Single Dads: Keeping the Relationship with Your Children

As a single dad, keeping a strong relationship between you and your child after a divorce is essential for your child’s well being. Research shows that children are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior if their father is actively engaged in their upbringing, says licensed psychologist Robert Goldman. 

Although it might not seem easy to maintain a relationship when distance separates parent and child, here are seven ways for single dads to build a strong bond with their children.

Maintain a positive view. Many men unconsciously treat their children the way they were treated, says Dr. Geoffrey Greif, author of Single Fathers.  “If the father was raised well, this is not a problem.  If dad believes he was ignored or not treated well by his father, he may repeat that pattern with his own children.”  Greif suggests taking an inventory of your past and emulating the positives you received during childhood.  Consider what boundaries should be between you, your children and your former spouse. A positive view can help set a tone that will be growth-promoting over the long run.  

Promote ongoing communication.  Keeping the lines of communication open when your children live apart from you is the first step in building the family bond. Today’s technology enables constant communication in various forms.  Use email, Internet cameras, toll-free telephone numbers, cell phone (paid by the non-custodial parent), small “snail mail” gifts (stickers), and videophones to promote regular contact with your children, suggest Dr. Sam Buser and Dr. Glenn Sternes, co-authors of The Guys Only Guide to Getting Over Divorce.

Preplan daily calls.  A daily phone call is one popular way to stay in touch.  In spite of this, Dr. Buser warns it can also be the source of a lot of hard feelings.  “Some fathers want to talk with their children by phone before bedtime.  While this is an endearing idea, practically speaking, it is problematic,” says Buser.  As your former spouse is attempting to get the child in bed, your call can disrupt the bedroom ritual and become a dreaded event by both your ex-wife and child. Instead, plan a good time to call, suggests Buser.  Keep in mind; children usually are not interested in conversing on the phone with a parent.  When this happens, try not to take their diffident attitude personally and shorten the call.

Show parental support.  Being present at extracurricular activities, school events and sport practices/games is important, says psychologist Goldman. By attending these functions, you show your son that he is being supported in all that he does.  Your support sends the message to the child that despite a parent's busy schedule he is still a priority and loved.  

Take time off. Extended visitation during summer vacation or winter holiday break can become a problem. Often times, fathers put their kids into summer camp or daycare for most of the visit, says Buser.  Most kids dislike this because they want to spend time with their dad. Buser cautions one mistake parents make is thinking "quality time" makes up for lack of time.  Buser advises dads to take vacation time. Spending time with your children is the best way to communicate that you love them.  

Dish it up.  Some single dads get into a habit of hitting the fast food joints for a family meal together, especially if there’s a playground. Although the playground offers fun, the outside interruptions can play havoc with a normal conversation between your and your kids. Undivided attention is almost impossible with kids running to the slide or jumping up and down in the balls. If your son’s favorite meal is burgers, considering firing up the grill.  In cooler weather, purchase an indoor grill.  Pull out a blanket and have an indoor picnic with the kids.  The family meal at your place allows more opportunity to converse and find out what's going on in your children's lives.

Have fun together. Everyone gets tired of their kids at times. So make your time together more enjoyable.  Co-authors, Buser and Sternes, offer these suggestions:

  • Become involved in your child's special interests (music, basketball or art).
  • Team up with other parents to participate in fun activities that might be impossible to do on your own if there is a big age gap between the kids.  
  • Read a book or take a class to become more knowledgeable about child development.
  • Consult with experienced parents about how they deal with typical parenting challenges.
  • Forgive yourself if you sometimes get frustrated with the kids.
  • Make time for yourself during your child’s visitation so that you won’t burn out.