Kids. You love them. You hate them. But, they’re yours. And, after the divorce, they’re even more important to you than ever before. They become perfect strangers – disengaged, distressed, displaying avoidance at all cost. They’re lonely, upset, feeling left out, feeling unloved.
Time for you to move in on this dilemma. Show them some caring. Some trust. Some emotion. But, most importantly, engage with your kids. They need you more than ever.
Speaking as the rare custodial father, it really irks me to see parents that don’t seem to be involved with their children. Sadly, I’ve been dealing with that a bit myself today – my son’s been blowing up my phone with texts all day.
He’s clearly bored, and not being engaged whilst on his visitation with his mother. He even asked my partner (not me, strangely enough) to come pick him up.
Now, this is admittedly something that hasn’t happened in a good while. But it’s not the only time. And I see it with my own partner’s daughter, too, and her relationship with her own father.
Sure, parents and children shouldn’t necessarily be best of friends 24/7. And there’s always going to be some conflict of personality. It’s all part of them growing up.
But, speaking as a custodial parent, it does hurt me to see the kids feel like there’s no connection between the kids and their mother.
Therefore, here’s a few simple pieces of advice that would hopefully prevent some of the alienation that might occur between kids and their non-custodial parents. Hell, custodial parents may even get something out of these.
Perfect Strangers – Three Ways to Keep Your Kids Engaged
Talk to Them
It really is as simple as that. Talk to them, regularly. About anything — that they might want to talk about, preferably — at first. And don’t do it in a condescending way, either, even unintentionally. Children like to know that they’re being listened to. They want their opinions and thoughts validated.
“Parents just don’t understand,” remember that song?
Well, show them you do. They don’t need to be perfect strangers. They’ll start paying attention to you as well. And it doesn’t even have to end when their mother (or father) picks them up.
Heck, get them a cheap cellphone, one that doesn’t even need a plan that can be joined to WiFi (assuming they have it at their home), just so you can text with them. Trust me, they’ll appreciate that, even if you have to compete with Angry Birds for their attention.
Engage Kids in Activities
Boredom happens because, often, there’s nothing to do. They may be bored, because you’re being boring.
Now, yes, sometimes grown-ups have things to do. But, especially if you’re the non-custodial parent, your time with them is limited, and going back home reporting that “We just sat around and watched TV” isn’t going to inspire confidence. Nor is it really going to get you to connect with your children that you’ve already had a fair amount of disconnection from by virtue of the divorce.
So, sure, if they want to watch TV, why not watch it with them for a bit? You might not be totally up on Adventure Time or Regular Show, but that’s OK. You don’t have to be.
All that said, watching TV might not be the greatest activity to engage in. But, by the same token, don’t be perfect strangers either. Take them out. Head to the park and walk the trails a bit. Anything you can do together with your kids is good for the bonding experience. It’s one thing to say you’re there for them, another to put it into tangible actions.
Time is limited; make the most of it.
Stay Involved, Even When They’re Not There
This might be the trickiest part. If your kids aren’t around, you might not be as inclined to try to keep up with the day to day activities of raising them. Out of sight, out of mind, even if you don’t mean it to be that way. Therefore, try to keep tabs on what’s going on with the activities they may not tell you about.
As non-custodial parents, you do have a right to know their teachers names and numbers, and be in contact with them to discuss their schoolwork and grades. Also, you have a right to know who their doctors are, and consult with them as well.
This is more background dealings, that the kids may not even be aware of until you say something. But it still shows you care, and try to engage them on that level. Believe me, even if they can’t consciously put it into words, they will appreciate the gestures.
These are just a few ways that being connected, and being actively involved with your children, can be accomplished. The point here, is that just because you might be the non-custodial parent, doesn’t mean you have to be an absentee parent as well. Be involved. Talk to them. Do things with them. Just be an active part of their lives, like they really want you to be.
How do you stay connected with your kids when you’re not around? What do you do to keep your kids engaged when they’re with you? Let us know in the comments!