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Quality vs Quantity Time

Doing Homework

When you first become a single dad, you and your family are going to have a drastic physical and emotional change.  Regardless of the type of loss, a dynamic change is going to take place.  Family traditions, vacations, education, friends and holidays will all change at some level.  While some aspects of your family traditions and routine may stay the same, while others will have some modifications; however, an attempt to return it to what was considered “normal” is no longer an option.  This also means the time spent with your children will also change.  As a single dad, it is important to re-discover of yourself, your children, lifestyle, friends, and family.  Finding the middle ground is a great way to help create your new normal for you and your children as you work through your loss.    Spending time with your children is always important but sometimes it is not practical or difficult to do because the pain of your loss looms above you like a dark cloud. Below are some ideas to make your time with your children more quality than quantity.

 

Divorce:

Regardless of who asked for the divorce, it goes without saying you must keep an active role in your children’s lives.  Unfortunately, to see your children with the same frequency as you did when you were married is often unrealistic.  An attempt to do so, depending on the circumstances, will add more stress.  Many states, such as Illinois, base child the amount of child support paid on the frequency with your children, not necessarily your income.  Alimony and Maintenance are slowly becoming a thing of the past.  With that being said, many dads who do not have “residency” with their children are trying harder to see their kids as often as they did when they were married not only to see their children but also to minimize your child support payments.  Either/or is a potential set up for failure.  This issue is really not about you, but about your children.  Seeing your children 50/50 is often not fair to your children.  It is more important to create more quality time rather than quantity time. 

  • It is important to understand that your children did not divorce either parent.  Your children are not assets to divide, yet arguments regarding visitation, residency and holidays often take up much of your time in court.  Your children must have a home that is considered the hub or a “home base”.   The expectation of your kids to spend half the week with you and the other half of the week with your ex, in most cases, is not fair to your kids.  Ultimately, a 50/50 split of residency often has your children living out of back packs, difficulty maintaining friendships, added stress to determine whose house they are staying at when planning their week and making sure they pack everything they need. In a sense, they become nomads. Many courts tend to favor the mom as established residency, that doesn’t mean you are losing out.  50/50 split of visitation/residency often slows the healing process, causes resentment, and makes for emotionally and mentally exhausted children.

 

  • You must support your children as they work through the new family dynamic.  Even with the most amiable divorce, to your kids, what they observed prior to the divorce is “normal” to them.  You may have some tough questions to answer, you must answer their questions in an age appropriate manner.  This is not an opportunity to assign blame. I understand that is not how you want to spend your time with your children; however, it is part of the healing process for both of you and redefining your relationship with your children.

 

  • Communication between you and your ex must stay between you and your ex.  Spending time with your children should not be wasted on them becoming message boards.  Issues regarding visitation, child support, what your ex may or may not be doing stays between the adults.  You may have an ex-spouse but your children do not have an ex-parent.  They love you both equally.  You want to foster honest, unfiltered communication without the fear of reprisal from either parent. You would have done that if you were still married. 

 

  • Always take the higher ground if you find out that your ex is talking bad about you or telling your children things that are an exaggeration or simply not true.  You want to make your time with your kids positive and appropriate. 

 

  • When your children are visiting you, you do not have to fill the weekend with activities and buying them stuff.  Remember this is not a competition of who they love more or whose house is more fun.  I get it, you don’t see your children as often and you want their time with you to be positive and fun. Parenting isn’t always about fun and games…there will be times that your time with your children will be unpleasant or down right bad.  Remember they love you unconditionally.  You can always salvage a bad day.

 

  • Fast Food, Restaurants and other activities are great treats, but should never be considered the norm.  Meals at the dinner table without technology (Dad too), is a perfect time to engage with your kids about everything, from school, their activities, friends and yes, working through the grieving process.  You share with them, they will share with you (yes that takes time).  When you are out to dinner or ordering fast food on a regular basis, often limits that kind of quality time. 

 

  • Parent as you would have parented when you were married.  Your children need boundaries, rules and expectations just as they did before you divorced.  This includes chores.

 

  • Make time to ask your kids how they feel about the new change.  Yes, I know they will not like it, it is not how you want to spend your time together, but often kids don’t express what they are feeling for fear of making you angry or upset.  Sometimes, they may not know how to express themselves.  Often these discussions start by telling them how you feel and what is going on in your life. Each child, like you, processes the loss differently and the perceptions are based on life’s experiences.  Don’t be surprised if one or all of your children take a measure or full blame for your divorce.  Things like not keep their room clean, not getting better grades are all reasons, yes unrealistic, nevertheless their perception.  You cannot dismiss it.  That is why the healing process needs to be included in your time together.  Sometimes this happens at the dinner table, before bed time or even in the middle of the night.  You need to be ready regardless.  Remember, this is not about you.

 

  • Don’t be afraid to seek help such as a counselor or peer support group to help you and your kids work through the grief process.  Just because there is a smile on their faces, doesn’t mean they are not hurting.  NO FAMILY, REGARDLESS OF INCOME OR MEANS, CAN AVOID THE GRIEVING PROCESS. 

