When it comes to your children, you’re really not ever done. Even after you and your child’s father have separated, divorced, and, in some cases, been on opposing sides of a litigated custody case, you’re not done, and no one has “won.” In fact, it’s a little silly to think of it in terms of winning and losing, when what you’re playing tug-o-war with are your children. If anyone “wins,” it should be either the children because they’ve grown up knowing that they had the constant, consistent love and support of two mature parents, or you AND your child’s father together, knowing that the sacrifices you’ve made over the years have led to the development of mature, responsible, productive members of society.
But you know all that. You know that, even after your custody trial is over and the echo of the judge’s last words have long since stopped resounding in your ears, you’re not really done. There are still children to raise, and, like it or not, your child’s father has to be a part of it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you know how to get from point A, the point after which your custody order is entered, and point B, the point at which you realize that you and your child’s father HAVE effectively co-parented and your children are happy, healthy, and grown.
To help you get from point A to point B, you’ll have to put aside any anger, resentment, or hurt feelings you may have towards your child’s father. I know; that’s hard. It’s especially hard in the beginning, but your feelings will grow and change over time. I’m not saying that the hurt will ever completely go away, but it will certainly dull with time. If you haven’t enlisted the support of a therapist, now may be a good time to do so.
There are a number of other things you can do to help facilitate a good relationship for your children with your child’s father.
- Don’t relocate.
This is a hard sell for many women. Once the marriage falls or the relationship ends, many women want to either move back home or seek better opportunities in a new place with fewer unhappy memories. It’s an understandable feeling, but you have to ask yourself whether you truly believe that it is in the best interests of the CHILD to remove him from close proximity to his father (and it’s not sufficient to say that a better job for you is an advantage for him). It’s often far better for the child to stay in an area that allows him to have frequent, consistent, stable contact with both parents.
- Encourage him to come.
Make sure you give him information about all the upcoming events in your child’s life. Whether it’s a parent-teacher conference, a basketball game, an awards ceremony, or a school play, he should be there. Whenever anything is going on, particularly something that you think is important, you should make sure he’s aware of it. Encourage him to come, tell him how important his attendance is to your child, and then remind him again as the event gets closer. Do everything you can to get him there, because you can be sure that your child will be scanning the bleachers to see if his dad is there with all the other dads.
You’re no longer together, so there’s no need to sit together or play happy family in public. You also don’t have to invite him into your home, or spend Friday evenings together. You may want to think about inviting him to birthday parties and holiday family dinners and the like, but that all depends on the type of relationship you intend to develop. Still, it’s important to support the child and be supportive of each other, at least as far as in the role of parent.
It may seem awkward at first, but you’ll grow used to doing these things together, and, more importantly, your child will grow accustomed to having two supportive parents present. Even when you feel like he should really already know to come, go ahead and invite him.
- Let him be a good guy; it doesn’t take away from you
There’s no reason to bad-mouth your child’s father in front of your child, no matter how tempting it can be. When he doesn’t follow through or does something that really irritates you, talk to a friend, family member, or therapist—but leave your child out of it.
Men think differently than women; it always has been and probably always will be a major fundamental difference. He’ll do things that you think are immature, impulsive, and childish at times, but as long as his decisions aren’t hurting the child, you don’t have to worry too much. Let him be who he is, and let your child love him for it. Chances are, your child will grow to see his (and your) flaws later on, too, but there’s no reason to disillusion him about one of his biggest heroes.
Remember, at all times, that his love for dad doesn’t take anything away from his love for you. When your child chatters incessantly about what a good time he had with dad and how fun it was to do all the things they did together, it doesn’t mean that he thinks less of you. In fact, probably the whole time he’s with his dad, he’s probably talking about all the wonderful things he does with mom. The love a child feels for a parent isn’t limited by love for the other.
These tips assume that your child’s father wants to be an active participant in your child’s life. Of course, there are many, many fathers out there who are content to be less involved. In a case like that, you should still try to do the best you can, but still shield your child from his father’s behavior. There are men who can’t be good fathers, even when you make it as easy on them as possible—but you should be concentrating on what you can fix, not what you can’t.
There’s no question that it’s hard to re-establish open and cordial communication when there has already been an almost total breakdown of your relationship. There are a lot of ugly feelings, and a lot of things that it seems almost impossible to get over. If you have a child, though, you really can’t dwell on those feelings and allow it to make re-establishing the relationship even harder than it needs to be. After it’s over, even though you’ve “won,” by courtroom standards, it’s important to be a good winner by encouraging your child’s father to still come around and be involved where possible. You’ll have to use your best judgment to keep this involvement to a level that is healthy and productive for everyone involved. As the primary physical custodian, ultimately you maintain a great deal of influence and control over the child’s life. It is your responsibility to make important decisions regarding care and upbringing—of course, with dad’s input—so you’ll have to be committed to truly making the best decisions you possibly can.