Collaborative Divorce Articles

A Father's Focus

by Jeffrey A. Steiger

So often through the years, I have met with fathers who came out of the divorce process feeling as though they lost their children. Recently, I asked one father, who had been unemployed for a year and had too much time on his hands, "Why don't you spend more time with the kids?" He replied, "I don't know. I guess I'm following the prescribed divorced father's schedule, every other weekend and dinner every Wednesday night."

Even though he was unhappy with this, he somehow thought this was his lot in life. Fathers will often tell me that when they are with their children after the divorce and they see old friends and neighbors, people will comment, "Oh is this your weekend with the kids?" Other will assume a father's role in his children's lives is limited. I have also known many fathers who have fought long, hard, expensive legal battles to get shared custody of their children, and end up with minimal time and a great deal of financial responsibility.

Learning to Take an Active Role

Too often fathers feel bewildered and helpless when it comes to taking an active role in raising their children. In litigation, the children often become the mother's domain and financial matters become the father's. Fathers feel frustrated and angry because their work responsibilities require long hours that do not allow them to be in the role of a primary custodial parent. This does not mean that they do not love their children profoundly, but, at the end of the day, attorneys and judges tell them that they will not be able to get the custody arrangement they want.

Goals and Roles

Solutions to these matters need not be so black and white. In mediation and the collaborative divorce process, these concerns are examined and worked through in a reasonable and humane way. Our roles as men and women are changing, and dads and moms have similar demands in the workplace. Many men have developed the kind of skills and focus that are required to truly take care of children, such as shopping for and cooking healthy meals, doing laundry, tending to a sick child and creating a home that is comfortable and designed to meet their social and academic needs. The demands of work, running a home, tending to the needs of a child and taking care of his own changing needs after divorce requires an enormous effort. It may seem easier to resort to traditional roles that are more clearly defined, but not having liberal access to both parents is generally not good for children post-divorce. In the collaborative divorce process, a mental health professional (in the role of divorce coach) can help a couple express and define their needs so that an individualized and creative solution can be found.

Coming Up With New Ideas

With some effort and changes in his thinking, a father can also create more time to be with his children and a thriving home that meets the needs of this redefined family. Fathers often need support to think outside the box to create a home that has the "feminine touch," and feels good to be in for the whole family. Design a place to do homework and creative projects. Children can also share in the pleasures and responsibilities of establishing and maintaining this new life.

Create rituals that bring the family together in a new way. Movie and pizza on Friday nights can connect a father with his children after a long week. Saturday night get-togethers where the kids play in one part of the house and the adults congregate in the other, or Sunday meals and activities with family or new friends creative support for the dads and the kids.

On Parenting Plans

Design a parenting plan that actually addresses the needs of a family in transition rather than counting nights and engaging in a power struggle about one parent getting an extra night or two during the week. This will truly allow each parent to best fill their role as caretaker and provider.

The truth is that time on a school night, after homework and extracurricular activities, is often limited and may not be worth the battle. If a father loses some time with his children during the week, perhaps he can have an extended vacation time.

Fathers often want the full parenting experience of the everyday challenges of raising their family. They do not want to be seen as the parent who merely writes out a check each month and slowly loses contact with their children over time. Some men are not interested in what it takes to make this happen, but many are. If either spouse holds the other hostage to a limited role out of anger or fear, everyone loses.

Redefining the family after divorce requires flexibility, patience and a willingness to co-parent even though the partnership has taken on a new form. The interdisciplinary model of collaborative divorce can facilitate this process.

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