It’s normal to worry about your relationship with your kids after a divorce or separation – especially if you’ll be spending less time with them.
This can be a very challenging time for children, whatever their age. It can take time to adjust to a new routine of moving back and forth between parents.
While all this change can be hard on everyone, it’s important to focus on your kids’ needs every step of the way.
We hope this advice helps you navigate coparenting and fatherhood after separation.
Manage Your Own Feelings
Separation can bring up a lot of difficult feelings, especially when kids are involved. Anger, disappointment, and guilt are all common emotions following a relationship breakdown.
It’s crucial that you manage any negative feelings toward your coparent and the situation to avoid projecting them onto your children.
You want them to grow up in a safe and supportive environment, not around parents who outwardly dislike each other or hold onto resentments.
If you’re feeling hurt, angry, or anxious, lean on your support networks and talk to someone you trust.
It can also be helpful to speak to a professional counsellor. Counselling is a safe and confidential environment for you to get things off your chest and find healthy ways to cope.
Working through your emotions will help you heal and be the happiest and healthiest version of you, and in turn, the best dad you can be for your kids.
Don’t Play Favourites
The last thing kids want when their parents break up is to feel like they have to pick a side.
Kids should be supported to maintain a positive relationship with both parents. Turning it into a competition to be the ‘favourite’ is unhealthy and uncomfortable for everyone.
Even if you have some negative feelings toward your ex, it’s important to remain respectful when your child is around and support their relationship with each other.
And remember, it’s normal for kids to miss one parent when they’re with the other. Try not to take this personally – they very likely miss you when you’re apart too! Don’t guilt your child for wanting to spend time with their other parent, and don’t take this out on your coparent.
If you’re having a hard time feeling like your child prefers their other parent, the advice in this blog post might help: When Your Child Favours Their Other Parent after Divorce.
Make Your Home Feel Like Their Home
Even if your kids only visit every second weekend, remember that they aren’t visitors – they live with you. Your home is their home, and they should feel safe and comfortable whenever they’re with you.
Create a space that feels warm and inviting, and make sure their rooms have all the necessities as well as personal touches to make them smile.
It can help to involve them in the decorating process so they have a sense of control over their new room and look forward to spending time there. This could be a fun bonding exercise and put a positive and exciting spin on having a second bedroom.
Make the Most of Your Time Together
One of the best ways to be a good dad is to really be present and engaged with your kids.
Quality time means giving them your full attention and making an effort to get to know them. Ask them about their interests and ideas without the TV or your phone distracting you.
Kids need plenty of reassurance from their parents following a separation, so be sure to give them plenty of hugs and positive affirmation such as:
- I love you
- I will always be here for you
- I love spending time with you
- Playing with you is my favourite part of the week
- I’m always thinking of you, even when we’re apart.
How you interact with your kids now will set the foundation for your relationship into the future. Remember that only you are responsible for your relationship with them, and show them how important they are by really making the most of your time together.
Pay Attention to Their Behaviour
Separation and divorce can be a difficult and traumatic time for kids of any age. It’s important that you keep an eye out for any concerning changes in behaviour that might indicate they need further support.
Some signs your kids might be struggling include:
- More frequent crying
- Increased fear of things
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Increased fear of abandonment
- Increased irritability and outbursts
- Clinging to caregivers more than usual
- Complaints of headaches or tummy aches
- Misbehaving or declining grades in school
- Regressing to younger behaviours (e.g. thumb sucking).
If you think your child is having a hard time coping with your separation or divorce, you should talk to the other adults in their life to let them know. This might include their coparent and grandparents (if safe to do so), teachers, and any other babysitters or carers concerned.
It’s important that everyone around them is looking out for them and doing what they can to support them during this difficult time. If you think they need extra support to work through things, help is available.
RAQ offers counselling for individuals, couples, and families in a safe and non-judgemental environment. We can also refer you to child-specific services like Headspace and Kids Helpline if needed.
You can learn more about our counselling service here, or call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment in person, over the phone, or via Zoom video call.
We offer more helpful advice in this blog post: Tips for Separating with Kids