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Mar
31

365, 182 or less…These are frightening numbers to look at as a father. Somewhere in the U.S. today, there is a newly divorced father facing his final hearing in a family court room. A judge is making a decision that will change the number of days that the father will spend with his children forever.

Back in 1999, all I got was 30% custody. My life had changed in an instant. I was so desperate and angry. It just seemed so unfair. I can remember the advice my attorney told me over and over again, “This is just the beginning custody schedule; through your time and effort, things will change. Just bite your tongue, make every effort to be available for your kids and we can always re-petition for more time.” Times have changed in some courts, but it’s still a shock to see how little time newly divorced fathers get in their custody agreements.

Time: Something We Can’t Take for Granted
This article is not about the injustice I was served or the fact that I overcame all of my obstacles to obtain 50/50 joint custody. This article is about the time, or the lack of quality time, that single parents have with their children and what we need to do to remind ourselves how to make the best of what we have. This is a friendly reminder to all single parents, both fathers and mothers, who need to remember a few things about the children we brought into this world. Children don’t choose divorce, adults do. Divorce affects the lives of fathers, mothers, and children–and the precious clock ticks from the moment the final divorce papers are signed.

Do You Know Why I Am the Luckiest Dad in the World?
I still randomly pose this question to my children as I am driving them to school. What makes this question special is that it gives me the opportunity to be PRESENT to our situation. “I am the luckiest father in the world because I have a child like you.” I make sure I reinforce good behavior and communicate what my expectations are of them each and every day. I make sure to let them know that every day counts.

When I ask the question out loud, it gets mixed results. It’s amazing that generosity has a karmic response and I gauge how I am doing as a father based on how my children respond. “Because you have a daughter like me and you are a good dad…” is a common response. Occasionally, I will get a few giggles and some sarcastic remarks from my teenagers. They will say something like, “What, you are our father?” or something like, “I guess you are just a lucky dad.” Nothing better than a little humor, I always say. Parents of divorce are often too serious and these responses have taught me a lot about the power of humor.

A Family That Cooks Together, Creates Memories
When I first started cooking, I had my kids in the kitchen with me experimenting with different recipes. I made sure that I gave them 100% of my attention while we were preparing the meal. Sometimes, I felt that having everybody in the kitchen together gave us the extra bonding time we needed; away from the TV, cell phones, the radio and other distractions. There is something special about the kitchen and the teamwork exhibited. No fighting, no fussing; just laughter and bonding. It didn’t matter what we made for dinner and sometimes the meal even turned out horribly. We laughed and made fun of ourselves and it brought us closer together.  What was special was that we just had “family time” to be and act normal. Those memories that we shared in the kitchen and at the dinner table will remain with me forever.

Stop the Play Dates and Sleepovers
I wasn’t afraid of putting my foot down early in my custody battle. For some newly divorced parents, there are struggles with scheduling kids’ school and social activities around joint custody schedules. I made sure that I made my voice clear about scheduling activities on “My Weekends” vs. “Her Weekends.” At one point, I remember having a meeting with my ex-wife and explaining the importance of not having so many scheduled “To Do’s” for our kids. What’s the point of having children when all we are doing is shuttling them from one activity to another? I know I didn’t make any friends with this opinion. I almost became ex-communicated from the neighborhood play groups. The “Anti-social Daddy” was my name. But sometimes, you just have to cherish the time you have with your kids and keep them all to yourself. Take a stand. As a reminder to the newly divorced parent: they are your children too!

365, 182 or Less…
I am now at that stage where this number becomes even more important, and smaller. There are only so many holidays that I get to play “Santa” and “Tooth Fairy.” No matter how you look at this fact, my days are numbered, and so are yours. Unless you have figured out a way to reverse the aging process, your children are growing older by the day. And if you have joint custody, those holidays are getting fewer and fewer. We all will soon be replaced by someone else that gives our children the love, trust, honesty and respect that they all deserve in their adult lives.

