Separation and/or divorce throws you in different directions in your life. It may have you playing both mum and dad (MAD) during your care period for any kids from your relationship — a role that needs to be engaged in full during ‘your’ time with the children.
While I can’t say I am a ‘dad’, my recent interactions with separated dads suggests a need to offer some practical tips dads can adopt — or at least consider — during the early days post-separation.
Watching my ex manoeuvre and make mistakes during our separation and hearing the challenges experienced by my tribe has inspired the following suggestions!
The following tips are to help dads and their children transition into their new home — to make the ride a little less bumpy.
8 ways dad can ease the transition for children
1. Prepare, Prepare
Preparation is key, avoid doing chores unless they include the kids.
Planning ahead and preparing your new home prior to the kids arriving to spend time with you will allow you to have more quality time with them.
Consider buying the groceries, and stocking the cupboard with favourite snacks to help them feel more at home. This will also tell your kids that you considered what they like and prepared thoughtfully to make their time with you more comfortable.
Setting up their new room with photos of moments shared together, definitely helped my kids. If you are able to accommodate a photo of the other parent in your kids’ room, this may also help the kids feel a little better when they miss the other parent (obviously this may not suit every situation but if you can overcome this minor hurdle, it may help your little ones!).
- Plan ahead.
- Set up photos in their bedroom.
- Shop for favourite snacks.
2. Talk to other dads/MADs (mum and dads)
Find other dads to talk to and to share tips with. Perhaps other separated dads at your work or perhaps in separation groups or forums. This will not only allow you to explore ways others are doing the single parenting hustle but will also help you make friends.
3. Put devices away
Quality time is vital. Putting away your devices and engaging in direct conversation or activities will really help the kids leave feeling like they have spent quality time with you. Seeing you on the phone working or chatting to new friends may leave your kids feeling deflated and unimportant.
Child psychologist Kim Shortridge says “separating parents can get stuck on the idea of being ‘fun’, thinking their children need stimulation and enjoyment over this time. What they really need is YOU. Being with your child, doing the things they like (such as playing at the park, or reading books), and connecting, will give them many positive messages about your relationship with them, their importance to you, and give them a sense of safety.”
It’s not about doing things; it’s about being with.
- Disconnect devices (at least for part of the time you spend with the kids).
4. Learn new skills
Gentleman, if you have young daughters, you may find yourself being asked to tie their hair or to buy hair spray for crazy hair day at school (found in most $2 shops)!
Arming yourself with new skills pretty quickly via the following resources may help you.
- YouTube — there are plenty of tutorials that explain how to tie-up hair.
- Purchase a hair detangler and spray it through towel-dried, clean hair. The detangler helps separate knotty hair!
- Ben (dad to an 8-year-old daughter) suggests getting daughters to use towel wraps to make hair drying easier.
5. Cook ahead
Consider cooking ahead before the kids arrived. This will prevent you ordering take away or being overwhelmed trying to do it all when the kids are at your place.
Cooking together should also be considered if your kids are a little older. This allows you to spend time with your kids while teaching them great skills to look after themselves. This activity is one I have always used as “connect” time with my own kids.
6. Setting up activities
The activities do not need to be expensive. This action helps the kids get excited when they come to spend time with you and also gives them memories to carry with them.
- Go to the park
- Go bowling
7. Routine, routine
Setting up a regular routine benefits the kids and yourself as you then have predictable periods of time.
The usual homework, showers, dinner/bath and story time really does work (at least it did for many dads I’ve spoken to who have been through the same thing).
It would be even more helpful to align yourself to the same or at least similar routine to one that is followed by your ex. This really helped my children be a little more settled. Consistency, consistency. This will not work for some situations though!
Reading to the kids in bed is loved by most young kids This is an oldie but a goody. Reading to kids in bed has so many benefits. Even better yet, take turns reading to each other. This is a great bedtime routine for young — pre teens. It gives your quality time together!
Here are a few books that may help set the “situation” for kids:
- Mum and Dad Glue By Kes Gray. Abook for younger kids. The book is about a boy who tries to glue his mum and dad together because they are separating
- Two Homes by Claire Masurel. My kids used this one. It talks about the positives gained from having 2 homes to go to.
- The Suitcase Kid by Jacquline Wilson. This is about a little girl who has to spend one week with mum and the other with dad and his new partner.
8. Arm yourself with support!
In an ideal situation these issues/topics can be resolved as a partnership with both parents together. Today, however the ideal is becoming less “common” and we find ourselves having to navigate certain situations! Enjoy taking on the role of a MAD (mum and dad) either part time or full time!
Finding a tribe to navigate through this volatile time has been imperative during my separation.
A final note for parents of teenagers …
If you are a dad to a teen, teen coach Davina Donovan suggests: “Be ‘dad’ to your teen. There is no need to try to take on the role of mum and dad — just be you. Keep things as normal as possible for your teen, while acknowledging any difficulties they might be having with the separation. Do this by validating their experience. But at the end of the day, they just want their dad to be ‘normal’ and to not try too hard”.