Hi Dr. Meg,
I probably have more questions than I wish I had. I am going through a divorce. We have two daughters, a five-year-old and a three-year-old.
The current state of our divorce is that my ex-wife wants majority custody of our girls and for me to pay child support. She says I was never there for the girls, always gone, busy, basically non-existent.
I’ll admit I was not perfect, but I was around. I feel she is lashing out at me because of her past and to make herself feel more like the victim instead of the one that gave up on the family. She seems very lost to me.
My greatest concern is that of my girls. What signs do I need to be aware of, good or bad? Is there anything—more facts that I can use to show the importance of the father that I can present?
I work three, 12-hour shifts a week, so my work schedule is very beneficial for time with my daughters also.
I’ll take any recommendations you have! Books to read, anything. I do not want my girls falling into a trap I can’t get them out of.
Thanks for all the great work you do in a very difficult field and the books you write!
– Concerned Dad
Dear Concerned Dad,
You sound like a good man who is trying to work hard to make your marriage work. Here’s the reality: daughters need time with their fathers, so you must fight for it. Studies show that daughters with fathers who are present and engaged in their lives suffer less depression, anxiety, do better in school, have higher self-esteem, the list goes on and on. If I were in your shoes, this is what I would try:
Tell your wife that you want to help her co-parent well.
Being a single mother is no easy task and since you want to be an involved, engaged father, tell her that it would really help her to have you be very involved.
Ask your wife to give you a list of three things (or more) that she would like for you to honor (with regard to parenting) and tell her that you will do those things.
For instance, if she wants the girls in bed at 9:00 p.m., to eat only vegetarian meals, whatever, that you will follow those rules because creating similar home environments is important to the girls. Then, give her three things that you really want her to do on your behalf. Make those three things important. For instance, instead of having them on weekends and Wednesday nights, you’d like them two nights per week. I have found that if one parent is willing to honor the other, the other parent is far more likely to follow suit.
Expect your daughters to be angry and distant for a while.
Your girls hate what is going on, I guarantee you. The only way they can express this is to get angry with the parent they feel most comfortable with. That may be you. So, over the next few years, don’t be put off by their anger and don’t take them personally.
Spend as much one-on-one time with each of them as you can.
Give each girl an opportunity to have fun and have you all to herself. This will mean a lot to them.
NEVER criticize their mother in front of them.
Be sure to have them speak well of her and don’t berate her. When kids hear a parent criticize the other parent, they run to that parent’s defense and close off emotionally. Your job is to give your daughters a safe place to express their genuine emotions and not be worried about yours or what you will say about their mother.
Make sure you have a good lawyer.
The courts, in my experience, favor mothers and often good fathers get pushed aside to the enormous detriment of the kids. The only way to fight this is to have a good lawyer who will fight for you to have more time with your girls.