The point I am trying to make is this; whether you are like me or not, the simple fact is that we have to cherish every moment while we can. The courts have decided our custody, but it’s what we do with that time that makes all the difference in the world. I am still a hopeless optimist and believe that I am making a difference every day in shaping the lives of my children. I know I do many silly things in my daily routine that will make you question my sanity. I still wake up early in the morning to make each of my children their own school lunch because somehow, I feel like I am making a difference by setting a positive example.  Never mind me; this is also about you making the time count. What’s important, in all the insanity of parenting, is to believe. Believe that you can make every minute count in a positive way so that our children of divorce will hold happy memories and not bitter memories of the relationship with their parents. Make every minute count and look at each day as just a grain of sand in a very large and endless beach. You can always start now and you can always make a difference today…the choice is yours.

RJ Jaramillo is a single father of three and the founder of www.singledad.com. While facing the daily challenges of raising three children on his own after his divorce, RJ realized how few resources were available to help him during this journey. He started SingleDad.com in 2007.


     

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  • K Says:

    What you, and many others, are sorely missing when divorce involve kids is …..It’s NOT about you or your Ex! It’s about the KIDS INNER STRUGGLE they now must deal with, and carry, for a lifetime having been forced to now live in 2 separate worlds. Loving them is terrific and trying to make things easy for them is admirable however it misses the most important aspect, the inner struggle of the child they often don’t share with their parents.

    Please read this book, then write this column again: BETWEEN TWO WORLDS BY ELIZABETH MARQUARDT. It’s real accounts from the first generation of men and women now grown who were victims of prolific divorce period that started in the late 60′s early 70′s. At the very least you will come to really understand what divorce actually does to the kids.

    All the “happy talk” we’ve been fed about divorce just isn’t reality!

  • Alicia Says:

    What R.J. and other single dads often forget is that single moms also get limited time and holidays and birthdays with their children. It would be refreshing if single dads would stop playing the victim so often, particulalry in marriages they chose to walk away from.

    Second, as a single mom it seems rather selfish to me to ban playdates and sleepovers. I work coopertaively with my son’s dad when scheduling activities so that we both agree and it’s not a matter of HIS weekend or MY weekend – it’s our SON’s weekend. So many divorced parents get wrapped up in what THEY lost but seem content to rob their children of regular childhood experiences.

  • Mary-Mary Says:

    After reading this article, I think that RJ is doing a great job in trying to get his kids to talk with him and share activities with him. The point of the article, I believe, is to be willing to spend your own discretionary time in helping them to grow up to be happy, responsible adults.

    I definitely agree that humor is an important ingredient in all children’s lives, and finding something to grin about can make everybody’s day a little more pleasant. It’s the old “Don’t sweat the little stuff” viewpoint. Kids don’t care about whether they have fancy food — as long as they don’t go to bed hungry. They also don’t care if their beds weren’t made up that morning and their pajamas haven’t been washed in a couple weeks, as long as they don’t stink big-time. And finally, kids can’t understand the reasons behind a divorce as an adult would — they just need to know that you care and you’ll always be there for them.

