One of the unfortunate consequences of divorce is a significant reduction in our time with our children. Normally the demands on our adult lives, such as work, bills and responsibilities, tear away at our available free time. Now that divorce is involved, your time available to spend with your children is further reduced. All of us currently living in the divorced dad reality will unanimously agree that it is much harder to get time with our kids that may result in a lasting memory. When you look back through your memories with your parents and try to discover what led to the bond you currently have with them, you will likely key in on a few, distinct memorable moments with them. Many people say they had a kind, or loving dad, but their reason for this conclusion is based on characteristics that were consistently demonstrated during moments that were memorable. The opposite is also true for bad memories that lead to harsh conclusions. The moments stick, and it’s the consistent emotions and repeated behavior you exhibit and share with your children during these times that create the foundation of their relationship with you. Instead of spending your limited time competing with your ex, use your strengths to create an awesome dad’s house that your kids will be excited to live in or visit.
Too many of us go about maximizing our time with our kids the wrong way. One of the most common mistakes made, and believe me nearly all of us are guilty of this one, is to spend money in an attempt to buy the happy moments. You may only get a few days out of the month with your kids. With so little time, it becomes hard to say no. Your desire is to pack all the fun you can into a little bit of time. Nothing is easier than breaking out the credit card and letting loose at the mall or amusement park. To tell the truth, along with the desire to remove any of the barriers is likely a darker desire to stick it a little to your ex. All of us have been there and I’m fairly certain all of us are guilty. There are three main points you should remember, though, to help you avoid the temptation to let loose with the money:
- Bought memories aren’t as lasting as earned memories
- A disparity in rules and spending between the households is not good for you or the kids
- You are setting a bad precedent
As you think about each of those, I think the first two are pretty clear. We only have so much time with our children, especially after divorce. Our goal as parents is to prepare their foundation so they can make the best decisions possible in life when they head out on their own. Who we are today is built heavily on the lessons learned from our parents. Our likelihood to absorb those lessons is directly related to our relationship with them. You can’t buy a moment to pass on a value. Instead you may be passing on the undesired lesson that money and spending is required to have fun. If there is a disparity in the households driven by your spending then you are creating confusion for the kids. And if you aren’t careful, you are setting the precedent that you are the source of money. While you may have more resources than your ex, the bill will only grow as your children grow. It may be cheap to splurge on a make-your-own teddy bear place when they are young, but imagine what they will come to expect when they are in middle school, or even high school. Their foundation will be built on the belief that fun takes money and that dad is the source of that money. If their only relationship with you involves money, and you later take that away, there is nothing left to fall back on, except your backside! Everyone one of us has characteristics that are worthwhile that you can instead build upon to maximize your time with your kids while building the values you desire.
As a child of divorce also, I found that each of my parent’s houses brought unique elements that I enjoyed. My mom had her strengths and my dad had his. Your kids in the early days of divorce are very likely going to prefer one of the houses, and resist going to the other. To avoid this being your house, you have to create an awesome Dad’s House. Instead of competing with your ex, think instead to complement and highlight the areas of you that she doesn’t have. While a rule free fun house will just bite you, you can have a fun house that still has rules and boundaries. If you think about your strengths, especially areas that aren’t her strong points, and focus on the ones that align with your children’s interests, you will quickly get to a good environment. If you are the outdoors guy and love hiking, but your kids hate hikes, don’t go on hikes. Instead think about how all kids love messing around in streams, or swimming in lakes and rivers, so maybe find the short hikes to cool places. It is during these rare, interactive times where you have their attention and interest that you can inject memorable lessons and associated values into their development. My ex is an artist, so I don’t even bother with a craft area. But the outdoors is my playground and my kids today look forward to what new adventures and exploring we can do together.
Now is the time to seize your opportunity to highlight your strengths and develop your relationship with your kids. You can and should take advantage of your time apart to focus on the areas you like that don’t align with your children’s interests. It’s important to feed your needs and by doing so you can focus the limited time with them on areas they enjoy. When you think about the values you want for your children, those will only come from their witnessing the same behavior from you during key memorable events. Each season presents unique opportunities for these moments. Set aside a naïve hope that the moments need to happen naturally. After divorce, your time is very limited. Grasp it, plan, and go out and set the stage for times your children won’t forget.