Visiting Kids: Tips for Non-Custodial Parents

Redefine your idea of "quality time." Quality doesn't have to mean expensive, intense, or uninterrupted attention. Instead, quality comes with becoming comfortable with each other.
08/12/2014 02:02 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2014

If you are a non-custodial parent who lives far from the children, visits can be complicated. Whether you are looking forward to a late summer visit, or to the winter holidays or maybe to a spring school vacation, the issues are the same. The parent wants to use the visit to forge and maintain a positive relationship with their child but may worry about knowing how to bridge the gaps in knowing each other that are an inevitable result of time and distance. The kids may look forward to seeing the parent but may also resent having to leave friends and miss out on some familiar events. If they have conflicted feelings about the parent or the parent's partner, they bring their ambivalence with them.

Tips for host parents:

Redefine your idea of "quality time." Quality doesn't have to mean expensive, intense, or uninterrupted attention. Instead, quality comes with becoming comfortable with each other. Plan some special outings if you can but also allow your kids to experience the daily rhythm of your life. Make times for walks and talks and just being quietly together while you share some experiences and activities.

Resist the temptation to be Peter Pan, Santa, and Mother Theresa all rolled into one. You might even be able to pull it off but the kids need a parent, not a fantasy saint. You are an important role model for adulthood. The kids need to see you as you really are.

Kids who do best with visits are generally kids whose custodial parent supports their relationship with their other parent. It's important to do your best to maintain a respectful and positive relationship with your ex. When the parent they live with sends them off with wishes for a good time, the kids are more likely to feel free to do so.

Have a meeting with everyone in the household as soon as the kids arrive to talk together about how best to manage living with each other. Remember that loving kids does not mean having no expectations for pitching in or being polite. Set some ground rules for polite behavior and doing chores. Let the kids contribute to a discussion about what to do when the rules are broken.

If there are children living with you all the time (your partner's kids, or your new family), don't set different rules for the visitors than for everyone else. It will only breed resentment. If you want the rules to be looser during the visit, declare that everyone is on vacation mode and make them looser for all.

Don't ask your new partner or spouse to be parental during visits. It will be hard enough for her or him to be an adult friend in the time frame of visits. Yes, the kids should give your partner the same respect they would give any adult. But take on the tough calls yourself.