Many divorced fathers are faced with the reality of visitation- an often negotiated, mediated and all too brief time they are able to spend with their children. In many cases, visitation is very limited, compared to the relationship dads used to be able to enjoy, so it's absolutely crucial that dads make this visitation time the best possible experience for their children and themselves. Here are a few ideas for making the most of your visitation:
Give it time
There's an old saying that time can heal all wounds. But time is only half of the equation. Healing old wounds also takes a commitment to getting better. Soccer players who've torn a ligament just don't give up. They gradually work themselves back into top playing form, even if their leg will remain tender and sore for years. Many fathers who have gone through a bitter divorce may find that it feels like they've got a torn ligament between themselves and their kids. Calling upon the fathering part of yourself may be painful and feel awkward at first, but with time, patience and practice, it does get better.
No "Mr. Mom"
You're first visitation may be the first time you've ever been alone and bearing full responsibility for taking care of your kids all by yourself for an extended period of time. Or, you may be an old pro at taking care of your kids by yourself. In either case, never try to be a mom. You'll only set yourself up for failure because men are not moms, men are dads. First, your children expect you to be fatherly. Do the things you always did. If you were a husband who cooked, continue to cook. If you didn't cook, don't try to "show-off" for your kids by attempting to whip-up some gourmet meal. Rather, be honest with your kids, and invite them to learn with you, on whatever you're attempting. Let them into your life. Invite them to sit next to you and read with or to them that article on bass fishing. Look for ways you can include them in your life and ways you can continue to be involved in theirs. Second, you just won't feel quite right. Trying to be something (a mom) that you're not is like trying to wear your shoes on the wrong feet. You may be able to do it for a little while, but it is awkward.
Research tell us that if you can reduce conflict, you're transitions should be smoother. But if your marriage ended with an unresolved war, you will most likely need to work harder to make the transition for you and your kids smoother. Men who have most successfully negotiated a bitter divorce or custody battle remember that any unresolved conflict they feel about their former family life rests with their ex-wife, not their kids. And they never openly battled or degraded their former wife in front of their children. Remember that she's still their mom, even though she's no longer your wife. Being aware that you still harbor negative emotions toward your former spouse can help you avoid directing them toward your children when it's "your weekend." Awareness can also help you put your hurt and anger behind you. Mentally practice and prepare for visitation. Make a game plan for how you will handle picking up and sending off your child(ren). Be sure you know where and at what time you're to be there; it'll be easier for you and your kids.
Visitation may seem very daunting. "How am I going to keep them entertained?" many fathers wonder. Stop and ask yourself if you worried about this when you were married? Probably not. Why? Because it was OK just to be in each other's presence. It was OK just to watch television together. It was OK not to have to talk. It's still the same. Even though you may have a hundred and one things you want to talk with your child about (or maybe not) doesn't mean they want to. They may need time to themselves for a while, just to be, rather than to be doing. Talk with your kids about the types of activities they would like to do. Ask them how they would like to spend their time with you. Be open and honest about your likes and dislikes. Over time, you'll establish a natural rhythm that will transform what seems to you as "fathering by appointment" into wonderful memories and strong bonds with your child(ren).