Divorce for most parents means seeing less of your child and that physical time apart may have you questioning how you can stay an involved father after divorce.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to a new guest, David. He was married for twelve and half years and has been divorced now for about seven years. When he and his wife separated his three children who were aged twelve, seven and three. David says he was always an actively engaged father and that perhaps was not what his wife had expected either consciously or subconsciously. Being an involved father was always important to him and he hasn’t let divorce change that. Here’s David:
I think that my most significant accomplishment is remaining an extremely involved father. I know there are many kids in my children’s school that the dad, once the going got rough — for various reasons — the dad ends up less and less in the picture and I have really, for seven-plus years, fought aggressively for that not to happen. I think it has been a surprise to my ex that I am so willing and so aggressive about making sure I get at least my 50 percent.
In a typical month I actually see my kids more than half the time and they often express a preference to be here at my house.
I think that part of the picture of our divorce is that both my ex and I grew up in typical 50’s families, where dad was gone and working and when he was home, he was tired. So, my childhood was really my mom, my sister and I. My dad was definitely involved. I never had a doubt that he loved us and was engaged, but he just didn’t have the bandwidth and the time. He was very much trapped in that position of, “I’m going to show you I love you more by earning more.”
There were times when he was working seven days a week, driving away and being in a corporate office for 9-10 hours. My ex had a very similar sort of experience where her mom was very much the active and participatory parent and her dad built a business. He was at his office/shop a ton and he was home very occasionally. So, her experience and her model of parenting was “mother knows best” and mother does everything and father pops in occasionally to say “that a girl!” to mom and “good job kids” and then took them out for ice cream.
I was never that parent and I’ve always had the luxury of working out of the house and being the master of my own career, always very participatory. I think that was really one of the problems in our relationship. It might sound a little strange from the perspective of maybe a single mom who wishes that her husband or that her now ex was more involved, but I think that it was something where her expectation was that parenting and the children were her kingdom and she would be able to just make all the decisions without even discussing them with me. That just never was something that worked in our relationship and continues, frankly, to be a sticking point. It continues to be something that causes trouble between us and a lot of confusion for our children. I think that this is probably, at this point, 20+ years into our relationship, so I expect that this is just our shared destiny.
I think the impression I always had from my father is that he wanted to be more involved but felt trapped in his business, trapped in his career. There certainly wasn’t the latitude for him to say, “Well, I’m going to take a year off. Let’s go and travel.” We were, I guess, reasonably comfortable, but still lower middle class. We weren’t blue collar. I didn’t grow up in a blue collar neighborhood but we definitely did not have BMWs or Lamborghinis or $5000 sports bicycles or anything like that. We made do, but I think that my vision of parenting was always, “This is really, really important.”
It’s never too early to be a participatory dad and any mom who’s really thinking the situation through should be super supportive of everything that a dad tries to do rather than being very critical. Just because a guy does it differently, it doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong. I hear this again and again and again from men, whether they’re married or single. Like “I changed the diaper differently than how my wife did and she came in and told me I did it wrong, re-diapered the baby and I was so furious.” There are so many ways to parent that don’t involve one person being right and one person being wrong.
The Divorce Coach Says:
This is not a post just for fathers to read but it’s also important for moms. David raises an interesting point about how our upbringing influences not only how we want to parent but also what we expect of our co-parent and those expectations, unless you consciously recognized them and choose to change them, will endure post-divorce.
I’ve run into plenty of situations where unlike David, the other parent becomes a better dad following divorce. That can be very frustrating and can become a bone of contention with the parent who’s always been there thinking, “Where were you five years ago?”
My starting position is that it is always better for children to have two actively involved parents and it’s never too late to start. If you are delayed getting started on this then it’ll be important to acknowledge, recognize and genuinely appreciate the work that your co-parent has been carrying so far, and to communicate that to them.
If your co-parent is wanting to be more involved or even if they are already actively involved, you may be wishing they weren’t. That desire may come because quite frankly decision-making is much simpler if you have free rein. With two actively-involved parents decision-making is more complicated and more time-consuming. It means you have to figure out first how to communicate and then how to resolve differences. There will always be differences and resolving them can be as much about agreeing to disagreeing as about agreeing.
Fear of a parent becoming more actively involved can also stem from a fear of losing your child to that parent. That I think can lead to all sorts of unhealthy complications especially for your child. That fear hints of seeing your parenting relationship more of an either/or situation rather than embracing the value that you both bring. Underlying that is often a lack of confidence in yourself and in your parenting and that’s where taking a parenting program such as Love and Logic may help both you and your child.
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