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Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. Headshot

Divorced, But Fathering Well

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If you are a dad who has gotten past the anger, hurt and disappointment of divorce and who wants to be an equal parent despite living apart, this article is for you. It is not for those who are so angry or hurt that they can't manage involvement. It's not for those who are abusive or who never loved their kids in the first place. This article is for decent guys who are divorced but want to be real dads.

Children are usually better off if their dad is in their lives. The boys see you as a guiding line for who they are supposed to become. The girls learn who they should look for when seeking a mate someday. Both genders learn how to be in relationship with men. Being a real dad means being there and staying close, physically and emotionally.

Five important ways to pull it off after divorce:

Stay in town. Kids need a dad who is there. If at all possible, stay in the same town as your ex. Yes, it may mean that you give up a promotion or a raise or a better job. But if you are getting by okay, your kids need your time more than they need material extras.

Maintain regular, predictable contact. Establish a schedule of regular times with your kids and stick to it. A weekend "visit" isn't real life. Set up a couple days a week to pick the kids up after school and make dinner, read stories and oversee homework before returning them to their other home. On the days you can't see them, check in by text, phone, Skype, or Facebook.

Stay emotionally engaged. You may not have grown up with an emotional dad but that doesn't mean you can't tap into your sensitive side. Kids need more than maintenance. They need hugs and hearing "I love you" and "I'm proud of you".

Watch them. Go to every game, performance, school open house, scout event, Sunday school picnic -- even if you don't particularly feel like it at the time. Whatever they are doing, the kids are looking around to see if you are there with the other dads.

Value the ordinary. Kids don't need you to be a magical figure in their lives who sprinkles them with gifts and stars whenever they see you. They need your steady, reliable presence in their daily life. That doesn't take a lot of money or big plans. A Saturday morning snuggled on the couch watching cartoons together means as much to a 4 or 5 year old as a week-long vacation in a rented cabin. Bringing popsicles to the soccer practice on a hot day for the whole team means as much to a 8 or 10 year old as staging a banquet. Even doing laundry can be important "dad time" if it's accompanied with talk. Showing interest in who they are and sharing a life is what being a real dad is all about.