Divorce ends a marriage, but it shouldn’t end a relationship between a parent and children. For too many fathers, unfortunately, divorce causes the threads of this all-important relationship to begin to fray. The damage may be intentional, as with an ex-spouse who makes it increasingly difficult for a dad to exercise parenting time, so that he sees the kids less and less. Or it may happen without anyone really intending or meaning it to, until one day a dad wakes up and realizes he and his kids have become strangers to each other. Like every relationship, the parent-child one needs care in order to thrive. Don’t let the stress of your divorce and its aftermath render you unable to nurture your relationship with your children. Here are some divorce survival tips for dads.
It may seem a little self-serving of an attorney to say that, but it’s true, and it really is step one. Chances are you’ve never been through a divorce before, but an experienced Minnesota divorce attorney has been through hundreds. She or he knows how best to advocate for a favorable custody and parenting time arrangement for you, and custody and parenting time are the foundation for your relationship with your kids going forward. The more time you get to spend with them, and the more legal right you have to be involved in decisions that affect them, the stronger your relationship is likely to be.
Negotiating custody is a deeply personal and emotional issue for parents. In addition to knowing what is important to a court, your attorney can also bring a level of calm and objectivity to negotiations that can keep tensions from escalating (and negotiations from breaking down).
Divorce is stressful, and you are going to need to blow off steam. If at all possible, find a therapist, counselor or other mental health professional to assist you in working through your emotions. Seeing a mental health professional accomplishes a number of things for you: it gives you a safe, confidential place to let out your anger, anxiety, and other emotions; it offers you the opportunity to develop new coping mechanisms and identify your own role in conflict; and it can help keep you from venting in a way that hurts, rather than helps.
The number one place you should not vent about your estranged spouse or the divorce process? To your kids. Even if they are mature teens, even if your spouse is bad-mouthing you, even if your spouse is to blame for the end of the marriage. Venting to your kids puts them in an impossible position—having to choose between their parents.
Part of putting your kids first includes not troubling them with the adult business of your divorce, but there’s more to it than that. When you’re focused on what’s best for your kids instead your own feelings or punishing your spouse, it’s easier to do the right thing.
For instance, let’s say your spouse is making it difficult for you to see the kids. It would be understandable if you decided to stop trying, or decided to retaliate by withholding support. But if you think about what’s best for your kids, the right way forward is obvious: the kids need and deserve your support, and they need and deserve a relationship with you. Act accordingly and you won’t regret it.
When you and your spouse shared a household, they may have taken the lead on things kid-related— school news, extracurricular activities, doctor appointments—keeping you in the loop on a “need to know” basis. If you’re now living apart, you may not be getting the intel you need to be fully involved in your kids’ lives. So be proactive. Whether or not you share legal custody, you can reach out to the school and the pediatrician directly to make sure you are up to speed with things you need to know. And consider suggesting to your spouse a shared family calendar, like Our Family Wizard or one of many others, to make co-parenting easier for both of you.
Even for parents who live full-time with their kids relationships with the kids can get strained when they get older and start retreating to their rooms or focusing on their screens. It’s even more challenging when your kids aren’t with you all the time. Your kids may be angry with you about the divorce, or hearing negative things about you from their other parent.
It is easy to get discouraged, but remember that you are the adult. Keep reaching out, keep letting your kids know that you love them and want to see them. And if your spouse or ex-spouse tries to deny you parenting time because “the kids don’t want it,” don’t accept the situation. Your kids need you as much as you need them. Work with your attorney to make sure your relationship with your kids survives your divorce and the aftermath.
If you are a dad with questions about the best way to get through divorce, we invite you to contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation.