"While it is not ideal, not having custody is not a death sentence to your identity as a parent."
When you are the noncustodial parent, you can sometimes feel like you are playing “catch-up” in the lives of your children. You may feel like the reason for this disconnect is that you are not spending a sufficient amount of time with them, and given the lack of equality existing in the custody courts in many states, that very well may be.
However, there are many factors that can be attributed to how a child behaves and interacts with their noncustodial parent after a divorce.
Visitation and interaction
While parental alienation is its own can of worms, in terms of affecting the behavior of a child and how much they are willing to share about their day-to-day life with their noncustodial parent, visitation, as a concept, can be intimidating for children.
If given the custodial opportunity to spend time with your children, you should always take it. That being said, there should be a level of understanding, regarding how a child feels during the experience, according to Purdue University.
Because of how a child’s schedule and routine is altered, they may be forced out of their comfort zone. The first couple of visitations may be taking away time they might have spent doing something that they would have typically been doing, and due to the fact that children are such creatures of habit, you, as a parent, need to be mindful of the importance of their routine, as you ease visitation into it.
The importance of visitation cannot be undersold. It keeps a sense of family connection and gives the noncustodial parent a chance to be a part of their world. However, in order to do that, you have to be let into it.
This may be difficult. During the divorce experience and subsequent custody battle, one or both parents may have lost some of the trust that children feel for their parents. It is important to engage with your child, but start out small.
Asking a child about their likes and dislikes will allow you a glimpse into their world that you can use to engage with them. If it is a particular television show that they like to watch, watch it with them. If it is a particular toy that they like to play with, play with them and ask them about that toy. Some children will be happy to offer its entire backstory, so make sure to listen closely.
If they reject your advances in trying to connect with them, understand that they are hurting too. They may have been in the best relationship possible with you, as their parent, before the divorce, but because you are no longer in the house, they may feel uncomfortable or awkward navigating the emotional tapestry of this complex situation.
There also is the possibility that you are not the only parent that is having issues communicating and relating to their child. It can be beneficial communicating to your co-parent, in regards to how the child has been behaving in general.
Being able to compare notes is in the child’s best interests, which is why it is important to set the harsh feelings from the divorce aside for the sake of your shared child and their well-being.
Consulting a professional
You also can consult with a professional during these difficult times. Some parents discuss the health concerns with a pediatrician, in an effort to understand how the child’s stage of development is interacting with the parental divorce. They can provide some context to the tendencies and behaviors that the child may be exhibiting. If necessary, they can provide that same context to improve your child custody case, if the custodial parent argues that your presence is damaging to the child.
Therapists also are beneficial in helping children open up and trust their noncustodial parent again. They understand the important role that a parent, custodial or noncustodial, plays in a child’s life and can offer assistance in reestablishing a child’s trust in a parent or parents.
Be there for them
As a child gets older, you still have many opportunities to be there for them, even as the noncustodial parent. If they are involved in a sport or an activity, make it a priority and be there for them. If they ever ask you for help in school or need advice, be their parent and be the good listener that they need.
While it is not ideal, not having custody is not a death sentence to your identity, as a parent. You still should assert yourself as a caring, nurturing, and passionate parent in the life of your child, and your relationship with your child still has the ability to flourish well past childhood and into adulthood, even after a parental divorce.