Dad’s Guide to Fathering in the Wake of Separation or Divorce

By Sharon Perkins, Stefan Korn, Scott Lancaster, Eric Mooij

An unfortunate consequence of separation and divorce is that a large number of fathers are separated from their children. Separation should be no barrier to continuing to be a great dad and role model for your child or children.

There’s very little difference between the responsibilities of a nonresident father and a living-at-home father.

You don’t have to be going through separation to be regarded as a remote father. Fathers who are away overseas on military service, fathers who are in prison, and dads who are very busy or travel often can also be considered remote fathers.

Here are some tips for continuing to be a great dad, even though you can’t be there for every bedtime:

  • Be punctual. If you’re expected at noon, be there at 12 p.m. sharp. Waiting around for you can be very hard on a young child, especially one who doesn’t understand why you don’t live at home anymore.
  • Don’t slack off on all those fatherly duties you may have had when you were still living with your kids, such as discipline and encouraging their development. Be consistent with your rules and boundaries. As difficult as it may be, you also need to work hard to agree to some basic principles for disciplining your children with your ex. And of course, keep going with the principles of parenting — provide your child with love and warmth, a secure and safe environment, and lots of time spent listening to and talking with him.
  • Foster a good working relationship with your child’s mother. Your child will pick up on when things aren’t going well between you two, so work hard at putting the anger, bitterness, or frustrations behind you.
  • Keep your promises. If you told your child that you’d be there on Thursday to pick him up after school, then do it.
  • Take care of yourself, mentally and physically. Being positive and happy is rough after separation and divorce, but it makes you a positive role model for your kids. Neglecting your basic needs (eating decent food, showering every day, getting some exercise, and keeping your place tidy) or turning your place into a new bachelor pad is not a great situation for your children to spend time with you.
  • Try to avoid falling into the trap of buying your kids special presents or taking them on special outings all the time in an attempt to be the favorite parent or to ensure they love you. They love you unconditionally, and the best things you can give them are your time, respect, and unconditional love.
  • When you drop off your child at his mother’s house, try not to draw out the goodbyes like you’re about to go to the moon for a month. Normalize the situation by telling him good night, that you love him, and that you’ll see him very soon.

Your child may be feeling abandoned, resentful that you’ve left, or just plain confused about when he’ll see you again. Being on time and a man of your word means your little one can trust in you and believe in what you say. Remind him that even though you don’t live at his home anymore, you’ll always be there for him.