Creative Ideas for Maximizing Visitation

Creative Ideas for Maximizing Visitation

When I first got divorced, I felt lost. With my parenting time and money now limited, I had no idea how I was going to be the “everyday dad” I had been to my sons now that we had a visitation schedule. Over the years I have come up with some creative ideas to maximize visitation time with my boys that will work for you, too!

Maximizing Visitation Doesn’t Take Big Bucks

I didn’t want to lose the connection with them just because we weren’t under the same roof. I found some great ways to make the time with my kids count. The best part is none of these will cost you very much. All you need is time and a little bit of imagination. So, here are a few ideas for maximizing visitation with fun and easy activities.

Turn Movie Night Into A Real Theater Experience At Home

In our house, Friday night means movie night. On my weekend with the boys, I pick them up from school, we order pizza and we drink root beer. The boys call it grog (look it up) because of their love of pirates. After the pizza is consumed and the last drop of grog has been slurped down, we begin setting up for movie night.

The key here is to have the kids help set up. Interaction is an important part of maximizing visitation. Assign a kid to set up the seating and another to pop the popcorn and pull out any other special snacks. A few years back I found some cool popcorn containers for a dollar each at a local store. We only use them for movie night.

Creating the Atmosphere

For seating, we like to get all of the pillows and blankets from our beds and lay them on the living room floor. The kids always want it to be as dark as possible, “like a real movie theatre” they say. If you want to go the extra mile with your set up, check out these ideas: How to Make Movie Night More Fun.

Once we’ve all agreed on a movie, I settle down on the floor, right there with the kids. I love being down there and having the kids look for my reaction to a scene or a funny part in the movie. Sometimes we will replay funny parts a couple times, just to laugh again.

Movie night has become something the kids look forward to all week. The boys ask about it as soon as I pick them up.

Try A Backyard Camping Adventure

This is something I did for the first time last summer. We had been talking about camping a lot. They boys really wanted to get outdoors. I didn’t really have the time or resources to get away for a real camping trip. I also wasn’t sure if my youngest son was up for the task.

Remember that maximizing visitation just takes some imagination!

So, I pulled out a large tent and told the boys we were camping in the back yard. Their faces lit up! I had my oldest son help me set up the tent. Something that I admittedly have only done one other time alone. We looked at the directions and talked through the process together. He watched me struggle and make a few mistakes, but eventually we got it together.

It’s really easy to overlook this part of being a dad. Even on a visitation schedule you can find teachable moments. When your kids see you mess up, and see you handle it and not give up, it teaches them a lesson that no lecture could.

When your kids see you mess up, and see you handle it and not give up, it teaches them a lesson that no lecture could.

While we were working on the tent, little brother was searching the yard for sticks to get our fire going. We used a lighter and a store bought bundle of wood to start the fire in our fire pit. I’ve already hinted at the fact that I’m no seasoned outdoorsman. No flint and tinder here!

We roasted hot dogs on the open flames for dinner and had s’mores for dessert. Oh, and of course there was grog!

Stay Up Late Talking

Before it got too dark, I brought the boys’ mattresses from their bunk beds out, for a little extra comfort in the tents. That night we stayed up late and talked about the stars and different constellations.

I told them made up pirate tales which featured the two of them as the heroes. When they finally dozed off, I just watched them sleep for a while. I didn’t sleep well and I woke up with a back ache. But hearing my boys describe the night as “EPIC” to their friends made it all worth it. They can’t wait to do it again.

Let The Kids Design A Menu And Help You Cook

I was talking with my wife (I’m remarried) last week when this idea hit me. The kids are always buzzing around the kitchen whenever we’re cooking. Normally we shoo them away or tell them to go play. I think we’ve missed some opportunities there.

We are going to make up for that! Why don’t we let the kids create a menu made up of all the meals we make regularly? They can design it and take turns choosing what they would like to have for dinner.

This accomplishes a few things. First there’s an art component. My oldest loves to draw, and what kid doesn’t like to color? The bigger payoff with this one is their involvement in family decisions. When they have to think about each meal, it changes their attitude towards dinner time.

I plan to have them help cook the meals they pick too. This way, they will learn what ingredients are involved and they will start to develop valuable life skills. Fun and learning = maximizing visitation!

I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the menu. Stay tuned!

Have A Family Dance Party

In our house we LOVE music. I’m always singing and making up my own lyrics to popular songs. On random nights when I have the boys, we like to have a dance party.

This usually happens when the kids are hyper and it’s too dark or cold for them to play outside. All you need is a Bluetooth speaker, smartphone, and YouTube.

Dad Can Bust a Move!

