Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m so frustrated with my ex-wife and the court system. I decided to move back to my home state (Maryland) for the emotional support of friends and family while continuing to fight for full custody of my 9-year-old daughter.
How can I keep my father-daughter relationship going strong until then, and minimize the negative effect this whole mess is having on her?
Don’t miss last week’s blog Summertime parenting of the neighbors’ kids — Good Parenting
Dear Distant Dad,
Children fare best when they have adults they can count on to take care of their physical and emotional needs. Routine is especially important for children whose family structure has suffered an upheaval such as yours has.
Without knowing much about your specific situation, I can only speculate that you and the ex- are engaged in a hostile battle, using the court system to literally judge who is a better parent based on your bitter testimony against each other.
Tragically, the process is often long and unpleasant.
While you await a happy conclusion, you must do your best to keep your relationship with your daughter as positive and reliable as possible. Use whatever means work for communicating with her — Face Time, phone calls, email, snail mail, a present in the mail — with a regular schedule she can come to count on. In your conversations or notes, drop in those happy experiences the two of you shared in the past to bolster those memories for her. But also try to keep up with current interests and events in her life — friendships, hobbies, school projects, books she’s reading, etc.
While divorce can be hard on everyone, there may be neutral allies still involved in your daughter’s life at school, in the extended family and in her community that can bridge the chasm created by the breakup of the marriage. As much as is possible, try to keep informed of your daughter’s out-of-home activities. So long as you have not been legally barred from such contact, a teacher, scout leader or other “official” adult in your daughter’s life should provide a convenient way for you to be kept in the loop – even though you are out-of-state. Providing your email address and phone number, and even checking in with them on an arranged basis, will give you more to talk about with your daughter and will show her that, although you are not physically involved, you are well aware of the major ups and downs of her days. These stable relationships in her life — with people who keep in contact with you — are also a steady reminder for your daughter of your continued existence.
Unfortunately most family members choose a side when a couple splits up. Mutual friends may also take sides or drop out of the picture. Being a constant in the life of a child before and after a divorce is a tough role for a family friend to play, but those who can rise to the occasion are invaluable for the child’s sense of trust in the world.
Your troubles with her mother have their own place in your life. Tips for increasing your chances with the court system of success with gaining custody include keeping your daughter’s best interests at the forefront of your decision-making and actions and keeping your interactions with Mom as cordial and limited as you can.
Forge ahead “as if” your life will soon include a daughter — requiring school enrollment and out-of-school social and enrichment opportunities. Single parents need their own social networks, so if you haven’t yet, see what’s happening on the local Parents Without Partners scene, or maybe share your journey with other single fathers in an online community. Mutual support is a valuable asset for good parenting — whatever form or stage your family is in.
Rest assured that children can hold onto emotional bonds despite time and distance.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com