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Parenting tips for separated dads

All dads want to be the best father they can. But it can be tough to know how to do this after separation, especially when there's ongoing conflict with your ex-partner. It's difficult to be positive around your kids when you're dealing your own stuff, like anger, sadness and loneliness. This tipsheet offers some suggestions on how to parent under these challenging circumstances.

(Please note that these tips assume you have at least some contact with your children. We recognise that is unfortunately not the case for all separated men.)

Keep children out of conflicts between you and your ex-partner

Research shows that children can be psychologically harmed by seeing their parents arguing, yelling and using physical violence. So it's really important to try to develop a 'business like' relationship with your ex-partner, keeping the kids out of any conflicts. Here are some practical things you can do to protect your children:

  • Avoid arguing in front of children. If this is difficult, many contact centres offer a 'change over' service so that parents do not need to come in contact when transferring children from one parent to the other (look up 'child contact' services in our service database.)
  • If you do find yourself in an argument while your kids are around, suggest to your ex-partner that you both take some time to calm down and resume the discussion later (see our tipsheet on managing anger).
  • Try to communicate directly with your ex-partner and avoid asking children to relay messages.
  • Don't put the children's mother down in front of them, undermine her parenting, or ask your kids to take sides in any conflict, even if you feel that she is doing this.

Be as involved as you can

Research indicates that effective fathering increases a child's chances of developing a good self esteem, moral strength and intellectual and social competence. Fathers also experience many benefits to their wellbeing and psychological growth when they are closely involved with their children.
If you are a non-resident father you can still be involved in the important milestones and activities of your child. For example, you can:

  • Attend parent/teacher interviews
  • Volunteer at your children's kindergarten
  • Celebrate their birthdays, even if sometimes it is not on the actual date
  • Attend their sporting events/dance classes/plays
  • Write to them, send them emails or ring them on the phone

Continue to show your love and support

Children often blame themselves for their parents' separation. Because they are often too young to understand adult relationships, they sometimes feel that there must be something wrong with them that caused the separation. It is especially important to remind your kids how much you love them by giving them lots of hugs and reassurance. Tell them clearly that they are not responsible for the separation and that even though you can't spend as much time with them as before, you love them just as much.

Develop a shared parenting plan

Shared parenting plans are an agreement between both parents that covers everyday parenting issues such as bedtime, rules about things such as television and computer game use, how discipline will be enforced and so on. Routine and rhythm are important to children and while there will always be differences in your parenting styles, the greater the consistency between their two homes, the more secure they will feel. It is also easier to maintain discipline with children if the rules are clear and consistent.

If ongoing conflict between you and your ex-partner makes it difficult to parent co-operatively, professional mediation may help. MensLine Australia can refer you to an appropriate service in your area.

The opportunity of separation

Although there is no denying that separation is a very difficult time both for you and your children, it can also be an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with your kids. Traditional relationships often leave the nurturing and practical parenting roles to the mother, with the father providing back-up discipline. Separation presents many men with the challenge of being much more involved in every day parenting. If you take up this challenge, you can find new levels of satisfaction in your role as a father.

If you are going through separation and are having a hard time, or experiencing parenting problems, MensLine Australia can provide guidance and support. Call 1300 78 99 78.

