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.