One of the greatest challenges after divorce is finding ways to spend enough time with your kids. This is especially true for fathers — a census report shows that just 1 in 6 custodial parents are dads.
That means there are a lot of fathers who don’t live with their kids — and according to a Pew Research Center study, this could deeply impact the relationship between father and child. The amount of time a father spends with his children drops substantially if the dad is living in a different home than his kids post-divorce. The findings from Pew Research Center show that while as many as 93% of live-in dads report talking with a child about a child’s day, or having a meal with their child, that figure drops to 31% and 16% for fathers living apart from their children.
Luckily, there are many ways in which single parents can go beyond live-in arrangements, in order to spend time with their children in a post-divorce setting. Living separately from your children simply means you’ll have to find new and creative ways to spend quality time together, and play an influential role in their lives.
Get Involved in Their Schooling
Single parent or not, it’s always important to be invested in your child’s education. A Center for Public Education survey found that two-thirds of American teachers felt their students would do better if parents were more involved in their education.
One of the easiest ways to get involved in your child’s schooling is to help with homework. The Pew Research Center study found that only 1 in 10 fathers living apart from their children help with, or ask about, their child’s schoolwork. With school being such a big part of your child’s life, it’s a natural place where you can get more involved.
There are various ways to become more involved in your children’s schooling, based on their ages. For preschool and primary school children, activities such as reading storybooks, supervising at lunchtime, and volunteering on field trips can be flexible, to fit with your existing schedule. For older children, consider volunteering yourself to help with a school sports program, tutoring, or giving a career talk. While getting hands-on in the classroom is a great option for young kids, volunteering for after-school events can be a less invasive way to show your children that you’re invested — especially as they enter what could potentially be tumultuous teenage years.
Volunteer with their Extracurriculars
After going through a divorce, it’s important for your children to have support as they move forward in their lives; this often means participating in new, or continuing extracurricular activities. As a single parent, you should play a role in making this happen. This is especially important for fathers, since during marriage, mothers were usually the ones who took on the most child care and supervision — about 12.9 hours a week, almost double the 6.5 hours of fathers.
Getting involved in the activities and hobbies your child loves is a great opportunity to connect, and spend time together. Find out if there’s some way you can volunteer with one of your child’s activities. Most extracurriculars offer plenty of ways for parents to help out — in fact, 3 in 10 parents of school-aged children have reported playing an active role in coaching a sport or athletic activity. Whether it’s becoming a Boy Scouts leader, coach of a sports team, or supervising a playground visit, volunteering in extracurriculars is a great way to stay connected with your child’s life. Just make sure your child and your ex are okay with your involvement!
Don’t Be Defined by Gender Norms
One of the most damaging things a parent (divorced or not) can do is to reinforce gender confines, with the concept that one set of tasks should be delegated to the mother, and the other set to the father. There should be no such thing as a “mom activity” and a “dad activity.” Does your child need someone to help with a woodshop project? Or, sewing a costume for the upcoming school play? Don’t shy away from helping, simply because you believe this is a job for the other parent.
In November 2016, an excellent video began circulating the web about a place called Daddy Daughter Hair Factory. It profiles Phil, a single father living in Florida, who didn’t let gender norms impact the quality time he spends with his daughter — and started teaching classes to help other single dads learn how to do their daughter’s hair. The next time your child needs help with a project or task, and you find yourself thinking it’s not a “dad job,” ask yourself: Why can’t I help with this? What’s stopping me? You may discover yet another unique way to spend quality time with your kids, and expand your own horizons as a parent, at the same time!
Plan a Vacation Away
Taking a small vacation together is a wonderful way to relax, and spend extra quality time with your child. If your divorce has provisions allowing you to take a trip with your child, hit the road for a weekend full of quality bonding.
Planning a road trip is a terrific opportunity to spend more time with your children; and the impact of that vacation will reach far beyond just the time you’re traveling. In the time spent with your child in the weeks leading up to the trip, make plans together and talk about the exciting places you want to visit. The road trip itself will be an excellent opportunity to make new memories, plus plenty of laughs playing road trip games in the car. Remember, there’s always value in family vacations, even if your family looks a little different now than it did before.
Take an Interest in Their Interests — and Vice Versa
Children are complex individuals, who develop their own interests and passions as they grow — make a point to explore what those passions are, and get interested yourself. Spend some time reflecting on your child’s hobbies, and the next time he or she is heading off to have fun, ask if you can tag along. You might join your child searching for insects in the forest, flying remote control helicopters in the yard, or building with Lego blocks on the floor of her bedroom. Your children will never forget the feeling of sharing some of their favorite pastimes with their dad.
On the flipside, if you’re a fishing enthusiast or a knitting fanatic, consider introducing your kids to your own passions and perhaps teaching them a brand new skill. Sharing hobbies with your child has been shown to increase their sense of self esteem and leadership skills. If your child doesn’t fall in love with your favorite activity, don’t sweat it — the fact that you tried exploring the hobby together is what matters. Try another activity next time; or maybe find one neither of you has done before, and enjoy the thrill of being beginners together.
While all parents can heed this advice, divorced parents should pay special attention, as the fear of parental absence can be especially high for children after a divorce. Even if your children seem to be adjusting well after you and your ex have split, make a point to find extra ways to show your kids that you’re there for them, no matter what. There’s no harm in becoming more invested and involved in your child’s life — in fact, it will likely make for a healthier and richer childhood for your young one, and a stronger relationship between you.