Family Family or Marriage

New At Being A Single Dad? Here’s Some Golden Advice

“Children are incredibly malleable and forgiving,” says one prominent single parent magazine with lots of zest and relish. This gives me the image of a child made out of soft metal or plastic. Hey, if you break one, you can just glue them back together again! See how much fun it is to have children?

Now I realize that you don’t have to paint within the lines every time you interact with your child, but I’m a bit wary of the idea that children are imperfect versions of adults who are as resilient as a dung beetles. Will they really forgive you if you come home drunk night after night or entertain members of the opposite sex as if you were in a fraternity again?

The problem with children, after all, is that they are malleable and forgiving. Kids will forgive your blunders indefinitely, again and again, until the resentment boils over and the disappointment becomes permanently etched on their faces. They are malleable, sure, but malleable means bruised as much as anything else.

That said, a little sugar coating can go a long way. When I was newly divorced, my sister suggested turning my new place into an adventure for the kids. They could explore the rooms, peak behind the curtains, revel in the new space. And it worked. It even worked on me. It turned my gloom into an exploration of possibilities. That counts for something.

No, I didn’t throw parties or introduce my children to any of my dates. When a mouse scurried across the floor in my new kitchen, I didn’t name it “Pete” and try to train it to eat out of my hand. Small critters, suggest Joshua’s Pest Control and other experts, breed quickly and chew through wires without much difficulty. All I needed was a short to cut the power off or burn down the house. I was already in the doghouse. I didn’t need any more disasters on my hands.

To this day almost 20 years later I do not introduce my children to my dates. That doesn’t mean never, because it has happened a few times. But any woman in my life is automatically a rival in my children’s eyes for my resources, attention and time and is automatically a rival to their mother. That’s a natural response for children, so why rub it in, especially when it was so easy to create a schedule where there were no conflicts, anyway?

I’ve read articles that say, “Don’t introduce children to your dates until they are ready.” Good advice. Now here’s when they are ready: Never. They will be more mature about it as they grow. But that doesn’t mean they are “ready.” I don’t even know what that really means. Even older children will react. Why wouldn’t they?

Introduce your children to your dates if it is justified, not if they are ready. Meanwhile, I warn all my dates to be themselves with my kids, but to remember there is no natural role for them in their lives, so don’t push your luck.

The one most avoided reality to a newly divorced Dad and Mom, for that matter is the subject of visitations. This is usually scheduled on balance with the parents’ ability to get along with each other. If they are mad, scheduling might favor one parent or be set up week by week or month by month a week at Mom’s, followed by a week at Dad’s, for example.

The younger the children are, the more unreasonable this arrangement is. Children who visit Dad for a week don’t think, “I saw my Dad seven days in a row or 14 days this month.” They think, “I saw my Dad twice this month.”

Children need frequent visits, not lengthy visits. They don’t care about quality time. They care about how attentive you are. You can’t be attentive if you are spending a week without them or even three days without them.

When my wife and I first separated, I drove to the house before breakfast and walked my kids to the school bus five days a week. Then I went to work and returned to make dinner every evening, leaving each night after the kids went to sleep.

I kept this up until I moved too far away to do that. But the philosophy did not change and even though my X and I were blistering mad, we managed to allow as much access as possible. We had a rigid schedule, but it was based on frequency of visits, not duration.

I suggest you operate from your child’s perspective. In fact, I must have told my children 100 times, “We are still a family. We’re a divorced family. But that doesn’t mean we are not a family.”

Children don’t see a divorce as the end of a family. They see it as the end of a marriage. You are still a family, one way or another, like it or not.

 

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James

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