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Comment bubbleUser comments

02-Jan-14 06:27 PM
Comment posted by: Terri
Everyone needs support when things go crazy, Mensline is a good place to talk to other people via a forum, men who are having the same difficulties can ask others their advice on the best way to handle ongoing hassles.
Support is also found by phoning & talking about your hardship & hassles & also when things are just to difficult.
From what I have witnessed, most men get a raw deal from some mothers & the courts, the dads need help to be able to spend time with their own children.
There are some amazing dads out there & the children have the right to spend time with their dads
31-May-13 03:55 PM
Comment posted by: Peter
I dont know what to do. I feel like I have completely lost it. I spend all my nights crying for my son. this hurts so much
07-May-13 12:50 PM
Comment posted by: BJ
A friend of mine has been separated from his wife for 11 months. He has been riddled with longing for his kids (4 year old, 6 year old & 8 year old) since. He is a good dad, trying to be the best dad for them. There is just too much longing for him to be with his kids. He is not in-love with his wife, that's a fact. But with him missing his kids too much and missing out on the opportunity on being the best dad for them. He is contemplating on going back to his family even if it means he wouldn't have a full-filled life with the mother of his kids. He doesn't know how to commit to a life like that nor can he commit to a life he is leading now, dad for the weekends and on the holidays. He feels so lost and doesn't know whats the best decision to make for everybody's sake.
25-Jan-13 06:24 PM
Comment posted by: Deline
Hi to those who are trying to battle for custody for child if you are a father, have a good work and your ex don't work at all please take my advice. I know it's really hard not to be with your children but the law in Australia is rediculous. Each time my partner wants to have half time for their son he has to take her to court with all great expense for no other reason is money child support. It's been to the court for years and still fighting now my partner is retired and still fighting g for custody as she is claiming 65% of all the assest which she never worked at all. It seems not gonna end. Trust me don't do the same it's not the parents will suffer but the child. The child will eventually grow up and make their own decision, it is so difficult when you live in this country that law seems in favour of women and some opportunist also have a good ride.
18-Dec-12 01:34 AM
Comment posted by: Todd
@ Kirt I am in a similar situation only I do not get to see my lids ATM. I have contacted child protective agency and the police as her father was also recently released from jail and is a convicted murder. They still say that there is nothing they can do and treat me as if I am just trying to get back at the ex for taking the kids, when I have a genuine concern for my children's health and well being. The law says I have the rights to see my children but they can not tell me where they are. Kind of contradictive...The law has changed but the people have not and still think in the old ways, and that is that the father must have been doing something that the mother just had to get away from. In my circumstances, she is also violent and has previously walked out on our oldest child 2 times before. She is currently only 3.
My ex suffers from depression and does not take her meds, my youngest (2yrs) has had at least 2 black eyes on separate occasions when I had arrived home from work. I live in a privately rented house and took her back so my family could be together. She is living with Ice users and dealers and the police do not take that in to consideration while doing their "health checks". It seems as long as the kids are not being bashed while they are there they are safe. Family court seems to be the only way to get things done in this country.
24-Nov-12 09:17 AM
Comment posted by: Shawn
What should i do? Me and my Wife are sperated and i'm active duty military. When my kids are with my family who says who my kids get to see? I have a gf that is really close to the family and is there almost everday and she has a 3 year old boy?
18-Nov-12 07:33 AM
Comment posted by: phil haney
this was helpful.
16-Mar-12 11:01 AM
Comment posted by: MensLine
@Kirt: we can't provide advice via this comments section, but please feel free to give us a call on 1300 78 99 78 to talk to one of our counsellors about your difficult situation.
13-Mar-12 11:06 PM
Comment posted by: Kirt
I was in a short term relationship with a woman who suffers of mental health issues and poly-substance abuse. We have a 15month old baby girl.
She is currently living with a drug dealer. I am living with my parents in a stable She use to llive with me and my parents until she confabulated to DHS that I have physically abused her, this devastated the family. At the moment we have shared custody but is still going through the family law procedings. For me it feells as if I do not exist in the DHS senario. My main concern is the child's safety in an environment where people are using and dealing in illicit substances and DHS to me do not display concern to our concerns and is more for the mother than the child 's welbeing. Could you help in advice in how to manage this intense situation, please?
10-Mar-12 09:58 AM
Comment posted by: Bryan Oldham
We need a forum like this in the United States. I've been separated from my wife and two kids since 10/2011. I see my children occasionally. I'm on OK terms with my wife.
12-Dec-11 02:53 PM
Comment posted by: Sherry Wright
This is a good handout to give to Fathers who come into our Program. Post Separation Cooperative Ipswich
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