Parenting is one of life’s greatest challenges. And, being a single parent can be even harder. A single father can experience all of the frustrations of single parenting, coupled with the feeling that, as a parent, he is on the outside looking in. A single father may even feel alienated from his own children. If you find yourself in this situation, adopt some strategies for success:
Keep the Peace and Be Respectful
Accept that you and your children are better served by keeping the peace. When you are co-parenting, always keep your cool. You may not receive the respect you deserve, but you will always receive more respect if you are kind and patient. Treat people involved in the lives of your children with consideration, even when you are upset or you might think they don’t deserve it. In addition to their mom, this applies to grandparents, family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, counselors, and others.
One of the worst decisions you can make as a father is losing your temper. Remember, you are asking others to trust you with these children. And, you want your children to feel safe and comfortable with you. Aggressive conflict will only make things worse on you and your kids, regardless of who is right, who is wrong, or who “started it.”
This is not to say that you should not stand up for yourself or your children. But, as a father, your voice will be better heard if you speak with reason, respect, and restraint. Yelling and blaming will not resonate with anyone, especially your children or their mom. And, your children will look to your actions as a model for addressing the challenges they face in life. Set the right example for them.
Be a Good Communicator
Many fathers complain that they do not get important information about their children. Fathers certainly have the right to know what is going on with their kids. Unfortunately, some dads take the wrong approach in getting the information they seek.
The quality of information you get frequently depends on how you ask for it. It’s easier to respond to a friendly inquiry from a caring co-parent than it is to respond to a demand or an email laced with criticism or accusations. Also, be patient and allow a reasonable time for a response.
If you are requesting information nicely and getting nowhere, make written requests. Make the tone of the request civil and keep the scope of the request focused. For example, “I left you a voicemail earlier today asking when and where the dance recital will take place. Can you please let me know? I am looking forward to seeing her perform.”
Also, remember that you can get information from other sources. If you show up to dance practices, you can ask anyone when and where the recital will be. If you have a history of attending appointments at the pediatrician’s office, you will usually have no problem getting information directly from the doctor or the staff if your child is sick. If you attend events at the school, such as open house and parent teacher conferences, you are far more likely to be copied on emails and correspondence pertaining to your kids. In other words, if you are directly involved in your kids’ activities, you won’t have to worry about whether you are “in the loop.”
Also, be sure to share information when you have it. Concerned moms sometimes ask lots of questions about dad’s plans for the weekend. Answer them. Tell her your plans. If you don’t have a plan for the whole weekend, tell her what you do know. For example, tell her that you’re going to pick up the kids after school and decide together where to eat dinner. Let her know once you come to a decision. Giving information helps you to receive information.
Insulate the Children from Negativity
Children learn from their parents’ behavior. The way you think and act will no doubt influence the way your children think and act. Most parents would like their children to be patient, appreciative, loving, and respectful. Make sure that your actions are setting the right example.
Your children should want to spend time with you. The best way to make this happen is to make your children feel comfortable. Expressing negativity about others can backfire. For example, if you express negativity about their mother, your children may develop negative feelings about their time-sharing with you. Many fathers do not understand that making negative statements about the kids’ mother may end up adversely affecting their own relationship with the children. Do not involve your children in the divorce. They should not be encouraged to judge who is right or wrong. Kids should just appreciate having two parents.
Avoid yelling at your kids or making them feel guilty. If they are running into the street, then yell! Otherwise, being firm is usually good enough. It’s understandable to raise your voice at your kids or bark at them from time-to-time. But, keep it to a minimum. Have rules at home, but make your kids feel safe and comfortable with you. If you have to enforce rules, remind your kids how much you love them and explain that you have rules and consequences because you love them.
Do Positive Things With and For Your Children
When you have your kids, focus on doing positive things together. Help with their homework. Learn a new skill. Build something or work on an art project. Sit down with your daughter and put together a puzzle. Help your son learn to tie his shoes. Your kids will base their feelings about you more on the everyday things you do together, rather than what you say. In other words, actions speak louder than words.
Your kids will love and appreciate you most when they see that you care for them. Pack their lunch before school. Make them dinner when you come home. Give them their medicine. Encourage them to take a vitamin every day. Don’t concede these tasks to their mom or your new partner. Your kids should not see that you let someone else be in charge of their health or wellness. You absolutely cannot delegate these critical parenting tasks to women and then expect to be seen by anyone as an equal parent. Kids will always remember their dad cooking for them or taking a strong interest in their wellness.
These simple contributions are far more important than taking your kids to Disney or buying them presents. Having fun is important. And, children may appear to respond positively to purchases. But, it’s far more important to help your daughter with her class project or hold your son’s hand while he is getting a shot at the doctor’s office. Dressing your kids and making their meals and other routine tasks foster more goodwill than vacations or presents.
Have Important Conversations with Your Children
Kids want to talk to their parents. This is more likely to make the kids feel loved than telling them that you love them.
Sit down and listen to their stories. Let your daughter tell you what’s on her mind. Encourage your son to tell you about his day at school. Ask questions that show you care. What did you work on at school today? What was your favorite thing that happened today? Who did you play with today? Did you learn anything new? Did anything bother you today?
You can also talk to your children about topics. Kids like to discuss age appropriate topics. Teach your kids about something they may not understand. Talk to them about geography. Explain about cities, states, and countries. Explain that the world is round. Discuss how plants grow. Talk about animals that live in different environments. Tell them about life before the Internet and iPads.
Know Important Information About Your Kids
A good father knows about his children. If you want people, including your kids, to respect you as a father, you need to know the things that an involved parent knows.
Know what size shoe your son wears. Know your daughter’s dress size. Know where she takes dance or piano. Know what type of dance class she is in. Know what’s going on at the school. Volunteer. Attend school sponsored events that take place during your parenting time. Offer to attend even if it’s not your night. Go to parent-teacher conferences. Know where your child is struggling. Know where your child excels. Know their teacher. Know the teacher’s email address. Know their friends.
Know the name of the pediatrician and dentist. You should know about any medications your children take. Know the dosage. Know the rights time(s) to take it. Keep this information on your smart phone if you can’t remember.
Being a good father starts with all the tasks that you would teach your children. Listen. Be respectful. Don’t lose your temper. Mind your manners. Communicate. Play nicely with others.
Be Flexible About the Schedule and Communications with the Children
It’s important for both parents to be flexible regarding the time-sharing schedule. Be willing to swap nights or change the schedule to accommodate others. Do this even if the other parent hasn’t been flexible in the past. After you establish a pattern of being flexible, it’s easier to ask for the same in return.
The same rationale goes for FaceTime, Skype, or phone communications with the kids. Maintaining a routine or regular time for these communications is usually best, but be understanding if you miss a night here or there. And, be willing to schedule the call at a time that works better for your kids or their mom
Be Open to Advice from Professionals
There are a number of professionals that may become involved in your lives. Your children may be in need of family therapy following a divorce. You and the mother may need a parent coordinator to help you work through parenting issues. You and one of your children may be in need of reunification therapy if you have not been involved for an extended period of time.
If a psychologist, therapist, or parent coordinator is involved with your children, you should be open to participating in the parent coordination, counseling, or therapy process. Many fathers are reticent to get involved with these professionals. You should not assume that these professionals are going to be against you. Many times, a psychologist or parent coordinator will understand your situation and help you come up with strategies that will benefit your children.
If you have questions about your rights or responsibilities as a parent, contact an experienced Tampa fathers rights attorney.