Ten Steps For Divorced Fathers
Presented by the Stepfamily Foundation. Written by Jeannette Lofas, Ph.D., LCSW
- Guilt. Know that you are not alone in feeling guilty about your divorce. Most men of divorce feel guilt because they lost their family and their power as father to that family. He may also feel guilty if he believes the mother of his children is not doing an adequate job of parenting.
- Make the most of your visitation. On the average, fathers of divorce and remarriage see their children every other weekend, Wednesday nights, alternate holidays and for a month or two in the summer. Visitation needs to be set precisely and specifically because children need predictability. Dad must arrive on time to pick them up and also to deliver them. Five o'clock on Friday is not five-thirty. Bringing them back on time is essential, too.
- The children at your house. Your children need to become part of your household, not just guests in your home. If you are married or living with a woman, you must confer with her and decide specifically what your expectations as a couple are towards the visiting children. What constitutes appropriate behavior and acceptable manners must be decided upon by the couple. Chores must be assigned; making beds, helping with meals, keeping the bathroom clean, etc. Structure equals love. Chaos and unpredictability will create low self-esteem in a child.
- Don’t be a wimp father. Most men, even the strongest and most powerful wimp-out and turn into 90 lb. weaklings when their children visit. They endeavor to be a "buddy" to their child. We so often hear fathers saying, "I see them so little, I don't want to waste time being their disciplinarian." This attitude often results in upsetting the wife or female partner as the children get more and more out of control. Remember, discipline means guidance.
- Create high self esteem in your children. This is done by creating predictable expectations for your children when they come to your house. Predictable rules and regulations as to what they can and can't do will make your children feel safe and secure.
- Money. It is often best when children visit to give them a specific allowance for the time they will be with you. In return for the money the child receives, he/she is expected to be a good citizen of the household, do chores, and then use the money as he or she sees fit (example: a good rule of thumb is to give your kid enough money for a trip to the movies, some time at the video arcade, a couple of slices of pizza, etc). Providing less than what is usual and customary for weekend spending will result in your having to dip into your pocket again anyway. If a child needs extra money, we advocate "extra pay for extra jobs."
- Maintain couple strength. Work together with your partner. Do not argue in front of the children. Discussion is OK, but arguments are not. Be respectful of her reality as well as your own regarding the assignment of chores. Work this out between you, or seek the help of a Stepfamily Foundation counselor. The couple makes two pillars which hold the family together: she is the female head of the household; he is the male head of the household.
- Discipline. The couple decides on The Rules of the House: chores and manners. The biological parent disciplines the child, whenever possible. The stepparent says, "In this house we ..."
- Create a structure at your house. This requires extending The Rules of the House to all events, such as a system for helping with the dishes, yard work, making your bed, keeping your room in order, and helping adults. This structure makes it easy for kids to know what to do at your house. It does not matter that the rules are different than Mom's.
Creating a structure means creating high self-esteem. A child likes him/herself better when they know that they have done a good job and are part of a team.
- Remember. You are the father and the male head of the household. Men teach children the ways of the still dominantly male hierarchical business structure.
The Stepfamily Foundation Inc. is a not for profit, formed in 1975 to inform and counsel those who live in re-coupled families. Counseling is done on the telephone worldwide and in person in New York City and the East End of Long Island . It also conducts Certification Seminars for professionals, coaches, clergy and attorneys.
Dr. Jeannette Lofas is the President and Founder of the Stepfamily Foundation, Inc., and the author of Stepparenting, Family Rules, Living In Step, and He’s OK, She’s OK. She is a lecturer and noted journalist, and has been counseling stepfamilies for over thirty years.Dr. Lofas is licensed social worker and a certified mediator. She is a member of such organizations as The Association for Family Conflict and Conciliation, The Center for Family and Divorce Mediation and The New York State Council on Divorce Mediation.