Helping Non Custodial Parents Maintain Relationships
1. Your child needs your consistent attention and concern.
You are now in the difficult position of having a child that needs you but does not live with you. It is probably a position you do not feel too happy about. Some noncustodial parents, experiencing so much pain in seeing their child only occasionally and in watching their relationship becoming fragmented, stop visiting with the child altogether. This can have disastrous consequences for a child. It is extremely important for the healthy development of children that if at all possible they relate to both parents on a regular, dependable basis. The fact that the effort to relate to your children is more difficult after a divorce is not an acceptable excuse for not filling this basic need.
It is important that you, as the noncustodial parent, establish a consistent way to maintain contact with your child. When and how often you see your child may fluctuate depending on your son’s or daughter’s interests and needs. Perhaps during the swimming season, you will see your son several times a week because you yourself are a swimmer and meet him several times a week for a workout. Or your daughter may get a part-time job after school and on weekends that limits the amount of time she can spend at your house for many months.
You have commitments yourself, and it may be impossible always to be available to spend time with your child when he or she is free. With both younger children and teens, however, the absent parent needs to be willing to assume the majority of responsibility in facilitating visitations. You can’t leave it up to the child, or the other parent.
Two good ways to keep in contact with your child are to either call at a mutually convenient time each week or to email (if the child as a private account) several times per week. Use these opportunities to share what is happening in each of your lives and to discuss and finalize upcoming plans to get together. If your child can commit to a regular visitation schedule, this will be easier for everyone, but realize that this is seldom possible with adolescents.
Most noncustodial parents are fathers. A father’s input into his child’s life is important at every age, but contact with him is especially important during the teenage years. Boys need to relate to an adult male for their own identity formation, and girls too need the support and admiration of their fathers. Research has shown that adolescents who have a positive relationship with their fathers have better self-esteem and academic success. Both boys and girls who have strong relationships with their fathers are less likely to get into difficulties in their teens.
There may be times when making the effort to keep in touch with your children seems like too much trouble. Perhaps your former spouse makes arranging visitations very difficult, or the last time you were with your child you felt that the child seemed bored, or your new girlfriend (boyfriend) or spouse does not like sharing you with your children. In spite of these or a myriad of other reasons, please go ahead with the visits as planned. Keep at it; you will realize later how important it was to make the effort.
2. Don’t expect too much immediate gratification from your children.
Noncustodial parents sometimes make the mistake of expecting too much emotional support and recognition from their children. They are then disappointed when they feel their child has let them down. An adolescent’s world is often self-centered and peer-oriented. Your 15-year-old daughter, for example, may be much happier on Saturday afternoon to get a call from her boyfriend than from her dad. Your 18-year-old son may say “no” to playing golf with his mom on Saturday morning but energetically go out to play basketball with his friends that same day.
Your birthday or Fathers’ or Mothers’ Day may go unnoticed. Do not take this personally. Remember, you are the adult and it is the child who needs you to model caring, responsible behavior – whether you get the “strokes” you need or not. Keep sending cards and presents and get-well notes to your teenager. You are setting an example of how to care for someone when they are far away.
This is an important lesson for your child to learn: that you can think about, care for, and love another person even if you don’t live with them. As your child matures and internalizes such caring behavior, you may someday find that your son goes out and selects a special Christmas gift for you or your daughter calls you up and invites you out to lunch. Then all your years of faithfulness will be repaid.
A noncustodial parent must put a lot of energy into the long-range goal of the development of an emotionally healthy child and the creation of a positive, lifelong parent-child relationship. Considerable time and thoughtfulness are required of you now, and much of the payoff will not come for years. Of course, there are many joys you will experience in spending time with your child, but the most important satisfaction you will have is in knowing you have contributed substantially to your child’s development and future well-being.
We provide straightforward legal help for clients. Call our Augusta office at 207-622-6900
or use our convenient online form