I’m a divorced dad. This wasn’t something I ever expected or wanted, but it happened. So, I have some tips for divorced dads based on what I’ve learned since my divorce, several years ago.
My kids mean everything to me. I was an active and involved dad from day 1 with each of my children. Changing diapers, washing cloth diapers, middle of the night feedings, baths, reading books, getting them to sleep, walking, playing, riding a bike, basketball, baseball, football, soccer, frisbee, bike rides, nature walks, being silly. I loved it all.
My kids were early teens when I divorced. It was rough. Not seeing them every day was hard. Trying to make the most of every minute I had with them was all I focused on. My daughter, who is my youngest and who was very connected with me, was alienated from me. It broke my heart and she is why I do what I do today, helping other couples divorce more amicably so their children can grow up with two healthy, involved parents who can work together to minimize the impact of the divorce on their children.
This is a passion project for me. While I earned my CPA and I am very adept at the financial components of divorce, I lead with my heart and I put a lot of effort in during mediation coaching parents how to be good co-parents. My hope is that through this I can help more children look to both of their parents with pride, and know that they are still part of a family, a family that just happens to have two homes.
Jackie asked me to share some tips from a divorced dad’s perspective. You’ll find that most of these fall under the category of taking the high road (Tip #4). Be the man you want your sons to be, and be the man you want your daughter to expect. I’m not perfect, I have made mistakes. But here are some short and sweet tips I can offer for the men who do not have full custody of their children:
1. Quality Time With The Kids:
When you have parenting time, be present. If you have work or other obligations, put them off til later if you can. You only have limited time with your children. Use this time to connect, help them know you are there for them always, and enjoy yourself. Memories are one of the most valuable parts of being a parent.
2. Try To Be On Time And Respectful Of The Times:
Whether you like it or not,your children will start to see you as reliable or not reliable, and as someone who prioritizes them or as someone who does not prioritize them. Don’t give them any opportunity to think that you are not reliable or that you don’t prioritize them. If something comes up and you are running late, let their mom know as soon as you can, and if your kids are old enough, reach out to them too and apologize and if your agreement allows, make-up the time as soon as you are able.
3. Try To Be Flexible If Your Ex Needs To Change Schedules:
This one will be hard, especially if your children’s mom has the kids more time than you do. Remember, do what is right for your children, always, and know that there are going to be times when you need to ask their mom for flexibility. Especially if you have fewer days with your children, the flexibility you need is going to be even more valuable to you when it is needed. And the best way to gain flexibility is to give flexibility. It also shows your children that their mom and dad can be reasonable together, as parents should be, and not fight over silly things like a few hours with the children.
4. Take The High Road:
“It’s often lonely on the high road”, but it’s the best road to travel. There is no choice here. You are a role model for your children. The second you stoop to someone else’s level, you both lose. Show your children what it’s like to be a real man.
5. Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Are Learning For The First Time How To Cook:
For me, this is the one area I was not very good at. I could grill. But planning a dinner was a completely different skillset, that I did not have. It’s ok. It’s not that hard, especially for young kids. You can even involve them. I still remember the pride I had when I started being responsible for family dinners. This was definitely something that made me feel good once I got the hang of it.
6. Ask For Help If You Need It:
Being a single parent is hard, full stop, whether you’re a mom or dad. In a marriage, you both play to your strengths, but as a single parent, you need to know how to do it all. It’s not easy. I found that talking about it with friends who were going through the same thing was very helpful. Today, you can find support groups, divorce coaches, therapists, and if you can benefit from them, seek them out. Single parenting and divorce are hard. It helps tremendously if you can talk about it with someone.
7. Acknowledge That Change Is Hard So Cut Yourself A Break:
The first night alone, the first 4th of July without your children, the many nights alone are hard. It is ok to be sad. It is ok to not be happy. If you “take the high road” you’ll always be proud of yourself, and you’ll have an easier time finding your footing and moving forward. Stay positive. Take small steps. Celebrate wins. Find yourself. Move forward.
8. Don’t Take It Personally, Teens Don’t Want To Be With Either Parent:
If you have teenage children, their social life will be more important to them than spending time with you. This is the same for teenagers with parents who are not divorced. I remember many times when my oldest did not see me during my time. I was definitely sad, but I also appreciated that he was at an age where he was finding himself, exploring with friends and that time was important to him. It’s important to know this will happen, and it’s healthy to give your children space when they need to to do normal things like growing up.
