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Making the Most out of the Summer with your Children

Girl Eating Marshmallows

Summer is here and many dads are getting their kids for an extended period of time now their kids are out of school.  For some dads, it is two whole weeks, other dads it may be the whole summer.  Regardless of the time frame, most dads want to jam pack that time with activities as they maximize their days with the kids for a block of an uninterrupted visit; an exciting time for you and your kids.  By all means, make the time enjoyable and take lots of pictures, but remember to make a routine and boundaries too.  You cannot always be the hero or most popular.  It is never a competition or who they love more.  It is about being with you!

 First and foremost, you are a dad.  As a dad, you need to have a routine and boundaries for your kids; especially for your teenage kids. Whether you are new to being a single dad or you have been doing this for years, routines and boundaries are a required necessity.  Here are a few easy steps you can use to make their extended stay enjoyable and memorable.

 

  1. Establish a routine:  This would include bed times, meal times & chores (yes chores).

    1. All kids have their limits.  Children without a set bed time, usually will set you up for crabby, edgy and often unpredictable kids. I am not saying an occasional late night is out of the question, but to allow your kids to stay up as late as they want, often sets the ground work for potential problems.

    2. Going out to dinner, lunch or even breakfast is a great treat!  Ordering in is also a great treat; however, to make that the norm, again becomes expensive and could set the example of some bad eating habits (dogs, burgers, fast food).  Planning meal times together at the table also allows you to engage in great conversation about your kid’s lives, your life, thoughts and feelings about different things.  A restaurant atmosphere often has too many distractions. While every meal at the table may be often unrealistic, meals at home are often cheaper, easier to make, more nutritionally balanced & does not require reservations. 

    3. Chores do several things; first it teaches your kids about life skills they will need as they get older, next it helps them take ownership and responsibility of your home and last, it teaches them to respect the home they live in.  Each home is different, naturally chores are different.  Even the youngest of children can take out the trash, clean a cat box or dry the dishes.
       

  2. Activities: Vacations, movies, amusement parks and other extended fun.

    1. If you are using your full two weeks for a vacation, you can still set a routine as you rest and have fun away from home. 

    2. Everyday does not have to be a fun activity away from home.  Water parks, Amusement parks, movies and mini-golf are great for extended fun.  Break those activities up.  Don’t fill every day with “Disneyland Dad” activities.  Remember your kids love you for you and not predicated on the fun you provide them (unless that is what you want).  Outings to a local park, BBQ outside in the yard, playing board games or yes even use you xbox or WII to spend time together at home.  Even having neighbors over with their kids is a great way to keep the activity close to home and teaches social skills too!

    3. Visits to relatives that they haven’t seen in a while are also a great way to combine travel and help your kids connect to family.

 

  1. Establish Boundaries: Kids are our responsibility until 18 for a reason.  They lack many life skills to make proper choices all the time.  Remember it is their job to test the limits of your boundaries.  It is your job to know when to push back or find the middle ground. 

    1. All children need rules.  Your kids need to know what your rules are.  Ideally, your rules should emulate what is done at your ex’s home.  I fully understand that may not be possible.  Remember you are a parent first, their friend second.  While they may be angry at you now, it usually doesn’t last and can also be a great way to set up some wonderful dialogue between you and your kids. 

    2. Yes, sometimes your rules can cause disagreements between you and your kids or between the siblings.  This is normal, as it is a family learning to cohabitate.  It will not drive your kids away from you,  it may just do the opposite because you are modeling expectations.  Remember life lessons are usually done as part of your routine. 

    3. Establishing rules early also sets up a level of respect for you, your home and your kids.  As your kids hit those teen years (you remember how you were), it was those rules that helped keep us in check.  If rules are not established early, it will often set you up for major disobedient issues in the future.  An example of this would be to allow your kids to drink soda their whole life and then at 15 years old, tell them they have to drink water or milk.  If you think about it, all the fun activities that you may take your kids to, have rules that must be followed.  Your home is no different.  A home with no rules does not make you a good parent.  It will set you up for failure. 