  • Trina Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the dissident comments voiced above in response to this single dad’s column. The parent who has historically filled the nurturing caregiver role generally knows the children best, and the children are best protected by remaining in the stability of being primarily in that relationship. That stability allows them to grow and branch out emotionally, socially, and academically. What we see in the social work realm too often is that the non-custodial parent, who has NOT historically fulfilled the nurturing caregiver role, is hell-bent on getting sole custody or shared custody, claiming (and probably actually believing) that it’s best for the kids if the parents are equally involved or to snuff out the involvement of the other parent. The tragic flaw in this thinking, for the kids’ sake anyway, is that “equally involved” emphatically does not mean “equal time in both households.” We have seen that it is very disruptive to kids to go back and forth between households. It takes their emotional energy and forces them to try to adapt to varying environments, rules, schedules, parenting attitudes and behaviors. It takes away from emotional, social, and academic development, and it takes away from being able to just be a kid. It is, however, very healthy for kids to have lots of healthy contact with parents who can parent appropriately. It is a shame that parents’ so often do not let go of their own sense of importance in their kids’ lives to let go of the concept of equal parenting, or sole custody. If you are a single parent, or considering divorce, please consider really doing what’s right and best for the kids and set aside your own needs. Even if that means you get even fewer holidays than you do now, and fewer overnights. Please read the book, Between Two Words, and read other resources too — especially resources that challenge the way you presently think about what’s best for your kids. We can all still find ways to be meaningfully involved in our kids’ daily lives without shuffling them between households. Wishing the best to all you single parents out there, regardless of gender or how much time you get to spend with your kids…but most especially wishing the best possible life for your kids. One thing I agree with wholeheartedly about this column is that kids don’t choose divorce. And kids don’t choose to be born into a single-parent household. You may be the other parent and those choices were imposed on you. Still, your kids are innocent in this, and the very worst you can do to your kids is to communicate negative ideas and attitudes about their other parent. The second worst you can do is destabilize them by taking them out of the environment and parenting structure that has historically predominated…unless, of course, you have valid reasons to believe that the historical nurturing caregiver is abusive or dangerous.

  • 777MPH Says:

    I am so glad for RJ to encourage fathers to remain a healthy part of their children’s lives. R.J. is an awesome father who clearly adds to the quality of his children’s lives. He clearly has only the love for his children and for others as his motive for the wonderful work that he does. It really is too bad that so much inequality is the usual situation but our ability to forgive is no doubt the most important thing to be able to do for the sake of our children and RJ is a great example of how to do that as well!

  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Says:

    RJ: I really like what you say here about reminding your kids how much you love them. (“Do you know why I’m the luckiest dad in the world?”) Every kid needs to hear that –a lot!

    My parents got divorced when I was in middle school, and one thing I have to say is that dads seem to be so much more involved now than they used to be. Back then, my father got to see us every other weekend — that was it. I think that was the expectation at that time (the 1980s). I’m glad to see that fathers are stepping in and asking for more time with their kids. :)

  • rjsingledad Says:

    Great Comments from everybody… It’s great to see so many different opinions and interpretations of what I am trying to say about single parenting and joint custody. What I want to say is that our children grow up too fast and I do not wish divorce on any family. Life is challanging enough raising children as a parent. I cherish my time with my children and I try to make every moment count with them. I am far from perfect, but I am one Single Parent that is trying to be the best father I can to my three children.

  • Lisa Arndt Says:

    Don’t let the nay sayers get to you, your kids and you know that what you’re doing is the right thing! I am a single mother and to have their dad remain involved in their lives is very, very important to me. Yes, I’ve seen the book BETWEEN TWO WORLDS. And I recently did a 7 page report on what factors correlate to good adjustment in children of divorce. One factor that has been shown to be important is to have BOTH parents remain involved in the children’s lives. I would never have chosen to go the route of a single parent but it has become a reality for me and others can judge all they want. What I want is what’s best for the kids and always have. There are too many dads even within marriages that don’t spend time with their kids. You are obviously not one of them and I want to thank you for that. We need more good male role models, GOD BLESS YOU!

  • 777MPH Says:

    I should have specified “non-custodial parent” rather than mentioning a gender. I happen to be a male but that is beside the point. Somewhere out there is a one year old (unable to speak for itself) wondering where is my father.. OR where is my mother? Depending on the bond this child had with his/her missing parent will greatly determine his/hers ability to suppress the memory of them.. No one knows if that parent rocked and sang to that child every single night for bedtime from the day he/she was born over the course of the child’s entire life thus far. No one knows if that parent was both motherly and fatherly to this child. How many know the pain?.. And then the more love at reuniting the more pain at seperation.. its a catch twenty-two. I would beg of each of us to throw out gender biases. Statistically it has been proven at many prestigious universities that women are just as violent and as abusive as men. In reality they are no more genetically qualified than men to be parents. Its all about priorities..

