Did you grow up without a father? You're not alone. Every year, over a million kids experience their parents' divorce, leaving many with only a part time Dad or without one. According to 2005 statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau in August 2007, there were approximately 21.2 million children living with single parents. Now, almost 10 years later, a great many of those kids are grown, They are finding partners and having kids of their own.
It's hard enough to deal with the absence of a parent when you're a little kid but the impact doesn't stop. Judith Wallerstein, one of the foremost researchers in the effect of divorce on kids, has found that the most powerful impact of divorce often occurs in a person's 20's. Why? Because that's when the question of marriage and parenthood comes front and center. Kids of divorce often long for the kind of two parent family that lives in chick flicks and fantasy and maybe the people who lived next door. But they are also terrified they will blow it -- just as they think their parents did.
Here's the good news. Children of divorce can grow up to be good partners and mothers and fathers. It doesn't necessarily come naturally. It may take extra time, attention and focus. But going about making successful family relationships is a skill that can be learned.
Since Fathers Day is coming, let's focus on fathering with a few reminders of what it takes to be a dad as well as the guy who made the baby.
1. Spend time with them. When a dad spends his time with his kids, he is showing them that he thinks they are worth his time and attention. Nothing builds self-esteem better than that.
2. Play with them. When they are little, get on the floor and goof around. Stack blocks. Roll the ball back and forth. Pretend you are a lion. The kids need active play with their dad. As they get older, just do older kid kinds of play. That means shooting hoops, having a catch, going for walks, visiting interesting places. Whatever you're doing, be genuinely involved. Make it special time with dad.
3. Talk to them. Really talk to them. Figure out what they are interested in and learn about it. It doesn't matter if the topic is a sport, science fiction movies or the latest music craze. If you learn about their interests, you'll have good conversation starters. Once conversation is rolling, the kids are likely to share their hopes and fears as well.
4. Have patience with them. Kids are not little adults. They aren't always on their best behavior. They don't always try as hard as we'd like them to when learning a new skill. Don't get mad. Take a deep breath, explain what's required, talk softly and be fair.
5. Respect boundaries. That means treating kids, including teen kids, as kids. Don't share any complaints about their mother. Kids shouldn't be asked to join an adult fight. Be physically appropriate with them. Hug and kiss the little ones. Keep affection safe as they grow older. By all means, tell them know how handsome or pretty they are becoming but never, ever flirt or make them uncomfortable.
6. Tell them you love them. Time, play, talk, patience and appropriate boundaries are all ways to show your kids that you love them. But every once in a while, a kid, no matter how old, needs to hear the words.