9. If You Have Anger, Find An Outlet (Support Group, Therapy, etc. To Vent):
There will no doubt be times when the actions of your childrens’ mom will upset you and anger you. I had more than my fair share. I usually kept my anger to myself when with my children, but I learned very quickly that they do not want to hear it when I slipped one night in the car and said, “you both know that your mom…”, to which I was told in unison, “Dad, we don’t want to hear it”. From that point forward I tried my best to keep my emotions to myself. Children do NOT want to hear anything negative about either parent. This is one of the biggest lessons I learned being a divorce dad. But if you do have these emotions, find ways to get them out, or they will start to negatively affect you.
10. Follow Your Kids’ Passions:
BIGGEST TIP FOR DADS…you don’t see your children often. Don’t push them to like what you like. Listen to them, watch them, find what brings them joy, and then share it with them! You will find the best times with your children sharing what they love. I’m not a dancer; I still smile at my daughter getting me to dance. I wasn’t a fan of the Tennessee Titans, but my younger son was. I took him to Nashville to see a game and now we’ve been going annually for over 20 years and it’s one of the highlights of every year. I wasn’t a political junkie or a sports betting man, but my oldest son knows a lot about both, so I dive into discussions with him on both. These are the best parts of being a parent. Support and share your childrens’ passions.
11. Make Your New House A Home:
If you are the one to move out, you may find yourself renting to start. It might not be your forever home. But for your children, this will be “Dad’s place”. Make it a home so they enjoy coming over, and take their interests into account when decorating or doing their rooms. You want your children to feel comfortable and good when they come to your place.
12. Don’t Introduce The Kids To A New Girlfriend Too Soon:
This is important for many reasons. Primarily, to start, your kids might still wish you and mom get back together. Introducing a girlfriend too soon may a) hurt them because they may want to hold out hope that the family can get back together, or b) show them that you don’t care about their mom or didn’t love their mom enough that you found a girlfriend so quickly. Also, most relationships don’t work out long-term, especially right after divorce. You may want to prove to the children that others can love you, but think about how you would feel if you had to tell them you are no longer seeing your girlfriend. Take your time. Focus on your children and their needs initially. They need you. They have emotions. Their emotions may not be apparent, but they are there. Focus on their needs before you focus on your needs.
13. Don’t Say Anything About Money To The Kids:
When you are married, do you share your income and budget and money concerns with your children? There is no reason to do so when you are divorced either. I understand you will have more financial concerns after a divorce, especially if you are now supporting a home by yourself and paying child support and possibly spousal maintenance. Your children do not want to hear about this. They are not your financial advisor.
14. Support Your Ex’s Extended Family:
Your children have a larger family than you do. They likely have aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents on their mom’s side of the family. These people are blood to your children, and you want them to always have a great relationship with these members of their family. Let them celebrate with them, if you can easily be flexible with your time. It’s important your children are with your extended family too. Hopefully you and their mom can be supportive to allow your children to enjoy good times with their extended families.
15. Try Not To Say Anything Negative About Your Ex To The Kids:
Already mentioned above in #9 above. This is an absolute no. Your ex (your co-parent) is your childrens’ mom. How would you like it if a friend came up to you and spoke poorly of your mom? There is absolutely no room for this. Doing so is not healthy to your children. They need to grow up loving both parents. I can’t stress this enough.
16. Mediate Your Divorce:
If you are divorcing, you can do it yourself, hire a mediator or follow a lawyer-led process. Mediation is by far THE healthiest way to divorce because it minimizes stress, provides the best parenting and financial outcomes, mitigates the negative impact of your divorce on your children, AND it is by far the least costly and quickest way to divorce. A good mediator will help you and your spouse to talk to each other, listen to each other, make compromises together, and help you both leave your marriage without the baggage that comes with a litigated divorce. I’m a divorce mediator, I am passionate about helping you and your spouse find a healthy path to moving forward while preserving and enhancing your ability to be good co-parents for your children. I do not charge a retainer and I cap my fees at $5,000 total, and to date I have never charged the full amount because we get everything done in a very healthy and efficient way.
I provide free assessments and consultations so never hesitate to call me if you have any questions or need guidance. The best time to call me is before you call a lawyer. You can reach me anytime at (224) 544-9990, or you can learn more about me on my website at michaelsmediation.com. This is a passion of mine, and I would be honored to help you.
Michael Cohen, who also earned his CPA, is an accomplished business leader with extensive experience in people management and cross-functional projects that required him to often mediate and find the best path forward for people and teams, throughout his career. These skills are critical in a mediation setting. Coupled with Michael’s own experience in a litigated divorce, he is driven to help divorcing couples navigate their divorce in the healthiest way possible. Michael is the founder of Michael’s Mediation, which serves divorcing couples across the U.S. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois with a divorce mediation certification from Northwestern University. Michael is a loving father of three and lives in the Northern Suburbs of Chicago. Learn more here.