 

Having your kids for extended time is a wonderful thing!  Finding that balance between fun time and family time is very important.  Fun time is an extension of family time.  Do not get the two confused..t o develop and maintain a good relationship with your kids requires you to find the balance between parenting and being a friend.  Remember you are a parent first, friend second.  Yes, they can be in conflict, but being the parent is your first, best responsibility.  Enjoy everything the summer has to offer.  Remember you are a family!

New Year's Do Overs

At the end of every year, we reflect back on personal events that happened to us. We tend to think more of the negative events than the positive.  Especially with the continuation of covid-19, our lifestyles and routines turned upside down and even the vaccine, the hope that at least the holidays were supposed to be “normal”, have been marred with variations of shelter-in-place, loved one who have died, deployed, perhaps incarcerated, the increased cost of everything, the holiday visitation schedules, implied competition to make your holidays as special if not more special than their moms.  Maybe you lost your job and additional money problems cast a huge cloud on your holiday.  Perhaps you were in court simply trying to see your kids. 

If the holiday did not or has not been what you had hoped, New Year’s always gives a renewed reason to hope.  New Year’s Day symbolizes a fresh start, a “do over” so to speak.  It is a time to look on choices, good and bad, and figure out how to make the next year better.  For a single dad, that can be easier said than done.  When I was single dad, I made A LOT of mistakes.  Many of the ideas discussed below are lessons I learned the hard way.  There are no hard and fast rules on parenting. 

To help make that happen, here are few things to help make your year with your kids a little bit better:

  1. Your children love you UNCONDITIONALLY!  Many times it is our own perceptions of how we should raise our kids; how to show them you love them that often set us up for failure.

  2. Resolutions are made to be broken, so set a New Year’s goal.  Make the goal obtainable.  Always focus on one realistic way to be a better parent.  Yes, it does not have to involve money or taking your kids somewhere. 

  3. Use these difficult times to teach life lessons.  Engage, age appropriately, how to make the best out of a bad situation. Focusing on all that you can’t just increases anger and frustrations.

  4. Make time to make contact your kids each day.  Even if it is just to say Hi and say I love you.  Even if they don’t respond.  Don’t stop doing it. 

  5. As you take down the Christmas or other holiday decorations down, have your children help you and discuss with them when they liked about this year’s holiday season and what they could be different.  Make it a casual or lighthearted discussion.  Make some mental notes or add it to your notebook.  Sometimes our perceived failures are just that, our perceptions and you children loved the holiday. 

  6. Make sure your parenting skills are consistent and appropriate.  Even if you feel the other parent is not as strict.  As long as the kids are not neglected, just stay the course.

  7. Get a spiral notebook (like the ones use get for your children) and calendar.  Mark everything down anything that involves your kids.  This will include court dates, visitation, purchases, child support payments and communication.  You hope you never need it, but it is there just in case. Never, ever discuss these issues with your kids.  It is between the parents.

  8. Make sure you have access to your children’s phones, tablets and computers.  You need to know where your children are surfing and talking to.  Make sure you have phone numbers of their friends and/or their parents.  Your children need to understand that you can ask them for any of these devices at anytime and without warning. 

  9. Never, ever use your child to relay messages to their mother.  Pick up the phone or send an email directly to your ex.   Remember we are the adults.

  10. Never cut the other parent down in front of your children.  True or not, it is shooting an arrow through your kid’s heart into the other parent.  They love both parents equally.  If there are issues, your kids will figure them out. 

  11. Make time to sit at the dinner table to talk.  Yes that seems very foreign these days; however, if you start sharing your life with them, they will share their life with you. 

  12. If you have not seen your children in a while, start slow.  You cannot make yourself instant dad by just showing up.  Trust is earned. 

  13. Remember it is not about the money or the amount of visitation.  It is always about loving your children.  Anything worth doing is hard work. 

