Making your children part of your family, when they don’t live with you
One million fathers in the UK don't live with their children. Break-up, divorce, remarriage and re-partnering have all dramatically changed the structure of family life over the past 50 years
The circumstances surrounding a Dad living apart from a child are often complex and emotionally charged. Dad’s often face the judgement of the outside world, family members and their own ‘inner’ voice – the negative things they tell themselves. The trouble with negative inner judgement is that it’s a powerful way to eat away at your self-esteem and it will destroy your inner confidence if you let it. So, you have to learn to control it and feed your own wellbeing and positive inner voice.
In particular, Dads apart from their children face the challenge of:
• The loss of everyday fatherhood
• Stress, if they are battling with an ex-partner and trying to help children torn between the two worlds
• Guilt, tormenting themselves by taking on too much responsibility
• Shame, if they’ve lost residency
• Social stigma – due to living apart from their children
Although it might feel very difficult, it is possible to find inner peace and happiness living apart from a child. Many Dads I work with say that just knowing that they’re not the only one comes as a relief.
Tips to help Dads living apart from their children
- Learn to relax and let go of any unnecessary guilt or shame you might feel and don’t try too hard! Don’t overcompensate with indulging your children when they come to stay with you. Write down some key house rules around behaviour, bedtime, computer and TV use, homework & chores and stick to them. It gives your children structure and they feel more secure and safe with firm, fair, consistent boundaries. Of course, your rules may be different to their Mum’s but children soon adapt and thrive in both homes.
- Create a space for your child to feel relaxed, welcome & included. Have fun chatting, designing and decorating their new bedroom together. It makes them feel part of your new home. Let them keep ‘stuff’ at your home and have ‘extras’ like school shoes, PE Kit and felt pens at your house for those emergencies when they forget to bring their things with them. Ask their opinion about the way you do things at your house and have the intention to make this their home too.
- Don’t compete for your child’s love. Raising a happy, confident, independent, resilient child is not a competition. So, don’t try to be a bigger, brighter, or ‘better’ parent than your ex - be the best version of you that you can be. Be patient, present, kind, involved and a great listener. Build the bonds between you and build the memories that will last a lifetime for you both.
- Do the ordinary. Hear your kids read, walk the dog together, let them help you do the washing and ironing and play with them. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling that you have to take them to Disney World every weekend or when they are with you. Kids love T-I-M-E…. so spend time with them doing the ordinary things that all families do. It normalises your relationship and stops it being a big deal that you’ve split up.
- Be your child’s Father, not their friend. Separation means that your child needs consistency and security now more than ever before. Know that without a doubt, loving your child also means saying ‘No’.
- Create your own traditions when your kids come to visit or stay. Ride bikes, go swimming, have fun bowling, cook together or watch the X Factor as a family. It’s a new opportunity to do lovely things together your way. Don’t focus on what you’ve lost, focus on what you’ve gained.
Becoming a separated dad when you’ve been a full-time parent isn’t easy. Trying to adapt from being with them all the time, to limited visits maybe once or twice a week – or even less in some cases – can be heart breaking, for you and for them at the beginning.
It’s at times like this that talking to other parents, or to someone impartial outside your situation, is so important.
Stay positive. Be upbeat and Enjoy the time you DO have together.
Article written by Sue Atkins
Sue Atkins is an internationally recognised Parenting Expert, Broadcaster, Speaker and Author of the Amazon best-selling books “Parenting Made Easy – How to Raise Happy Children” & “Raising Happy Children for Dummies" one in the famous black and yellow series as well as author of the highly-acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs, Apps and resources.
She regularly appears on the award-winning flagship ITV show “This Morning” and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and is the parenting expert for many BBC Radio Stations around the UK as well as the parenting expert on SKY News. She has a regular monthly parenting phone- in on BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester and her parenting articles are published all over the world.