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Confessions of a Divorced Dad: But I Want To Be The 'Fun Parent!'

Jul 12, 2014 07:05PM ● By Bill Gilman

Quality time with your child doesn't have to be expensive. But it can be priceless.

(Editor's note: Bill Gilman has been a divorced parent for 18 years. His sons are 22 and 20. This column first appeared on Medfield Patch on Nov. 4, 2013.)

For some of us, the absence of our children from our day-to-day lives in the wake of our marriage dissolving sparks an epiphany of sorts.

We suddenly find "find religion", as it were, when it comes to being part of our children's lives. Because we have far less time to spend with them, we want to make the most out of every day, not wanting to waste a second.

The problem that can develop, however, is that rather than rather than being conscientious parents, we can overcompensate for past mistakes and engage in "faux parenting."

Here's what I mean.

Married parents, in most cases dads, who are work-a-holics or are, in some other manner, self-absorbed, may miss out on opportunities to bond with their children. They might say they are too busy to play tea party or toss the ball in the backyard. They are too tired on the weekends to go to the amusement part, science center or playground.

Now divorced, these parents realize the error of their ways and want to make up for lost time on day or weekend visits. They take their kids to the doll museum, the ball game, the arcade, etc. Every meal is at some type of restaurant (McDonald's clerks know you on a first name basis). And a visit isn't a visit unless it ends with ice cream.

In short, we want our kids to have fun.


Why, all of a sudden, are we so worried about whether or not the kids have fun when they are with us.

There are a few of contributing factors. The first is that we we suspect our ex-spouse may be talking poorly about us and we worry about what our kids think about us in the wake of the divorce. Simply put, we want our kids to like us and want them to "want" to spend time with us.

The second reason is guilt. We know in our hearts that we may have messed up during our marriage and were not the parents we could have been or should have been and we don't want to be the cause of a lifetime of therapy.

The third reason is even less flattering -- competition. Whether or not we choose to admit it, there is a natural tendency to be in competition with our ex-spouse. Who has the nicer house or apartment? Who do the kids like better? Who buys better Christmas presents? Who does more "cool" activities with the kids? Who's involved in the healthier "post-divorce" relationship?

I'm ashamed to admit that all of those reasons were true for me. In the first couple of years after my divorce I was terribly self-conscious and had very low self-esteem. As a result, I looked to my children's love and approval to define my self-worth.

So why is such a bad thing to want our kids to love us and look forward to spending time with us?

On the surface, nothing. But if that is the extent of your relationship, you've are heading for trouble.

At the end of the day, you are first-and-foremost a parent. This means reasonable bedtimes, limits on TV and video games, healthy eating habits, discipline and ... dare I say it ... HOMEWORK!

While is may seem like a good idea to try to be the "fun parent", you are, in fact, failing to do right by your children and are creating whole new sources of conflict with your ex.

Looking to lay the groundwork for a knock-down, drag-out fight with your ex-spouse? Send your children back to her house on a Sunday night at the end of a weekend visit with a science project due on Monday and not even started yet.
Here is the truth you need to remember -- your children love YOU. And they look forward to spending quality face time with you, no matter what you are doing.

Whether you take them to Six Flags, cook dinner, work together on a a science project or build a woeful Pinewood Derby car -- they key is to do it together.
Build memories, share laughs, work through problems -- do it together.

Your children don't need thrills when they are with you. What they need is your time, your attention and your love.

They just need you.
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