I have the kids take turns picking songs. My oldest is only 9, but he likes Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5. My youngest likes rap and driving beats. I always have to be careful with those songs, to make sure they are appropriate! Their stepsister loves pop and girl power songs. The youngest, my stepson, is just happy to be bouncing around with the other kids.

Next time we do this, I’m going to take it up a notch and have each of the kids do a lip sync performance of their favorite song. I can hear the laughter now!

Build Your Own Memories and Traditions

These are ideas that suit my family. You might also take some ideas from this article, 10 Creative Ways to Make Time for Your Kids. You will likely come up with your own twist, or even completely unique ideas.

The specific activity isn’t really the important thing. What you want to do is build memories and start your own traditions. Creating these fun times helps to ease the sting of divorce and it gives your kids something to look forward to. Letting the kids help you do everyday tasks like cooking will build their confidence and teach them life skills. Plus, it makes them feel important.

Can you remember a time when you felt like you helped your mom or dad as a kid? It’s a powerful feeling. Maximizing visitation doesn’t have to mean big elaborate plans or expensive trips. You have everything you need right at home. So, start building those memories and watch your kids change right before your eyes.

Have you found affordable ways to maximize visitation? Would you like to see more Dad Can Do ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

For more divorced dad info, be sure to check out Understanding Visitation Rights for Fathers – The Ultimate Guyvorce Guide.

G.D. Wessel hast tips and ideas for the newly divorced dad on things to do with his kids when he’s light in the wallet with When the Kids Are There and Money Is Tight .

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Navigating Fatherhood in a Blended Family

Navigating Fatherhood in a Blended Family

My fiancé and I have four young children. She has a daughter and a son, and I have two sons. With our wedding date quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a successful blended family.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

It’s 3:00 AM and I can’t sleep. I keep hearing the voices of our kids, over and over in my head.

“Mommy is going to be mad if we stay up late.”

“My dad lets me watch that show.”

“She’s not our sister!”

“I don’t want to come to the wedding.”

That last one stings.

We have four parents in this equation. All with different views on what’s best for our children. It can be stressful. It can be annoying. Ultimately our success is not judged by our personal comfort, but by the experience of our children. Here are some insights I have gained over the past few years:

  • Like it or not, your ex is still a part of your family.
  • Your kids will get jealous of her kids.
  • Your kids may have trouble warming up to your new partner.
  • Expect difficult conversations.


Like It Or Not, Your Ex Is Still Part of Your Blended Family

 When I first got divorced I had this idea that it was going to be just me and my boys. When they were with me, we would do things our own way. No mom to interfere. Man, was I wrong! Though she is not physically present in my home, her influence is always there.

This fact used to annoy me. It still does sometimes. Like when my oldest son expresses an opinion on politics which clearly came straight from his mother’s mouth. It would be easy for me to snap, or fire off a sarcastic remark. But, looking at the bigger picture I have to choose my words carefully. I ask questions instead of focusing on how I may disagree.

The reality is, the boys still love their mom. They value her opinion. I divorced her, but they didn’t. Virginia Gilbert clearly articulates this point in this Huffington Post article You May Be Divorced, But You’re Still a Family.

My boys have started asking me questions about how their mom and I met. Initially, this made me uncomfortable. I don’t really want to talk about the good old times anymore. It feels like another lifetime. Here’s the thing though – my history with their mother is a part of their history. They deserve to hear the stories.

The bottom line is, when it comes to the mother of your children, don’t be a jerk. Kids are smart. They pick up on those subtle verbal jabs. Put yourself in their position, and accept the fact that she is still a part of your new, blended family. The roles have changed, but the fact remains.

Your Kids Will Be Jealous of Her Kids

I found this out the hard way. Our kids have always gotten along pretty well. Of course there have been little spats here and there, but that’s just normal kid stuff.

One day I had the three oldest kids (my boys and her daughter) at the park. They all had their bikes, and my fiancé’s daughter wanted to learn to ride without training wheels. We had attempted it before, when the boys weren’t around, and it was disastrous. She was too scared.

Seeing my oldest son zipping around the park gave her the determination she needed. After about 30 minutes of me pushing her and encouraging her, she finally got it! I called to the boys to come check her out. I expected them to cheer her on and be excited. What I got was half-hearted applause and reluctant praise.

Later, when we all went home, I took my nine-year-old aside and asked him why he wasn’t happy for her. His face twisted and he wouldn’t talk. I kept pleading with him to talk to me. He kept refusing. Finally, he caved. With tears welling up in his eyes, he told me that he was upset because I was happier about her learning to ride her bike than I was when he did.

Now, with tears welling up in my eyes, I reminded him that I wasn’t there when he learned how to ride. He had learned while out of state visiting his grandparents. I reassured him that I was so proud of him that day. I told him how sad I was that I couldn’t be there. I told him I was sorry that I made him feel that way.

