From the Divorced Dad’s Survival Guide
Stage 1: Ambivalence Over the Divorce
The immediate changes in your life may lead you to ask whether you have done the right thing. Going to sleep and waking up without the children in the house and no contact with them for weeks at a time can cause deep anxiety, even in those cases where a father is otherwise happier for having escaped an unhappy marriage. All decisions in life require tradeoffs, and this is nowhere better illustrated than in the case of the father who makes the decision to divorce.
Stage 2: Hope that the Divorce Will Go Smoothly
Since most fathers will be unable to reconcile with the children’s mother, they hope that the separation and divorce will go through without a hitch. At least they will be able to agree on how to divide things up, share parenting of the kids, and work out a way to minimize the impact of the divorce on the kids. Dream on. People who were once lovers and intimates can become enemies whose focus on what is best for their children takes a back seat to punishment and revenge. Love has become war and both the parents and their children become casualties.
Stage 3: What Really Happens
According to the U. S. Census Bureau, of the almost 12 million single-parent homes, 85% are headed by women.7 This means that 85% of fathers are non-custodial. In effect, the children in these homes (almost 16 million of them) live with their mothers and “visit” their fathers.
Stage 4: Trial and Error Responses
Because the role of the divorced father is new, we learn to fill it only through trial and error. For example, when the kids are not happy to see you, should you ignore their indifference or scold them? When they forget Father’s Day, should you forget it or call them on it? And when they tell you they would rather go back early this Sunday, should you remind them that this is your time or offer to take them back even earlier?
Stage 5: Things Settle Down
While you may need call the sheriff if your wife won’t let the kids come out of the house on your visitation clock, or take her to court if she leaves town with them, there comes a time when you can get relaxed about seeing your children since the attempts to thwart your access will stop. Both your ex-wife and children will come to know how important time is with your children and accept that “dad’s time” is something that will occur. This promotes stability in your children’s lives because they know when they will be with you. It also gives them a clear message that they are important to you. No matter what anyone else says, they see that you care about them.
Stage 6: A Special Bond with Your Children
As events work themselves out, you will gradually build a new relationship with your kids. It will be different from the relationship you had with them before the divorce, but, in some ways, it can be better. Strong father-child relationships which emerge from divorce require fathers who are determined to maintain a strong bond with their children and children who are resilient enough to weather the changes. But there is a specialness in knowing that both father and children can come through a difficult time and keep a close relationship. One father told me that your kids never say anything to you, but both of you know that you have been separated by circumstance. And they know that you never abandoned them and that they have always been important to you. That’s the message that sticks with them.”
Stage 7: Continued Changes
As years pass, your relationship with your children will continue to change: your time with them will decrease as they graduate from high school, attend college, and/or enter the working world and move away. Your relationship with your former spouse will also continue to affect your children. Most divorced couples mellow with age–they may even become friends. But others remain at war. When they do so, the children, even as adults, continue to suffer as innocent bystanders. Quite often the children of divorced parents go off to college and avoid returning home, since that would only renew their feelings of being caught in the middle of an ongoing parental conflict.