By Raising Children Network
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Dad and daughter reading a book at bedtime

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You don’t need to go on expensive outings or have all the latest toys. It’s the time you spend with your kids that’s important.
Separating from a partner is tough. Being separated from your children can be even tougher. Here’s a guide to staying involved with your kids after separation or divorce.

Getting used to solo parenting

Give yourself time
It might take a little while to get used to having a one-on-one relationship with your kids, especially if you haven’t been their main carer in the past. Go easy on yourself if things don’t always go the way you plan.

Be reassuring and open
Children can be frightened by the strong emotions that go along with separation. They need to hear that both parents love them and that the separation isn’t their fault. Try to explain what is happening in terms they can understand. For example, ‘Mum and I won’t be living together, but we both love you and want to see you whenever we can.’ Read more about tackling tough topics with children.

Prepare for hand-over times
It’s a good idea to ring your ex-partner a day or two in advance to confirm hand-over times and places. This is also a good chance to remind the kids of any special items they need to bring.

Make your own traditions
You don’t have to parent just like your partner. In fact, having special routines when the kids are at your house can be fun for everyone. Find out more in our article on creating new family routines.

Special routines could include a regular homemade pizza and movie night. Or try cooking dinner together – whatever you’ll all enjoy. For some healthy and tasty meal ideas to cook with your kids, check out our food and recipes section.

Make your house a home
Children are very adaptable, but they need structure and stability. If you’re living in a new place, it’s important that your kids have a spot they can call their own. Ideally, this would be a room. If that’s not possible, try to give them a cupboard or place to store their things.

Get involved
When you’re with your kids, try to be hands-on with meals, playtime, homework and so on. If you can get to special school and sporting events, it will mean a lot to kids to see both parents at these times. It will also help you understand what’s important to your kids and strengthen your relationship with them. You can read more about making dad time special.

Get support when you need it
Becoming a solo dad can be a steep learning curve, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talking to other single parents can be a great support. Online discussion sites like our dads forum are one good way to get in touch with them.

An important part of staying involved with your kids after separation is having a workable relationship with your ex. Our articles on co-parenting and handling conflict include lots of ideas to help you do this.

Fathering from a distance

Caring for your children part-time doesn’t make you a part-time dad. Not living with your kids doesn’t mean you have to be cut off.

Here are some tips to help you keep up to date with your children’s lives:

  • Phone calls are an easy way to stay in touch. Kids might find it easier to share over the phone than in person. Give your kids your phone number and let them know they can call you anytime. You can also arrange to ring at regular times, so you both can look forward to catching up.
  • Text messages are also a great way to keep in touch with older kids about little things during the day.
  • Making notes for yourself can be a good way to remember your children’s likes and dislikes, important dates and promises about what you’ll do on their next visit. Remembering these things shows your kids how much you care.
  • Sending letters or cards is a wonderful way to let your children know you’re thinking about them. All kids love getting mail. You might even find it easier to express your feelings in writing than you do in person.
  • Modern technology, like digital video and Skype, can help you keep up that personal connection. You could record yourself reading a favourite bedtime story or singing a song, or make a time to do these things live over the webcam.
  • Email makes it easy to share jokes, news or games with your kids. If you don’t have your own computer, you could ask to borrow a friend’s, or book computer time at the library.

When your kids want a break

Sometimes your kids might not want to spend time with you. This might be because they feel torn between their parents and don’t want to choose. They might also be feeling upset if you and your ex have been fighting.

In this situation, it’s best to take things slowly:

  • Respect your children’s wishes. Tell them you would love to see them when they’re ready.
  • Try to stay in contact by other means, like phone calls, letters or emails.
  • Experiment with shorter visits. Even if your kids don’t want to sleep over, they might be happy to spend the day with you doing something fun.
  • Remember that older kids might want to stay at a friend’s house instead of yours. In this case, you could consider inviting their friends over as well.
  • If you have a new partner, your children might not feel comfortable around that person yet. These things take time.
  • Last updated or reviewed 23-11-2012
  • Acknowledgements Article developed in collaboration with Dr Richard Fletcher, Leader, Fathers and Families Research Program.