Emotional child support is as important as financially providing for your kids. Give them both despite the neverending gamut of emotions you might be feeling, which, and I’ve been there, feels like you’re walking on ice-covered glass in the beginning.
Take each step with caution.
As single fathers, our goals haven’t changed from when we were married. We want the best for our kids and care about:
- The wellbeing of our children
- Job stability
However, in the midst of stress, arguments, frustration, and good ol’anger, there is one aspect we often overlook: emotionally supporting our children. It’s something they need to survive and cope with the divorce burdens they didn’t ask for.
As a single father of two, I’ve got a few ideas you can think about and use right now to keep you plugged into your children’s emotional needs.
Make Your Children Priority Number One
Divorce or no, once children enter the tapestry of life, they’re your priority. That doesn’t change when the rules change.
Be honest with yourself. Because the of the stigma paying child support brings, men feel there is a “slighting” towards the father. I’ve been there, buddy. But let’s not forget, married or not, the main reason we’re here is to teach, raise, support, and love our children.
“But, Dwight,” you say, “I feel like I’m getting a raw deal! Less time with my kids and more money taken from me. How am I to find the good in that?”
Maybe it’s time to reevaluate our thinking, men!
Make More Memories
Years ago, I sat down and flipped through old photos of my boys. As I found myself giggling at their goofy faces and smiling at the memories we’d made, it occurred to me that I needed to make some more of those. Not so much the photos, but the memories locked within each four-by-six shot in those books.
Make a list with your kids. Ask them what new and fun things everyone can do together to help build more memories. Their responses might surprise you. My list sure did. Here are some I remember best:
- Make a tent in the living room and camp out
- Go to a park and explore
- Lay out under the stars at night and find some constellations
Later in life, when things get tough (and they will!), you’ll look back on those just like I am right now and will smile. The best part? They will, too!
Talk, Talk, Talk, and Talk Some More
One of the lost arts in this generation is face-to-face communication. Talking about feelings has never, ever been easy for me. But over time, I’ve pushed myself and opened up because I knew it was the only way my children would do the same. I let them in.
Keep the “adult” stuff out of conversations with your kids! Keep your divorce, ex-wife’s cheating habits, and arguments out of your mouth. Instead, spend hours diving into what they like, don’t like, do, and don’t do. Ask them what they’re feeling. Then, ask how you can help them.
Tell them you love them! I don’t care if you think they know you do. Always…always…always tell them how much you do!
What Children Want
Read that heading back once more. Notice I didn’t say Need. Children, no matter what stage in life they find themselves, want certain things from their parents. This does not change when divorce happens.
Here are a few first-hand requests from my two boys:
- Stay involved in my life, both of you
- Don’t forget about me
- I want to be as important after the divorce as I was before
- I want to be in both of your lives; I deserve that
- Let me enjoy myself when I’m with you
- Don’t make me the go-between to pass along important information
- Don’t make me take sides; I love you both
- Stop fighting!
- Act like adults around us
When my sons came to me with their demands, I was stunned. It woke me up. Emotional child support is just as important and the more commonly known financial counterpart. It changed my outlook.
Our interactions changed. I quit being the child. And I’m glad to have a great line of communication with them.
Simple Do’s and Dont’s to Keep In Mind
- Make sure you’re actively helping your kids monetarily
- Find new ways to strengthen your bond every day
- Allow time for serious conversations
- Look for the positives in your situations
- Understand your children can’t always voice their feelings
- Without arguing, discuss important “adult” issues
- Let your kids go without
- Expect them to know how
- Always be the one talking
- Voice the negatives
- Keep your feelings bottled up
- Agree in front of your children
Teach Your Kids to Express Their Feelings with Words
During the hard times, concern yourself for how your children express their feelings. Landing down the right words for what they’re feeling isn’t their forté.
As a dad of two boys, I noticed a few things:
- Had an anger issue growing up
- Acted out by getting into fights at school
- Demonstrated a problem with authority
- Found comfort in music
- Expressed himself creatively through making his own music
- Hid his feelings from everyone
- Distanced himself from social situations
- Introspective and moody
- Found comfort in art
- Expressed himself by creating art
Pay attention to what they say when they’re not speaking. Reading into their body language will help you understand how to best provide them with emotional child support through their ups and downs.
My relationship with my boys got better when I understood their fears, doubts, questions, frustrations, and feelings. It was only then that I began to listen. Listening to them paved the way for some common ground for effective communications with them.
Don’t Forget about You
Yep, Dad, you’re last on the totem pole. But that’s okay. Between making your kiddos Priority Number One, keeping a level head at work to afford your financial child support responsibilities, and making sure we don’t alienate our friends and support squad. There’s one thing that will end up slipping through the cracks…
Taking time for yourself and your mental and physical needs is important. I lost almost 50 pounds after my divorce. As fathers, we’re expected to be the strong one. Showing emotions or how tired you are comes second to being the rock for everyone else. I learned it at an early age.
And while this has a grain of truth to it, let me be the one to tell you this: Show emotion! It’s healthy. My grandfather taught me that. His children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren knew he loved them deeply.
I hope I’ve passed that onto my boys.
The Single Dad Challenge
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go scoop up your kids right now and make new memories with them. Go to the park, ride bikes, friggin’ sit on your couch and break out the Crayolas with them — just do something. Can’t do that? Then, plan it for the weekend. But get off your butt and follow through!
While you’re out, talk to them. Is Marvel putting out the next installment in one of their neverending movie franchises? Is there yet another Batman movie due out? Can’t make that work? Then, just hang out with them.
That’s my challenge! You in?
Summing Up Emotional Child Support
Every family is different. Every child is, too. Life will not be smooth all the time. And when a divorce is thrown into the mix, life takes a whole new view. The constant (if there is one) is our children. They need much more from you than your money.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve lost sight at times. I’ve selfishly put my needs at the top of my list. But I work at it and remind myself of what I’m here to do. Remembering my life’s purpose, to parent my kids, reminds me of what I’m here for.
Love them. Show them how important they are to you. Tell them, too. Open up to them. Show them by your own example.
Once you’ve reflected on it, go out right now and make a new memory with your kids. Then, come right back here and tell me all about it in the comments! Got any ideas for other dads just like us? Share ’em! I need support just like every single dad out there does! Tell me where I can go to support you!
- Choosing Your Stuff or Choosing Your Kids A Daughter's Letter to Her Estranged Father Divorce is messy. Messier still is a divorce with children – even teenaged ones! Custody, asset division, child support, it’s a stressful time for everyone. Depending on your situation, you might think this is the time…
- Like most details in dealing in a divorce, child visitation, and visitation rights, come with their own pitfalls. Thankfully, many of those are explicitly spelled out, if your state has set Child Parenting Time Guidelines (as my state calls them), or an equivalent thereof. These are set guidelines to give…