Noncustodial parents are left with tough choices when it comes to balancing raising their children according to the parenting plan outlined in the divorce decree, earning a paycheck, taking care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and financially, and paying alimony and child support.
Sometimes, one or more of these tasks are not doable. Sometimes, prioritization has to occur, in order to sustain a life for yourself. When that happens, children caught in the middle of this situation can find themselves suffering as a result.
Many noncustodial parents, especially dads, can find themselves missing out on so much of their child’s life. For some, work takes up a large amount of their time, and rightfully so. Earning a living means keeping yourself and your children on stable financial footing.
However, it can create distance on a physical and emotional level, which can be exacerbated by the divorce experience.
Dealing with distance
Many dads are struggling with the distance that has been imposed due to the child custody situation or other parts of their life that take up their time. NBC’s TODAY partnered with Fatherly and surveyed over 1,200 fathers and found that one in five fathers said that they feel guilty about not being “present” enough with their children.
Out of the fathers surveyed, 17 percent of them stated that they suffer from some form of “dad guilt,” due to the amount that they work. This is an understandable struggle that divorced, married, and single parents all identify with.
Divorced noncustodial parents have to deal with scheduled parenting time that works for the custodial parent, as well as their own work schedule. This can be a challenging balance that many children are too young to understand.
Schedules and conversations
It can be challenging to convince your child that you working is not you avoiding them or neglecting them, if you are an active and engaged father that wishes to be there for your children. Like 86 percent of fathers who participated in research at the Center for Work and Family at Boston College, your children are your No. 1 priority in life.
This is why eight in 10 fathers say that they want to spend more time with their children on an average work day, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, noncustodial parents do not get that luxury. They do not get to spend time with their child whenever they want or whenever their work schedule permits. They have to work around a custody schedule that can sometimes conflict with a work schedule.
Even though most states will require you to come to an agreement to a child custody schedule that works for both parties, things happen that can require you or your co-parent to make modifications, and without contacting your attorney and going through the proper legal channels to make these modifications, your custody schedule can be adversely affected, according to Cordell & Cordell attorneys.
Even when you are able to spend time together during your parenting time, the initial moments can be awkward, and you sometimes can feel a level of emotional distance, due to the time you have spent apart. Conversations about their previous interests may go south when they inform you that they are no longer interested in what you are speaking of. These types of barriers illustrate the struggle that many parents go through in trying to be a parent to a child who is putting distance in the relationship.
When a child goes back to their custodial parent’s home, you, as the noncustodial parent, are left picking up the pieces, trying to come up with better ways of connecting with your child.
Meanwhile, milestones related to school, friends, and activities are happening in a child’s life, and it does not slow down. This requires the noncustodial parent to cut the distance down on the fly.
Co-parenting and communication
One of the easiest ways to go about doing this is to communicate with your co-parent, despite all of what may have transpired during your marriage, you still share a child, and their well-being takes priority.
Cordell & Cordell offers tips on communicating with your co-parent, including treating them like your business partner and avoiding having these difficult conversations in front of your shared children. While you may have grievances regarding the emotional distance that may be forming between yourself and your child, it may not necessarily be your ex-spouse’s fault, unless parental alienation is at play.
They may be able to help by explaining details of your child’s life that your child may not be willing to divulge. They may be able to explain who your child’s closest friends are or what television shows they are now watching.
If your co-parent is unwilling to help, it is important that you take the initiative to look into aspects of your child’s life yourself. If you know that they play a sport, contact the coach and find out when and where practices and games are. If you know that they participate in afterschool clubs, contact the teacher in charge of the club.
Learning more about your child will help you bridge the gap, so that when your parenting time and work schedule allow you the opportunity to spend with your child, you can relate to them easier. You can show them that you can be a part of their life and that they do not need to put distance between themselves and you.
You also can ask your employer if they can exert flexibility toward your schedule if you explain to them the situation that you are facing. Many managers can be understanding to your plight and rearrange your work schedule to fit with your custody schedule.
There are ways around allowing the distance to build up. It is important to communicate your situation and your feelings, so that you no longer feel left behind by your child. You can feel like an active parent and an important part of their life.