 

  • If you are dating someone new, don’t sacrifice time with your kids for the new relationship and no “sleep overs”.  Use the time to introduce the new relationship once you feel it may become more serious. Depending on the time lapsed when you got divorced, and you may be ready for a new relationship, your kids may not. That doesn’t mean you don’t date, it simply means, for now, keep the new relationship separate from the time with your children.

 

  • Make every attempt to attend school conferences, open houses and extra-curricular activities. This too is quality time with your children because that is part of your visitation and quite frankly your responsibility as a parent to support your children in their activities.  Even though your divorce agreement may state you do not have to bring your kids to their events on your visitation day, I strongly urge not to do that.  Your children’s routine has already been disrupted, denying them participation because it is “your weekend” is not fair to your children.  Now if your ex seems to be signing them up for increased activities, first talk to your ex; if that does not work, call your attorney.  If your unable to get a school or extra-curricular schedule, go online.  All schools now post it.  Do not depend on your kids nor your ex to provide you with one. This includes notifications, copies of report cards, IEP reviews etc.  Unless your divorce agreement states differently, you have a right to have this information and to participate.

 

  • Texting, calling, emailing etc. is also a necessity to quality time.  Even if they don’t respond, that’s ok, remember you are the parent, they are your children (no matter how old they get).  You must always keep that communication door open.

 

  • Surprise them at school and take them out for lunch from time to time.  One on one time with each of your kids gives you time to focus only on that child and their needs, concerns, and fears.

 

  • Holidays, if you celebrate them, can be frustrating and depressing.  Usually the visitation for the holidays is worked out by the courts.  If that is the case, what looks good on paper, may not always work in practice.  It is important to keep your game face on for the sake of the holiday.  Re-assess the visitation schedule for the holidays, if possible to discuss with your ex to make needed adjustments.  Regardless, you may spend a portion or the whole holiday alone.  Find something to do.  Visit other family members, volunteer at a shelter.  Even if that means simply going to see a movie.  That first holiday will be the worst.  Make sure you at least talk to your children and tell them you miss them, but how excited you are to be with them soon.  With my son, I made him a promise that I would leave the Christmas tree up until we celebrated Christmas together.  Since I always left my tree up until the 1st or 2nd week in January, it usually was not a problem… but I assured him our “Christmas” will happen.   

At the end of the day, you love your children and they love you. As much as you want to see them as much as you did before, you must first think what is in their best interest. Quality time vs Quantity time can be a good thing even though that may not be what you want. 

 

Death:

Like a divorce, no matter what you have been through in your life, nothing prepares you for the death of your spouse.  Often, you want to crawl in that casket with them and close it.  You might as well have someone hit you in the head with a hammer as it would be less painful. Usually, auto-pilot kicks in as you make all the arrangements for their funeral.  You need to include your children in making those arrangements.  Yes, age appropriate.  Ask them what they would like to do, or how they should honor their mom.  

When the funeral is over, friends and family, for the most part, return to their daily lives, you and your children are still going to be hurting.  You also are going to get A LOT of advice.  Take it all in stride as you re-discover your family.  The parenting process just fell solely on you.  An overwhelming burden on your shoulders.  What was once split between two parents is not on you.  This impacts the time you spend with your children.  Remember the quality of your time with your kids outweighs quantity time.  Don’t be afraid to use counseling, peer support and other tools to help you and your family work through the grieving process.  It is NOT a sign of weakness, it is a sign strength to know when it may be over your head. 

  • If it is at all possible, try and stay in the same home and keep the same routine.  Your life has already been turned upside down, to throw a move, job transfer, get rid of your spouse belongings too soon, compounds the pain of the loss.  I know it is easier said than done, if possible, you want to make these changes gradual. 

 

  • Include, age appropriate, your children as you clean out your loved one’s belongings.  Maybe giving them things that belonged to their mom to your kids is a way of keeping the memory alive.  Don’t be afraid to lay stuff out on the bed and ask them if they want any of the items or suggestions of who they should get them.  Avoid simply emptying the closet of their stuff and your kids come home from school to find it all gone. 

 

 

  • Avoid filling good conversation time with your kids with activities like going out to dinner all the time, working late, taking trips.  While a good diversion from time to time, it will not ease or eliminate the pain.   It is like building a bridge over rising flood waters…if you don’t stop the flood, eventually you will drown.  You need to listen to their pain, they need to hear yours.  A box of Kleenex, bowl of popcorn and an open mind are all great tools to help discuss each other’s pain. That pain is unique to them with some similarities and many differences.  Don’t be surprised if your children blame themselves, at least in part, for the loss. 

 

  • Plan visits to the cemetery. Maybe even pick up some fast food or pack a picnic basket and a blanket and have lunch at the cemetery.  It sounds a bit dark and morbid; however, the idea of being near their mom is often therapeutic.  Conversations of memories are healthy and healing. 

 

  • If you have no choice but to relocate, before you tell your children, make sure you have looked at all the options before telling your children and if possible, include them in choosing a new home or what area to live in.  Do all the leg work in terms of what you can afford, location of the new school etc.  If possible put the options on the table to help you choose. 

