When you and your child are attempting to adjust to life after a divorce, the most challenging part of that adjustment may relate to the visitation sessions that you have with your child throughout the year. This may come as a surprise to any parent who is reading this blog and has not yet completed their divorce. You fight for as much time with your child as possible only to find out that you need to work hard to make sure that your child can develop a relationship with you, given the changes in both of your lives.
Remember that your child has to make a transition just like you did after the divorce. The change for your child is maybe even more complicated than your own was. Think about it- you are an adult with an income (most likely) and skills to develop a new life for yourself while maintaining some aspects of your former life. Meanwhile, your child is entirely dependent on you and your ex-spouse for shelter, food, and clothing. They have a great deal of their self-image wrapped up in their parents. A divorce can be traumatic to a child; even if they never let on that, it impacts them.
You need to be aware of the difficulties that your child is facing. Undoubtedly, you are aware that divorce can be trying on a child. You may not fully realize that you and their other parent arguing over visitation can make that transition even more difficult. You can lose time with your child in the short term and then lose out on their relationship in the long term. This is a double whammy that can catch you by surprise. It is rarely if ever, the focus of a divorce. You don't have time to think about your post-divorce life when you are up to your elbows in concerns about your divorce case itself.
Some of the best advice I have heard regarding managing your post-divorce visitation with your child is that you should do your best to make these visitation sessions as seamless a part of your child's life as possible. Meaning: do not have your child adjust to visitation; make the visitation sessions adjust to your child. You may have no idea how you are going to build your relationship with your child. You may not have had much of a relationship with your child, to begin with. How can you start to build a relationship with them, given your current circumstances?
You can start by finding activities for you and your child to do together. Meaning- put away the electronics. That means you need to put away your phone or tablet and focus on your child. Do not encourage sitting around your home and watching television. There is nothing inherently wrong with television, but if it is the primary way you are entertaining your child when they are with you, you have a problem on your hands. I cannot recall a single time where I felt like I was bonding with my child over television. I have also never heard of a client telling me that they connected with their child over tv.
Building a relationship can mean different things for different people. For fathers, building a relationship with their child may mean playing a sport, engaging in an activity, or otherwise doing something physical or active—dads bond with their kids through physical activity. Do not shy away from doing this like this. Your kids likely are missing something in their lives that their bonding can fill with you. If you are not the type of person who does well with a conversation, then activities like this may allow you to bond with your children.
Remember that you have all the tools you need right at your fingertips when it comes to building or rebuilding your relationship with the kids after a divorce. There is no magic wand that you can wave to make things just like they were (or even make things better). You can bank on the need for you to put forth the effort to improve that relationship one day at a time. If you attempt to stay as invested in your kids as possible, everything else will fall into place.
Remember to parent while building your relationship with the kids.
The temptation for the parent who does not live with the kids full time is to do whatever it takes to build a relationship with the kids. This can mean sacrificing the discipline aspects of parenting in favor of activities that cause the kids to like you. This is an easy path to go down. After all, it is a path of least resistance; it takes less effort to take the kids to a movie than to put yourself in a situation where you need to discipline the kids. Having the kids leave your home for a couple of weeks and wondering if they enjoyed spending time with you can be a sickening feeling for a recently divorced parent.
It is your job to strike a balance between parenting and having a good time with your kids. Nothing has changed in that balance you need to cross compared to your life with the kids before the divorce. It may feel different, but in actuality, your job description as a parent did not change from the time your divorce began to the current date. You need to be able to blend fun/discipline/responsibility/love into your weekends and extended periods of visitation with your children.
Remember- you will not be able to rebuild a relationship with your kids in one weekend. If you were in a position where the divorce opened your eyes to the fact that you don't have a relationship with your kids, you surely wouldn't be able to build a relationship with your kids up from scratch in a weekend or two. That takes time. Your best bet is to be a parent- not a friend- to your children. That is the natural role you should be filling, and if you do your best to stick to that, your children will appreciate you for it.
What you should not do as a parent with your visitation time
Unfortunately, I have seen many parents use their visitation opportunities with the kids after a divorce as a means to harm their ex-spouse. I don't mean physically harm their ex-spouse, but I do mean that these folks will look for an opportunity to use their time with the kids to settle scores and even the playing field with their spouse after a painful divorce. Hopefully, that doesn't describe you or your ex-spouse, but I would like to point out things you should not be doing with visitation during your post-divorce life with the kids.
It is easy to be a destructive force in your child's life as well your ex-spouse's. Because there is now a court order in place that allows you direct access to your kids, there is little that your ex-spouse can do in the immediate sense to shield them and you from negative actions that you could take towards them. My advice would be to put away the hurt from the divorce. If you were wronged in the divorce and need to seek redress for those wrongs, I recommend that you hire an attorney and go to court. Do not attempt to achieve justice through passive-aggressive means that end up hurting your kids more than anyone else.
Ultimately, when you and your ex-spouse are at odds with one another, that means that your kids are caught in the middle of their parent's conflict. This is an unenviable position to put your kids into. Imagine not understanding why your parents do not get along but feeling the brunt of those disagreements. Your kids have just gone through a difficult divorce and are transitioning into new living arrangements. The divorce has shaken their whole lives. If you continue to live out the hostilities of your divorce in your post-divorce lives, your kids may never recover.
Remember how important it is to communicate.
This is a topic that I wrote about in yesterday's blog post, but I wanted to hammer on it again here today. It would help if you were not utilizing your kids as messenger pigeons. They do not need to carry notes from one parent to the other. They do not need to hold onto child support payments or further checks. Even updates about next weekend's events do not need to go through your children. In this day and age of technology, you have multiple ways to contact your ex-spouse. There is no excuse when you use your kids to give messages to your ex-spouse.
So much of the issues surrounding visitation with your kids have nothing to do with them. For instance, if you are having a problem with paying child support this month, you absolutely should talk to your ex-spouse about this directly. Do not even intimate that anything is wrong with your kids. It is unfair to them to cause fear or trepidation that their other parent may not be able to pay a bill or buy some essential items because your child support payment may not be on time. Let your kid be a kid and handle these discussions directly with your ex-spouse.
This also applies to situations where you may need to change a part of the visitation schedule. There are no surprises when it comes to visitation under a court order. The order itself lays out plainly who will have your child during what times during the year. If any changes need to be made on the fly, you should communicate those changes directly to your ex-spouse. You can use the phone to text or even talk (gasp!) to your ex-spouse about this. There are co-parenting websites that will allow you to fill your ex-spouse in on any changes that need to be made.
You cannot control your child's schedule or that of your ex-spouse. There will invariably be changes that are needed to the visitation schedule with your child. The key is working through those changes with your ex-spouse rather than having to involve outside parties. If you give your ex-spouse enough warning and are courteous about how you communicate the update, I am willing to bet that your ex-spouse will be flexible with you when it comes to be your turn to need some leniency when it comes to the visitation schedule.
The bottom line is that if you got divorced partly because you could not communicate with your ex-spouse, you need to focus on your post-divorce life. It doesn't need to be a focus because your ex-spouse deserves your respect. It needs to focus because the failure to do so can harm your child and is not in their best interests. Keep this lesson in mind, and you will be set up for success on visitation weekend.
Questions about today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. These licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are an excellent opportunity for you to learn more about your case and how our office can help you achieve the goals you have for yourself and your case.