It’s resolution season. Everyone is working on losing the extra pounds they picked up over the holidays, or quitting whatever vice they failed to quit in 2016. As a divorced dad, my resolution is simple. I want to be a great dad. I’m sure that as you read those words an image popped in your head.
When we think of awesome dads, we probably don’t think of divorced guys. However, I don’t believe divorce disqualifies us. In fact, I believe we have a unique opportunity to connect with our kids. Here are some steps divorced men can take to be great dads this year.
A Great Dad is Present Consistently
As a divorced dad, I don’t get to see my sons every day. It’s a fact that really bothers me. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t have contact with them every day. In the first year or so after my divorce, I’d call the boys every day without fail. We would talk for a few minutes just to see how their day was and to remind them that daddy loves them.
I still make those calls nearly every day, but I’ve become a bit lax. I sometimes miss a day here and there. I justify this by telling myself that the calls aren’t that big of a deal. My youngest son hates to talk on the phone. The boys are always busy, moving from one activity to the next. And my favorite excuse, “I lost track of time.” It’s a reasonable excuse especially when you factor in my two step-children and all of their activities.
What Your Kids Really Want Is Your Time
This year, I want to get back to making the calls every day. I realize that while they may be brief, the consistency is important. A great dad is a present dad. This means being present in whatever way possible. It’s easy to make excuses. After a while, missing one day turns into missing one week. I want my sons to look back at their lives when they grow up and understand that I made them a priority. I want them to know that I care about every detail of their lives.
As Scott Kelby points out in his helpful advice for dads, what your kids really want is your time. I can see this truth with all four of my kids. It is most obvious with my step-daughter. As I am writing this, she is sitting next to me. Earlier this evening, she asked if she could stay up and hang out with me while I write. She doesn’t have school tomorrow and she promised not to “ask a lot of questions” so I agreed. Right now, she is writing in an activity book. I suggested that she go sit on the other couch where there is more light and she shook her head at me saying, “No, I can see fine.” I get it. She is where she wants to be. I am choosing to answer her questions and let her be with me because I understand that for her, these moments mean much more.
A Great Dad is Intentional
Webster’s dictionary defines intentional as “done by intention or design.” When I was a kid, I always felt like the things that happened in my life were accidents. My childhood often seemed chaotic. So much of what happened in my life seemed like a reaction to circumstances. It seemed like no one had a plan for me.
Perhaps this is because my parents were just focused on our survival. I don’t fault them at all. But, even as a kid I always told myself that when I was a dad, I would make plans for my kids. I want to give my kids something to look forward to. My oldest son will be turning 10 in a few months and this has given me an idea. I am going to give him a certificate good for one full day of my time. We will do what he wants to do (within reason, of course). Sorry kid, no trip to Disney this time! If this goes well, I’ll do the same with the other kids for milestone birthdays.
By allowing them to decide what we do, I’m showing them that I care about their interests. I’ll use the time to talk to them one-on-one about the things that matter in their lives.
Another way that I am trying to be intentional with the kids is in the way I treat my wife. While she isn’t the mother of my two oldest sons, it’s still important for them to see how I interact with her as a husband. Before we were married, I was hesitant to show affection in front of the kids. Now, I make sure they see us laughing, kissing, and enjoying each others’ company.
Create an Environment of Learning
The goal is to show them what a positive romantic relationship looks like. I want their expectations for relationships to be set by real life and not what they see on TV or social media. The goal is to create an environment of learning for your kids. Intentionally model the character and behavior that you want them to have so that when they are faced with challenging situations they are equipped to respond correctly. As Amy Morin puts it in Model the Behavior You Want to See from Your Kids, “follow your own rules.”
A Great Dad Works to be Involved
It is common for us dads to let mom handle the day-to-day planning and logistics. This is an area that I’m weak in. My ex lives in the school district for my sons. So naturally, all the school communication ends up in her hands. I do go to all parent-teacher conferences but, she schedules them. When there is a problem at the school, I often hear about it second hand.
Get Into the Loop
Last school year, my then-6-year-old son told me that his mom had come in to read a story to the class. I later found out there was a signup sheet and it was something that all parents had an opportunity to do throughout the year. This year, I’m going to inject myself into the relationship with the school. I’m going to email the teachers to ask them to copy me when communicating about my sons. I’m going to make it a point to ask about opportunities to participate as a parent. Heck, I may even join the PTO (Okay, maybe not).
The same effort can be applied when it comes to doctor and dentist appointments, haircuts, eye exams, whatever it is. As a divorced dad, it’s easy and even excusable to let mom continue to carry the load of these things. But, being a great dad means making that extra push even with the things that aren’t that glamorous. You may not need to get involved in your child’s school or medical appointments, but I’m willing to bet there’s an area where you can step up and be involved more.
Do It for the Kids – Not the Applause
I love it when someone makes a comment about me being a terrific dad. It’s awesome to be recognized for being at the awards ceremonies, ball games, and birthday parties. I’ll take the affirmation whenever I can get it. But, if everyone else says I’m a great dad and my kids don’t know they are loved, I have failed.
Your Kids Have the Perspective That Counts
Those four kids who rely on me every day are my only measurement for success. I choose to work to be better every day for them. I know that one day they’ll look back and appreciate me. Even if they don’t, I can sleep at night because I know I’ve done everything I can to prepare them for life.
Isn’t that what being a great dad is really about?
How do you resolve to be a better dad in 2017? Share your ideas in the comments below.
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