  14. Make time to have those discussions about your new family dynamic.  Even if it has been years since the divorce or loss of your spouse, perceptions changes as your children get older.  Just because they don’t bring it up, doesn’t mean it is a non-issue. 

  15. Review your parenting choices from last year…what worked?  What did not work?  Did you try to do too much?  Did you just give up?  Always look at ways you can modify or improve your parenting.  As a former teacher, I often found that a lesson plan that worked well one year for my students doesn’t always mean it will be just as successful.  Parenting is the same way. 

 

Depending on your relationship with your kids or where you are in the court process, by just taking on one or two of these suggestions as your goal, it will start you on your way to building and maintaining your relationship with your kids.  Happy New Year!

Father and daughter at computer

Single Dads and Covid-19

It is hard enough to shelter in place during this difficult time when you have a traditional family (both parents living at home); however, when you are a single parent, visitation schedules have just become a little more difficult.  It is hard enough when you cannot see your children on a daily basis, but now with Self-Isolation, physically seeing your children may have just become impossible. 

Additionally, navigating the new norms such as e-learning, the stress of the routine changes such as not seeing their friends, playing outside as before, not seeing the parent that doesn’t live with them and all the negativity in the newspapers, on tv and social media.  Being a single parent has just become much harder and for a single parent, stress levels may even be worse.  How does a single parent handle it?  One day at a time just like everyone else; however, self-reliance on your end may prove problematic.  Here are some suggestions to help get through this tough time.

 

  • While it may be your time to have your children, their safety and your safety are more important than physically seeing your children. Talk with your ex-spouse and determine if their self-isolation is equal between the two homes.  If it is, it could be as simple as going from point A to point B.  Don’t force it if it is not safe for you and/or your children.  This not an attempt to withhold visitation.  No one expected this to happen.  If you find that visitation continues as normal, offer to help our ex-spouse by having your children for an extended period of time.  This includes engaging in their e-learning and other activities that keep the shelter in place a little more palatable (more on that later). 

 

  • If you are unable to physically see your children, use social media platforms such as Zoom, Skype or the live streaming features on your phone, laptop, tablet or desktop. Set up a schedule so you can video chat with your children.  Older children you may be able to video chat with them directly. 

 

  •  If you can see them or they are staying with you an extended period of time, FANTASTIC!  It is important to stick to a routine.  Now is not the time to forget about the rules and boundaries.  This includes any e-learning scheduling and a regular place to do homework like a kitchen or dining room table or any place that is free from distratction. 

 

  • Since you have more one on one time with your children, it is a great time to have family dinner on a regular basis with no technology for interruptions.  Make sure you keep the discussions age appropriate and start with yourself.  You will find your children will be more inclined to open up if you start with yourself.  With the nice weather, take walks with your children as a form of exercise, way to have conversations and get some fresh air.  Walking can give you one on one time with each child. 

 

  • The grieving process does not stop because our routines have stopped.  Now you can add “grieving the loss” of their routine and not seeing their friends on top of the loss of their traditional family.  Make sure you make extra time to have open and age appropriate discussions. 

 

  • Just because you lost your job due to Covid-19 doesn’t automatically suspend your child support payments.  This is where having an amiable relationship with your ex is important.  Talking on the phone or email without the children present before you lose your job or right after is important.  Remember, you are raising your children together from two separate households.  While each state is different, it is important to contact your attorney to determine if a reduction or temporary suspension of payments can be done.  If you get that reduction or suspension, usually the missed payments are simply deferred and will still owe the back support.  If you lost your insurance, can your ex cover them, can you do Cobra or get a basic policy to cover you and your children?  Yes, state aid may be the temporary solution.  Yes, this is frustrating and humiliating; however, it is about your children, not you.  I understand you may not have a working relationship with your ex and must keep in mind, you need to do what is in the best interest of your children and your financial stability.  Whatever you decide, document and create a paper trail.  Even if you do it all correctly, the state and Clerk of the Circuit Court may not have documented properly. 