    I learned to forgive those who did what they did out of love for my son and those who did what they did out of fear of me – I accepted the blame. I try not to verbally or non verbally communicate negative thoughts or attitudes towards my ex in my sons presence but this is all new to me since I am only lately having him full time, so I thank the Lord for this newsletter service and I was in tears when I saw the informercial by Robert. I will try to get a copy of Between Two Worlds so I can get more insight but I won’t be surprised if Robert covers this topic soon!

  • Susan Engel Says:

    RJ: Kudos to you for tackling an extremely sensitive issue!

    I have my own opinions about this topic so, PLEASE, no offense to anyone. I am a single (divorced) mom of 2 boys. My sons’ dad is very involved in their lives, as am I — whether at school or at home. We’re both trying to do the best we can with what we have to offer. Our styles of parenting differ, but we try our best to provide a unified front when setting boundaries and expecations with our kids. As in most families, I imagine that we succeed some days better than others.

    I think that the title of your blog says it all, RJ: Making every minute count. That means, as you emphasized, letting our kids know that we love them *no matter what.*

    No parent that I know goes into a divorce with cheerleading pom poms yelling, “Oh, YAY! Oh, YAY! My kids are going to be raised in separate households today!” We try to make do the best we can, whether in two homes or one. Loving our kids has to remain our undisputable priority. I think THAT determines the quality of “life after divorce”.

  • Annita Woz Says:

    RJ has his head on straight and is doing his best to step up and parent when he has the opportunity and what is scary about his post to many, is that sometimes parents, can’t/ don’t/won’t live in the moment WITH their kids…we hide behind the playdates and the scheduled activities and the chaos of life instead of spending direct time with our kids, living in the moment, enjoying the growing that goes on right underneath our noses and so quickly! THis happens to parent who are single, who are divorced who are married…I like the message and I also like the reminders by those divorced folks, to put the kids first in all that we do for and with them….they certainly get the worst deal of all if parents aren’t/can’t prioritize…

  • Sprog Blogs Says:

    Yes, Its a great suggestion. Divorced Men/Women can enjoy their life with their children like a normal couple. Thanks you for the helpful post.

  • tmh Says:

    What I would like to know is how life is handled when the dad wants to be involved but the mother won’t let him? She says hurtful, emotionally abusive things to my sons against me, right down to telling them that she won’t love them as much because they miss me. She’s even moved 150 miles away.

    I’ve been in several court battles over the years with this woman, and she attends court, lies and all, and is perceived as a saint.

    Last summer, both boys were kicked out of the house by her husband, came to my house and just unloaded all of the lies and stress that they’ve built up all of these years. I am currently pursuing a change in placement, but she’s pulling every lie and mud slinging laywer out of the wood works. It costs thousands of dollars to continue to pursue and constantly lose, but my sons’ mental health and my relationship is at risk because of their mother.

  • Gmr Says:

    It’s just so frustrating how us dads get the shaft. I was a great husband and am a great father. She had the affairs and left – not me, but it is me and the kids that suffer. I have joint custody, always pay my child support on time and even do so early at times when she’s asked, AND I am glad to do so.
    So why the every other weekend? Why the couple weeks at summer? Why the use of the kids as a pawn in a chess game? I am cordial to my ex, never act threatening, never raise my voice, never try to even be a problem for fear of her making it difficult for me to have contact with the kids. While all this time she is rude, abrasive, obnoxious, vindictive, etc., etc.
    It’s been like this for more than five years. All I want is to see and hold my kids. I just don’t understand and I just don’t know what to do. I get depressed on Sunday afternoon when it gets close to the time the kids must leave and at times can’t help but cry when they’re gone.
    Yes, I have a social life and a good job, which is what keeps me sane and helps me to not think about them so much. I almost feel at times I’m betraying them because the only way to stop the pain of them being gone is to throw myself into work or the gym.
    My only hope is that one day my children will know just how much I love them and hope that they never think that all this time apart somehow means I don’t really want them around.