Feeling abandoned and being separated from a child are two of the most painful experiences a person can have. I have learned this by listening to many children who have felt abandoned by death or divorce and from parents who have been separated from their children, usually through divorce.
Most of the parents who relate their pain to me are fathers. That’s because in my state of Michigan, fathers automatically get less time with their children than do their ex-wives, unless they hire a good lawyer and fight for shared custody.
Studies show that when fathers get less time with their kids and especially if they are separated geographically, the relationship between the father and his kids slowly disintegrates. This is a terrible situation for both Dad and the kids, so here are a few ways that you can help prevent this from happening if you are separated from your kids.
1. Expect your kids to go through a period where they don’t want to see you because they’re mad.
When this happens, don’t take it personally and whatever you do, keep the contact up. Email, hand-write letters or call at least every other day. If you were living in the same home, you would talk at least every day, so compare your effort at communication with being at home with them.
2. See them face to face as frequently as possible.
Sometimes this is not possible if you live in different states. If Mom moves the kids away, move close by if you can. You may need to switch jobs or take a pay cut, but do it. It is most important to be close until they are 18, so sacrifice what is needed for those crucial years.
3. Take them on vacations.
Work hard to get along well with your ex so that he/she will assist you in taking your kids away on vacation. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, but borrow a tent, find a campground and get the kids away with you for at least a week out of the year. If they don’t want to go, then take a week’s vacation and park yourself near them and take them on day trips. Let them know that you’re not going away and that you will do anything to be with them.
4. Know what’s going on in their day-to-day lives.
Ask their mother what they do at school and if she doesn’t communicate, go speak with their teachers. Show up at school, athletic events, or as a scouting trip chaperone. Offer to help with homework over the Internet. You can edit papers or read reports online. Let them know that you remain interested in all of their work. You’re not interested just in their grades, but you are also interested in what they like and don’t like about school.
5. Use Skype.
Regardless of where your kids are, you can always use Skype to video chat for free. So, there’s no excuse not to make Skype dates a couple of times per week. If they claim they are too busy, work around their schedules.
6. Be patient with them.
Kids from divorce (even from “friendly divorces” where parents get along well) feel that you have abandoned them and they are mad. Try as you might to convince them that you haven’t abandoned them, that’s how they often feel, so you need to help them deal with those feelings.
The first few years after the divorce are critical years where you need to show them that you are there for them—you just aren’t in the same house. The best way to communicate this is to pursue them year in and year out. Don’t be overbearing and bossy, but let them know that you are serious about loving them and staying close to them emotionally.
7. Remember that your separation may be temporary.
As kids mature, they have the choice where they can live and you want your home to be a place they choose to live in during summers between high school or college.
8. Read The Runaway Bunny.
Maybe you read it to your kids when they were little, so go read it for yourself this time. What your kids need is for you to follow them wherever they go, just like the Mother Bunny did.