking care of your children. This can be a frightening experience. Even if this is not the case, you may feel awkward or uneasy in the relationship you have with your children, especially if your divorce was particularly bitter. This is normal, so be patient. Be committed to getting the relationship with your children back on track.
- No Mr. Mom. No matter how hard you try, you can never mother your children. You are a father, and your children expect you to be fatherly. Do the things you always did as a father. For example, if you never cooked before, don't try to impress your children by creating a gourmet meal. A better solution is to be honest with your children and if they are old enough, invite them to learn to cook with you. Let your children into your life; introduce them to their unique father. Look for ways to include them in your life as you become more involved in theirs. For example, take them fishing, hunting or to the opera if these are things you enjoy doing. Or read books to them about your hobbies.
- Avoid conflict. Research indicates if you can reduce conflict, your transition should be smoother. But if your marriage ended with many unresolved conflicts, you will most likely have to work harder to make the transition smoother for your children. Men who have successfully made the transition from being married to becoming single understand that any unresolved conflict they feel about their former family life rests with their ex-wife, not their children. The most important thing to remember is that your ex-wife is still the mother of your children. Always put your children first when dealing with your ex-partner. Being aware that you still harbor negative emotions toward your former spouse can help you avoid directing them toward your children.
- Avoid over-scheduling. It can be overwhelming to come up with weekends packed with activities for the children. Many fathers feel they must entertain their children when they visit. This is not necessarily true. It is OK to spend weekends talking, watching TV or just being with each other. Talk to your children about what they like to do. Come up with a plan (with the help of your children) about how you will spend your time together. Eventually, it will all feel perfectly natural.
- Be flexible. Even though you have a court agreement on visitation, there's no reason you and your ex-spouse can't vary visitation arrangements. There will be times your children are invited to slumber parties and times they will be going to camp. Problems will arise no matter what your situation. Being rigid to spite your ex-partner will only hurt your children. Remember, think of your children first.
- Give them space. Children feel more comfortable and connected when they have a place at each parent's home. Provide a room, chest, dresser, desk or bookcase for your children. Provide some place they can keep things that are theirs and know it will be waiting for them when they return.
- Keep life as similar as possible. Children living in two households can feel frazzled, emotionally drained and confused. Avoid making it harder for your children by imposing a radically different set of rules or values. If at all possible, maintain the same set of rules, holidays, bedtime, curfew and so forth as your ex-spouse. You’ll never go wrong if you focus on the needs of your children.
Even though you are no longer a husband, you are still your children’s father. Give yourself and your children time, space, patience, unconditional love and acceptance. You and your children will be the ones who benefit.
For more information on family life, contact your parish office of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, the educational branch of the LSU Ag Center.