Staying Involved in the Life of Your Child

Vince Regan
December, 2001

This article is designed to give you some practical tips on remaining involved in your kids' life as you adjust to a new, and often very difficult lifestyle.

When custody disputes result in one parent seeing their child only every other weekend and one night a week (or less!) it can seem like an insurmountable adjustment. I've known single parents who have felt that it just might be best if they quietly disappear from their child's life - somehow thinking they are going to be doing the child a favor (you won't be). I've known single parents who have felt replaced because their ex now has a new love interest who may or may not be attempting to fill the role you once held (no one can replace your role as mom or dad to your child).

This adjustment, to being a visitor in your kids' life, is among the most difficult aspects of being a non-custodial parent. Before going further let's get rid of the political correctness that has so absorbed our culture today. Re-read the first sentence in this paragraph. It incenses many people that parents are referred to as visitors and the more socially acceptable term for many is "parenting time." I can write a separate article on why you should be incensed that the term "parenting time" is being used when the reality is visitation. When I write it I'll add a link to it. For now, suffice it to say this article discusses a new role in your child's life - a role where you don't see them as often as you were able previously.

Some of the ideas here are age dependant. They are in no particular order. You can do many of them when the kids aren't with you-to let them know you are thinking of them and love them. Note that your court order might, unfortunately, bar some of the ideas mentioned. Also note, it makes no difference whether you are the mom or dad, all of these ideas work for any parent who doesn't spend as much time with their kids as they would like.

1. Make your time together fun. I know some disagree with this line of advice and there are often charges of being a Disneyland parent-but it surely beats a miserable time together and those who level the Disneyland parent charges haven't likely tried to "just hang out" with two, three of four young kids in a cramped apartment for 48 hours. I'm not saying the activities you choose have to be expensive. I used to have this fun method of letting the kids pick the activities we would do. And they could be items that didn't cost a cent like: going to the park, taking a hike in the woods, sledding, packing a picnic lunch, ones that had a small cost like getting an ice cream cone, renting a video, or going to the zoo. Part of the fun is how you set it up. We had a list of about 50 activities like those mentioned above and posted it on the refrigerator. Each was numbered and we had a jar with the numbers written on slips of paper. I'd try to allow the child (I had four at the time) who had something special happening in their life-maybe making the honor roll, just doing well on a special class project, etc... be the one to pick from the jar. Whatever they picked-zoo, picnic, visit to the dairy queen, etc... we did it, right then. It was important to have the list on the refrigerator for a couple reasons-it was a visual reminder to them of the fun things we could do and it was hung up at dad's apartment-meaning fun things could be done with dad.

2. Write to them. I used to get small boxes of self-mailing postcards from the post office or Hallmark store. I'd sit down during lunch or after getting to a hotel at night (I used to travel often when working) and jot down a note telling them about my day, or asking about theirs, talking about what we might do the next time we got together, or wishing them luck on their upcoming test, project, or event. Just the mere writing and mailing of the cards helped me feel much better-and my kids grew to love getting them.

3. E-mail or instant message them. In today's world there are more ways than ever to keep in touch. Using e-mail and instant messaging is one of those new ways that is often convenient for everyone involved. I wouldn't consider this in lieu of sending regular postal letters or postcards (it's often nice for a kid to get mail and have that item to open and hold onto), but in addition to other methods of communication. It's also worth mentioning that sometimes, unfortunately, the other parent can be unnecessarily intercepting, or defeating, other forms of communication by not providing mail to the kids or not allowing them on the phone, etc... .If your child has an email account or instant message account this is often a way around the meddling of the other parent. (Note that there are some circumstances where I'd advocate that the other parent does meddle-so I cannot condemn those who do without knowing more. But the majority of the cases I have seen involve the meddling only as a means of vindictiveness/control and not out of a genuine safety concern for the child.)

4. Extra-curricular Activities. If they are into sports or other extra-curricular activities there are numerous ways to get involved. From Cub Scouts/Girl Scouts to piano lessons or Karate Class, you can get involved. Offering to be the mode of transportation to and from practices or games might be welcomed by the ex and allows you to get extra time with your child and exposure to his or her friends at the same time. Most sports teams and other activities benefit from involved parents. You might volunteer to be a Cub Scout den leader, the little league coach, or the parent who plans the end of season picnic, the fundraising parent, scorekeeper or any number of other volunteer jobs depending on the activity. Whatever their interests, make them your interests and get involved.

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