When parents separate, dads tend to get a worse parenting rep than moms do, even when they want to continue parenting as best as they can. Yes, it can be difficult to be a good parent when going through a tough time—breakups, especially those that involve ongoing conflicts with an ex-partner, bring about emotions like anger, sadness, and loneliness, which can already be quite overwhelming without the added responsibility of parenting.
Here are some tips for dads that will help both them and their children navigate the separation. (Please note that these tips assume that the fathers have at least some contact with their children, which we know is unfortunately not always the case).
Keep children out of conflicts between you and your ex-partner
Children can sustain psychological damage from seeing their parents arguing, yelling, and using physical violence, so it’s crucial that you are able to develop a civil relationship with your ex-partner. This means avoiding arguments from taking place in front of your children. If it is too hard to do this, then perhaps look into a “change-over” service that ensures that parents don’t need to come into contact when transferring children from one parent to the other.
If you do find yourself in an argument with your ex-partner while your kids are present, then as soon as you notice where the discussion is going, suggest to your ex-partner that you both take a break to calm down before starting the conversation again.
Be sure to communicate directly with your ex-partner instead of using your children as a messenger, and try to remember that your ex-partner is still your children’s parent and that it isn’t helpful to put them down or undermine their parenting in front of your children.
Be as involved as you can after separation
There have been studies that show children who have a father who is involved in their lives have a higher chance of developing good self-esteem, moral strength, and intellectual and social competence. However, the benefits aren’t just one-sided. Fathers also enhance their own well-being and psychological growth by being closely involved with their children.
Even if you may not always live with your children, there are still many ways that you can ensure your involvement in important milestones and events in your children’s lives. For instance, make an effort to attend parent/teacher conferences, and perhaps make some space on your schedule so you can volunteer at your children’s school. Celebrate your children’s birthdays, even if you can’t be with each other on the actual date, and be there for their sporting events, dance recitals, and plays.
Continue to show your love and support once separated
Unfortunately, many children, unable to understand the complexities of adult relationships, start to think that there is something wrong with them and blame themselves for their parents’ separation. All kids need to be reminded that they are loved, but children whose parents are separated or going through the separation are especially vulnerable and need even more reassurance of their parents’ love. Make sure that you explain to them very clearly that they are not responsible for the separation and that you love them just as much as you did before.
Develop a shared parenting plan
After separation, parents will have to work together to ensure that everyday parenting issues such as bedtime, television and computer use, and levels of discipline for certain transgressions are still consistent. Having consistent routines and predictable boundaries are good for children as they develop and will also help them feel more secure as they move between two homes. If working directly with your partner is too difficult due to ongoing conflict, perhaps seek out the help of a professional mediator.
The opportunity of separation
Separation is not easy, but it does present the opportunity of building a deeper, stronger, and closer relationship with your children. Parenting as a couple often leads to one parent taking on the nurturing role while the other takes on the disciplinary role. Separation presents fathers and mothers with the challenge of encompassing all roles, which, if you’re up for the challenge, can make the parenting experience even more enriching for both parents and children.