 

  • Increase, appropriately, your contact with them.  Send a text to tell them you love them, or what is for dinner.  Often the death of a parent will leave your children worried if you are going to die too and be left all alone.  That text or email assures them you are there!  Of course, don’t do this during their school day.  Most schools have rules about cell phone or personal email use during the school day.  If you hear there is a bad accident or fire in or around where you work or route you drive, especially with older kids, let them know you are ok. 

 

  • Maybe surprise them at school and take them for lunch for some one on one time.  Your kids need that one on one time with you.  It is also a great time to get an idea of how they are personally grieving. 

 

  • As you begin to date, while companionship is important, but understand, you may be ready to date, but your kids may not be ready for you to date.  Time your dates when your kids may not be home or perhaps visiting someone like grandparents or a sleep over.  Definitely no sleep overs for you with your children home.  Once you feel you are making strides in the relationship, discuss this new relationship with your kids…grooming them for the first meeting.  Remember grieving has no time limits and families do not grieve at the same pace.  Expect bumps in the road, expect them to respect your new relationship as an adult, but do not demand they respect them as a parent…at least not yet.

 

  • When a parent dies it rips apart the fabric of your family.  Your job is to help rebuild your family.  As your family grieves the loss, starts the healing process, don’t avoid it. 

 

Regardless if you became a single parent by a divorce or death of a spouse, it is important to remember you are still a family.  You need to work through your grief together.  Each family is different, each family member will grieve at their own pace.  Remember there is no time limit to grieving, find the balance between family time and “me time”.  Your kids are always priority!  “me time” may take a back seat from time to time.  Remember trust in yourself, your kids, the support of family and close friends.  Together you will rebuild a stronger, more healthy and happy family. 

Being a School Dad

Kids are back in the groove of school- studies, activities, events, and friendships.  Undoubtedly, they will have this year’s circle of friends, they know which subjects (and teachers) they like and the ones they are struggling with, they have decided which extra-curricular activities to participate in and are even looking forward to the holiday breaks that are right around the corner.   While great strides have been made with getting people vaccinated, there are still children and other adults who are on opposite sides of the fence regarding the vaccine.  You must remember, from your children’s perspective, school is not only about the learning, but also the social component. It is important that you support both components of their education. Your districts and schools are doing what is in the best interest of your children and their staff (whether you agree or not).

 

Where do you fit in your child’s school community?  For our children, school is where they spend most of their awake time each day. Just like adults with work.  Our kid’s teachers, classmates, and activities mean the world to them.  There are fantastic days and there are bummers. This is the very reason we, as their parent, need to be involved in their school world too.  They need our guidance and support. Since a return to home schooling still may be a possibility, especially in some states, it is even more important you are on top of what is going on with their education.

 

All too often, as a single dad, you might feel awkward or unwelcome in the school community.  Perhaps, your child’s Mom tries to keep you away, or you believe the school is her domain with the kids, so you do not get involved.  It is important for you to realize that your child wants and needs you too.  Get engaged.  Do it for your child, if for no other reason than they deserve and want to know you care!  It helps them succeed too!

 

What about those kids you have in college?  Yes, they are young adults and 18 or older, but that does not mean you stop being engaged.  Your adult children may not need you to tell them to do their homework, what time to go to bed or meet with their professors on their progress, but you DO NEED TO BE ENGAGED! Being engaged does not mean you are a helicopter parent.  Find that balance.

 

Dad’s Homework:

  1. Attend Parent- Teacher Conferences

  2. Call or video chat nightly to find out how your child’s day went

  3. If your child’s school does not have their calendar & events online, ask the school to send you the calendar.

  4. When you are having parenting time, help with homework

  5. Volunteer with their activities, such as a field trip or sports team

  6. Ask the teacher to email/mail you your child’s report card

  7. Get to know your child’s friends – if covid-19 conditions allow, take them for pizza

  8. Display their school picture, schoolwork and report card on your refrigerator

  9. Find out their favorite subject so you can find interesting information to share with them and use as conversation starters

 

Dad’s Homework if you have children in college

 

  1. Go to Freshmen Orientation and help get them settled. Simply don’t drop them off and leave.  Determine your departure based on the schedule created by the college or university.

  2. Make sure your name is on any release forms giving you permission to have access to their medical records and in some cases, their academic progress. 

  3. Laws now govern that colleges DO NOT have to release information regardless of who is paying the bills.  Your child is 18 or older.   

  4. Get their college calendar which is available online. Stay appropriately engaged.

  5. Reach out to your college student often.  Even if it is a text or email.  Simply to check in.  Remember, they don’t need you to hover even though you may want to do that. 

  6. Avoid just showing up to surprise them.  If you want to surprise them, communicate your intentions.  If it can’t be the dates you had hoped, I am sure there are other times.  Be flexible. 

  7. Allow your college student to problem solve when discussing issues they are having. Even if they ask you for the answer, guide them to the answer.  You want independence and self-reliance. 

  8. Remind them if they need anything, day or night, to call you. 

 

Okay, you have your homework assignments.  If you complete them on time, I promise you will have an

A+ in fatherhood...