If you’re in a blended family, you have probably run into this. Remember to validate your kid’s feelings. Sometimes, being heard is enough to break through their emotional wall. Let them express their anger (respectfully, of course).

Don’t be defensive. If your goal is to protect them and guide them through the adjustments of your new blended family, you have to let go of your right to justify your actions. Listen to them and hear the real issues behind what they say. Set aside one-on-one time with your kids. Also, when appropriate, an apology goes a long way.

Your Kids May Not Accept Your New Partner

My ex does not like my fiancé. She doesn’t know her, but she doesn’t like her, or the idea of me getting remarried. She has not hidden this fact from my boys. So, it is no surprise that they have been distant towards my wife-to-be. They like her. She’s very good to them. But, in the four years we’ve been together, the relationship between her and the boys has barely progressed.

I believe they are afraid of liking her too much. As if, somehow, liking her would betray their mother.

I believe they are afraid of liking her too much. As if somehow liking her would betray their mother. It creates a tone of awkwardness in our house at times. To her credit, my fiancé has never pushed herself on them. I have told them they will never have to call her mom or anything like that. I have explained that she makes daddy happy, but still they have a wall up.

If you’re dealing with a similar challenge, I suggest you talk to your ex about it, if you can. Try to keep the conversation about what’s best for the kids and away from the two of you. You both want what is best for your kids. Understanding that common ground is key to creating peace and reducing inner conflict for your kids.

Expect Difficult Conversations

I have had many difficult conversations with all four kids over the years. The most difficult of these surrounds the subject of my upcoming wedding. My fiancé’s daughter is thrilled. My sons are not. They bristle when their soon to be stepsister calls them her brothers. The have both told me they don’t want to be in the wedding. I understand where they are coming from, but it still hurts.

How do I balance my desire to share this moment with them and their rejection and discomfort with the idea? I have tried to discuss it with them. I’ve tried talking to their mom about it. They just don’t want to come. So, I will not force it on them.

It’s uncomfortable to see my step daughter’s excitement contrasted with their avoidance. We are a family, so we take it head on. I don’t hide my excitement. I will respect their emotions, but I will not hide my happiness. In time they will see that it’s ok.

Difficult conversations will be a part of your blended family. Don’t delay having those talks. Prepare yourself by reading something like this: How to Have Difficult Conversations with Family. Embrace the opportunities as a chance to teach your kids how to resolve conflict, and show love, even when you disagree.

Blended families can be messy. Real life is almost nothing like The Brady Bunch. But, if you practice open communication, you may find that you’ve created children who are better prepared for the real world.

Want more tips on managing a blended family? Read Peter Bowd’s frustrating experience with Being A Stepdad Post-Divorce. And don’t miss Seven Tips for Consistent Co-Parenting after Divorce by the intrepid Aileen O’Leary.

Tell us your step-family challenges in the comments below!


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Balancing Your Stepdad Budget Without Child Support

Balancing Your Stepdad Budget Without Child Support

We’re sitting at the dining room table. There’s a pile of bills in front of us and not enough money to pay them all. Again. Another month when her ex doesn’t pay child support. Another month we are at his financial mercy.

This would be the last month we let her ex have the power to jerk us around!

Child Support Affects Us Coming and Going

I look down at my banking app on my phone, shaking my head. Nearly half of my check goes to pay child support for my two sons. Nearly the same amount of my fiancé’s income goes to childcare expenses for her two kids.

We’re going over the numbers for the third time. Which one of these bills can we afford to pay late?

All of this would be easier if her ex would just pay his child support like he’s supposed to.

Sam (not his real name) is a handy guy. He’s the kind of guy who can fix anything. I envy that quality. Because of his skills, he works the kind of jobs that pay cash. Under-the-table, unreported cash. There are lots of parents like Sam, that deliberately game the system to avoid paying child support by not working as much as they could or under-reporting their earnings.

For my fiancé, this means she gets child support from her ex if and when he feels like paying it. The amount he pays varies almost as wildly as the frequency of payment. It’s frustrating.

I never dreamed that another man, whom I have no relationship with, would contribute to my financial problems.

The Weight of Responsibility

From the moment I got divorced, I swore to myself that I would do whatever it takes to support my two boys. At one point I was working my regular 9-5 as well as a third shift gig stocking shelves at a grocery store near my apartment. There were times I thought I was literally going to die from lack of sleep. Many nights I ate cereal for dinner.

Being a Parent – Not Just a Paycheck

I did what I had to do for my sons. During that period, I didn’t miss out on my time with them. I was at the soccer games, parent/teacher conferences, and awards ceremonies.

I recognize that child support is not a substitute for my presence in their lives.

