The many moving parts of a divorce can make parenting extra difficult. For fathers, maintaining healthy relationships with children can be especially challenging without the right help and approach. Here are four strategies to help you ensure your father-child relationship continues to be a success through the tough transition of a divorce.
- Practice Great Co-Parenting
The start of healthy parent-child relationships during a divorce starts with the relationship two parents have with one another. The way you and your co-parent communicate, relate, and make decisions can have significant effects on your relationship with your child and his or her overall health.
According to Victor W. Harris, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist1 “Divorced co-parents need to keep their children’s best interests in mind, control their anger, choose not to put the ex-partner down in front of their children. Co-parents should avoid unintentionally putting the children in the middle of a conflict, encourage their children to have an ongoing relationship with their ex-partner, and not allow children to play the co-parents against each other.”
Starting with these fundamentals of co-parenting will help build a strong framework for a healthy father-child relationship.
- Give Your Child a Voice and an Ear
One of the best ways to promote healthy relationships with anyone, especially children coping with divorce, is to offer them the opportunity to be heard. Open lines of communication between a father and children can have significant long-term payoffs.
“Children often have very mixed feelings after a family change, such as a separation or divorce. They need to know that this is normal” according to Pat Tanner Nelson, Ed.D., Extension Family & Human Development Specialist with the University of Delaware. Among Dr. Nelson’s key tips for making sure a child feels heard are:
- Listen for the feelings behind your child’s words and/or body language;
- Sum up your child’s feelings after they’ve been heard to ensure you understand; and
- Let your child know that you can handle their difficult emotions and opinions to foster a continuing open dialogue.
For more tips on how to foster healthy communication in the midst of a divorce, check out When a Family Breaks Up: Divorce and Separation (University of Delaware Cooperative Extension).
- Avoid Negative Talk About the Other Parent
Keeping a child from their other parent, or speaking ill against them to or around your child can have a long lasting negative impact and with the child's relationship with that parent.
This approach to interacting with children can be tempting during tough times, whether it is because of relationship tension or differences in parental approaches. To avoid potential damage to your parent-child relationship, reach out to professional support resources, like the NRFC hotline (1-877-432-3411), and responsible fatherhood programs, like those listed on the NRFC’s Connect with Programs.
- Preserve Important Routines
One of the best ways to support and maintain stability in your relationship and your child’s health is to maintain routines where possible. Dr. Elizabeth Park2 offered this advice to dads and parents “Routines help children feel safe and secure because they know what to expect. After a family change — like a divorce or separation — routines become even more important. As much as possible, keep bedtime, mealtimes, and school routines regular.”
These four strategies will help you develop a strong start and solid foundation for having a successful long-term relationship with your child during and after divorces. We know things get tough, so if you are in need of additional resources and extra help, you can reach out to the NRFC’s hotline at 1-877-4DAD411 or 1(877) 432-3411.
Jovan Hackley, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse team member and outreach and strategy consultant
1Harris, V. (2014, January 17). Tips for Service Providers: Healthy Parenting Practices. Retrieved August 28, 2015, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270882367_Tips_for_Service_Providers_Healthy_Parenting_Practices
2 Park, E. When A Family Breaks Up: Divorce and Separation in Nelson, P.T. (Ed.). (2012) Families Matter! A Newsletter Series for Parents of School-Age Youth. Newark, DE: Cooperative Extension, University of Delaware.