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.