 

  • With a Shelter in Place and limited interaction, it may be time to resurrect things you did as a child with your family or perhaps what your parents did as children.  Remember, technology was not like it is now in the 1980s or earlier…if children did not play outside, they played with toys, colored, wrote letters to loved ones, meals regularly at the table without television, play board games, or card games. 

 

  1. Now is the time to teach your children some self-reliance and teach them some skills they may not have done before such as learning to do such as cooking, laundry, folding laundry, ironing, how to check the oil in a car, filling the fluids.   Chores are also teaching your children life skills. 

 

  • It is a great time to have your children go through their clothes/toys and donate what doesn’t fit, they don’t wear, use or play with any longer.   

 

  •  Lastly, reassure your children, this is temporary, and things will return to normal. It is ok to be worried, frightened and even angry of what has happened. Remember to tell them you love them and be available to them when they need you.  You have the time, use it to improve your relationship with your children, take care of yourself and support them as you go through this temporary normal. 
     

 

Covid-19 will redefine how we interact with our children, our families, coworkers and friends.  The silver lining in all of this is we as a society are learning how to improve communication, reassure those that are close to us and work together as a family. 

Helping Hand

Building Your Child's Self-Esteem

Parents, whether single or married, have a responsibility, not only to feed, clothe and house their children, but also help build their self-esteem.  When an emotional trauma happens, this simplest of lessons is often lost specially to single dads.  For me, I was so self-absorbed in working and going to school, I always assumed his mom was handling it, or school would take care of it.  I am not saying I never encouraged him nor watched what he was doing.  I am saying we must be mindful that building your child’s self-esteem is just as important as feeding them.  Most single dads who do not have residency with their children tend to fall short of this important life lesson.  Without it, children will find other, mostly unhealthy ways to build their self-esteem or erode it.  We cannot assume it is someone else’s job or someone else will do it.  Ideally, both parents should be building it together.  While other adults in your child’s life will help build self-esteem, the key lessons start with you. 

When single dads have their children, often the parenting takes a back seat to “fun” and wanting your children to enjoy their time with you.  I get it and understand it; however, you are always the parent first and their friend and buddy second.  These simple suggestions may seem like a no brainer to you, but ask yourself, do you use these strategies on a regular basis?  Are you quick to blame others for your children’s actions or behaviors?  Let’s look as some easy steps to put this life lesson into play when you interact with your children.

     Your actions model behavior.  For example, my dad smoked, drank beer and drank coffee.  I always thought part of being an adult is to smoke, drink beer and coffee.  I would ask to sip his coffee in the morning and asked to sip his beer.  He would always say just a little. He wold say, “You need to be an adult to drink this.”   Yes, I would sneak out a cigarette or two and try to be grown up.  He caught me once and was punished but I never remember him telling me cigarettes were dangerous or addicting.  Now, keep in mind, in the 1970’s smoking was the social norm.  You smoked in restaurants, planes, and yes, in the car with the family.  If you watch old movies, you see this habit all over the place.  My dad would simply say, “When you’re 21, you can smoke and drink all you want.” While you could argue that his responses were indicative of the time, I will ask you, are all your actions in front of your children something you want them to pick up?  Modeling behaviors trickle down to your children.  You can’t expect your child to want to go to church, if you don’t model it.  You can’t expect your children to not swear if you are swearing. Today it could be preoccupied with social media, never putting down your cell or tablet to help your children with their homework.  How many times have you not looked away from your computer, cell or tablet when you child needs help with something and say, “In a minute.”  You are indirectly telling your child that you are not as important as what I am doing right now.  You can expect that behavior from your children at some point.   A better tool would be to pause what you are doing and look them in the eye and tell them that you be done 5 minutes and you will be happy to help.  Family serves at that foundation for positive, proactive behavior.  Having a healthy, functioning family does more to build a child’s self-esteem than anything. 

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