When my fiancé and I first got together I was broke. I pay twice as much in child support as her ex. We knew it was going to be challenging with four kids between us. We reasoned that if we moved in together and split the rent, her ex’s child support payments would offset her childcare expenses just enough for us to make it.

That was our first mistake.

Child Support – Crap Shoot Style

Have you ever gone to a party where there was a White Elephant gift exchange? Most of the gifts are junk left over from people’s garage sales. But, there are always a few gems in the mix. It’s a crap shoot – you could get lucky!

Imagine the moment of hopeful anticipation. You peel back the layer of ugly wrapping paper and expose a white box with the familiar Apple symbol. Recognizing that the size and weight of the box is just about right, you smile as you notice the letters i-P-A-D. You tear open the box ­ and out slides an Etch-A-Sketch.

That feeling. The one you have right now. That’s what we’ve felt every two weeks as we wait to see what Sam will pay toward his child support, or if he will crap out on his obligation again.

It’s maddening. I am beside myself with anger sometimes because I simply can’t understand why a father wouldn’t do what it takes to financially support his children. My fiancé even voluntarily reduced the amount of child support he would have been required to pay. Still, he seems to be perfectly fine with us shouldering the financial responsibility.

It Wasn’t Supposed To Be Like This

These emotions swirl around our home like a wild tornado. Neither of us expected to be dealing with this kind of financial pressure at this stage in our lives. We’re at the age where most people are hitting their stride financially. We both have good jobs with above average pay. Yet, we have to be extremely careful financially. One unexpected expense can put us dangerously behind on the bills.

As a man, I feel responsible to provide. In the early days of our relationship, I felt guilty. Sometimes I couldn’t even fill up my own gas tank. How would I ever be able to provide a for my newly expanded family?

The Emotional Backlash

Emotional pressure that stems from financial trouble is unique. It’s bleeds into every area of life. When her ex doesn’t pay child support, it creates financial problems. Financial problems can lead to serious relationship issues. An article in Psychology Today reports that  7 out of 10 couples report that money issues cause tension in their relationship.

Blaming and Shaming

Because money is a very real need, you can’t escape it. It’s easy to blame someone else. In fact, I would say I am justified in placing blame on Sam. It relieves my shame to blame her ex for not contributing his part. It gives me a place to focus my anger. It allows me to escape (if only emotionally) from the responsibility for our financial condition.

There just one problem with that. Blame doesn’t improve my bank account. Anger doesn’t pay the bills, and it sure doesn’t make her ex man-up  and pay up on a regular basis.

How do we get out of this rut? How do we budget for when her ex doesn’t pay child support?

Sink or Move Forward

Back at the dining room table, my fiancé looks up at me, her eyes soften as she notices the tears welling up in mine. She says, “We have to plan as if he’s not going to pay anything.” It’s not the first time she’s said it, but this time for some reason it resonates with me.

We have to plan as if he’s not going to pay anything.

I had spent so much time being mad at Sam for robbing us of our ability to take care of our family. I hadn’t stopped to realize that I was the one giving him to the power to do it. We are not helpless. His child support payments should not factor into our financial planning. I was giving him a seat at our table!

There were still changes we could make. We could control our own expenses.

We Took Our Lives Back

Our biggest expenses outside of food and rent are my child support payments and her childcare expenses. We have a long-term plan for legitimately reducing my child support, but that won’t help us right now. We needed immediate relief.

Thinking Outside the 9 to 5

We both work full time. We talked about one or both of us getting a second job, but the hours were just unrealistic. Then we got creative. What if we could drastically reduce the childcare expenses by having my fiancé work part-time?

She could be home during the times when the kids would normally be at daycare and work during the hours when they were in school. There would certainly be a dip in her income, but the childcare savings should more than offset that.

We talked about cutting back on luxuries like cable TV and dining out. It’s so easy to order pizza on nights when we don’t feel like cooking. We decided to plan our meals ahead and do more crock-pot meals.

We talked for over an hour, planning and figuring out how we could take back the control that we had given away.

The Energizing Power of Perspective

By the time we finished that conversation our body language had changed. We were smiling. The tension in my shoulders eased. The wild financial storm that we found ourselves up against suddenly seemed manageable.

Anxiety gave way to hope. We decided that we would take that control back. If her ex pays his child support, it will be a bonus.  If he doesn’t, we’ll be fine.

We own the financial problem, and we own the solutions.

Maybe your story is similar. It’s not the details of your plan that make the difference. It’s having a plan in the first place. No matter how bleak your financial situation, you still have control.

Want more inspiration for coping when her ex doesn’t pay child support? Our popular CPA, Janet Berry-Johnson tells you How To Begin Recovering Financially After Divorce.  Don’t miss Sara Gabriell’s article on Surviving Divorce: Protect Your Finances.

Be sure to tell us your experiences with child support in the comments below!

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