Divorce is hard enough. Your life is turned upside down, and you probably struggle with feelings of anger, guilt, betrayal, or failure. But as every divorced parent can tell you, the turmoil is 10 times greater when you have kids. Fortunately, many divorced couples are still able to communicate well, and they can come to a decision regarding custody without a lot of anger and fighting. But even when you share custody, it is hard to know how to approach your new parenting role. The task is especially difficult for fathers, who tend to spend less time with their kids, even in joint custody arrangements. If you are a father trying to figure out how to be a good dad with joint custody, read on for five tips for handling your new role.
- Don’t talk badly about your ex. Talking negatively about your children’s mother will only backfire in the long run. It forces your kids to choose sides, and you cannot always guarantee that the side they choose will be yours. It also creates an atmosphere of disrespect – after all, if they don’t need to respect their mother, why should they respect you? Finally, it can foster misbehavior. If you are constantly questioning their mother’s actions, your kids may not feel that they need to obey her.
- Communicate. The better relationship you have with your ex, the easier this will be. As hard as it may be, forcing yourself to be civil and to control your emotions when talking to her will make your life easier, and it will certainly be better for your kids. Let their mother know about any scheduling issues or activities to which your kids are committed. In addition, you should be on the same page regarding discipline and responsibilities. For example, if your child is expected to do their own laundry at your house, it’s best if they’re expected to do the same at their mom’s. Similarly, if they are not permitted to watch PG-13 movies or if they have a specific bedtime with you, the kids will be better off if they have the same expectations with mom.
- Make the kids your top priority. Scheduling can be very difficult when you share custody. There will be times when you have the kids that are very inconvenient for you. But it is of utmost importance that you put their needs and their schedules ahead of yours, especially since you don’t get to see them every day. If you leave them with a babysitter every weekend so you can go out, or if you stay late at the office every night, they will feel that they are not important to you and will become resentful. Not only does this harm your relationship, it can breed a serious discipline problem, as well.
- Get professional help. Going through the pain of a divorce and the ensuing changes can take a huge emotional toll. You may not even realize how much sadness or guilt you feel, but kids are incredibly attuned to emotions and can easily pick them up. Talking to a counselor can help you to organize your thoughts, confront your emotions, and deal with them in a healthy way. A counselor can also help your kids, who will be struggling with the pain of parental separation. Going through counseling together can be a good way of strengthening your relationship.
- Don’t worry so much about labels. It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of worrying whether you are a “good father” or a “bad father.” The fact is, you’re a father, and if you are trying your hardest to do what is best for your kids, that’s all that you can ask of yourself. As Kaleb “Coach KJ” Hill says on Co Parenting 101, “We are here to teach our child to think, not how to think. We are there to provide a sense of security and adequate amounts of love while guiding them. Personally, I don’t get caught up in the ‘good’ parent label because it’s relative. I gauge my success by the questions my son asks me, the gleam in his eyes, and smile that’s always on his face when he sees me.”
Dealing with the aftermath of a divorce and a child custody decision is never easy. But by following these five tips, you can make the following years easier and ensure that your kids grow up happy and with a stable, loving relationship with both you and your ex.