I am indeed very proud of the relationship I have with my kids. As a divorced dad, I’ve attempted to be more aware of specific interactions I have with them and how we work together and communicate. Yet, as much as I believe my relationship with all three is very strong, like most parents I struggle with the big picture and how to ensure that as they get older that bond is maintained. Despite my own insecurities and fears that I’ve completely messed things up, once in a while I get little hints from the universe that maybe I’m on the right path.
Recently while at the lake with my kids one of the people renting a house directly next to us came over and introduced themselves. They made a comment about how great it was to see the amount of interaction between our family. I was somewhat taken aback and thanked them for the kind words. The encounter caused me to step back and think more about the family and how we interact. We’ve been going to the lake each summer for over six years now. And as I heard the comments it made me consider how my relationship with my kids has changed and continues to evolve as they get older. We, like most, have our good days and bad. And one of the nice things about the lake trip is we’re able to focus 100% on each other. OK, maybe 90%, but you get the point.
With one now entering her teen years and another not far behind, attempting to keep up with their needs both physically and emotionally can be a real struggle. What created a bond with my eldest six years ago is very different than it is today. Expecting her to focus 100% on her family for a week, when she is entering a social circle and is more emotionally dependent on her friendships outside the family, is frankly unrealistic.
“So Bill, what’s the point of this post?”
Awesome question. The first point of this post is to let you know that the world is watching. As a divorced dad you have a unique opportunity to change the perceptions of the divorced dad. For far too long the “dead beat dad,” “the cheating ex-husband,” “the dad who was never there for me,” has been the focus of media and TMZ. We need more examples of dad grocery shopping with the kids, coaching soccer teams, being a positive influence in their kids’ lives and jumping in 62 degree water because your son wants you to play in the lake with him. You can be that person. But it takes hard work and sacrifices. It takes shifting priorities and searching for balance; which let me tell you, is hard as hell. Oh, and you’re going to screw up. But as long as you keep your focus and keep reminding yourself that the next 10-15 years is going to go by quickly, you can motivate yourself to drop what you’re doing and be involved.
The second point is that you need to be open to changing the way you interact with your kids based on both their individual personalities and needs, but also their stage of development. This is a tough one for me as it means seriously honing in on your kids and being open to adjusting your own mind set from time to time. Doing so also means you can’t take things personally. When your thirteen-year-old blows you off to text friends back home, sometimes you have to recognize that this is an important part of his or her development and you need to work with them on boundaries and guidelines that are a win/win. Basically you have to find compromises and offer a little give and take.
The third point is, sometimes all your kids want to see is that you’re trying. Making an effort and letting them know they’re important is sometimes easier than you think. It simply takes being aware and catching yourself and sometimes forcing each other outside of your comfort zones. Make a point from time to time to let your kid know they’re the most important thing in the world to you and that you enjoy their company. Not by saying it, but by blowing off other priorities once in a while in order to give them your undivided attention, even when they’re saying they don’t want it.
What I’ve found over the past thirteen years of being a dad is that gathering up the muster to make that first jump into the lake is a struggle. It’s much easier to just watch from the shore. But I’ll tell you, once you’re in the water, you’ll find it’s even harder to get out.