How to Help Your Kids Love and Connect with Their Father After Divorce (Even When You HATE HIM)

by Shannon Streger

I will be the first to tell you, I HATE divorce!  I never thought I would find myself divorced, single at 35, whilst raising 3 kids under 8; but life is unpredictable.  There is a LOT of judgement out there when it comes to divorce. I know I’ve dealt with my fair share of critics, especially having walked through this as not only a Christian, but also, a pastor’s wife.

People told me I was “ruining my life”, that I was likely, now “damned to hell”, and the real zinger, “I had selfishly ruined my kids FOREVER”.  And, all this to scare me into staying in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship I had worked hard to keep together for over 17 years. I realized that with hard work and openness, my kids didn’t have to be “ruined” and infact, they could very well thrive in a two-home, co-parenting arrangement.

One of the first steps was coming to an agreement with their father about how that would look.  He was in agreeance we needed to work on having positive exchange and open dialog about our children, especially in front of them.  They needed to see we were on the “same team” when it came to parenting. I would like to share with you some steps I have learned towards having a healthy co-parent relationship that gives your children space to feel connected to their father, while still allowing you to “move on.”

*It is important to note: these steps may not be possible in every situation. If your ex is unwilling to work with you, the fact is you will only be able to do so much and if your ex is not a safe person for your children to be around at all then your path will look completely different.  

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Provide a means for them to communicate with him directly..and often.

In this day in age of smartphones and FaceTime, connecting face to face with someone is easier than ever.  While at times I find it tempting to discourage phone calls for the sake of busyness and staying on routine, this is a lifeline that could be crucial to showing your child you will not stand in the way of them building a strong relationship with their other parent.  It’s not always convenient but it’s important none the less.  We often will do facetime calls from the car on the way home from school or they take turns on the couch talking to Dad while I make dinner.  

TIP: Avoid calls when they are emotionally vulnerable such as bedtime. Sometimes you may feel that an exception is appropriate but be aware that this could potentially be upsetting.

You may opt for a regular phone call vs. facetime, particularly in the beginning.  I was given this advice early in my separation.  Seeing their other parent but not physically being with them can be confusing for young children.  At times too, when emotions are high, it can be a manipulative exchange and in turn will create an unhealthy relationship for the parent and child.

 

Share stories and point out commonalities.

As you find yourself healing from a separation and/or divorce, it is tempting to rid yourself of all things that include or remind you of your former partner.  You may even catch yourself becoming irritated at the very mention of their name.  To help my children feel connected to their Dad, I began making a point of sharing stories or pointing out common interests.  My kids favorite story about their Dad is “the roach story”.  I’m pretty sure my re-account gets longer and more dramatic with every telling.  They also love when we talk about where they got some of their distinctives such as hair and eye color.

TIP: You never want your child to feel that because they may remind you of your ex that you are rejecting them. Encourage them that the traits that they share with their other parent are ones you love, even if you don’t love it in your ex.

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Encourage them to celebrate special days and help provide a means for them to do so (birthdays, religious holidays, Father’s day, etc..).

Kids love giving gifts as much as they enjoy receiving them. Perhaps with little ones, give them each a certain amount to spend on an individual gift and give suggestions on things you know your ex-husband will enjoy. If they are older, this is a great opportunity to teach savings and budgeting, allowing them to plan their own giving.  But, better yet, a homemade gift goes just as far, if not further. Remember, this is their father, and gifts are a great way to express love and build a deeper connection.  Allow them to brainstorm what their father enjoys, his interests, hobbies, etc.

TIP: Let them own the gift as being just from them, not from you, no matter how much you did to make it happen. And then let it go, don’t expect your ex to make the same effort and don’t stew on that because this is about your child and their relationship with their other parent. You’re doing this for your child, not your ex.

 

He isn’t JUST their father; he is ALSO their parent.

Make a point to keep the other parent informed, whether that be phone, email, counselor, or direct communication from their school of successes and difficulties your children may be experiencing. You may now be leading your household alone, but it doesn’t remove their other parent from helping to guide and teach. For instance If your child is having a tough time making good choices, or is struggling with their friend connections at school, give their parent an opportunity to speak into that situation as well and address disciplinary problems. This will further cement the fact that as a two-home family, Mom and Dad are still “on the same playing field” when it comes to their parenting roles.

Tip: Do not take this as an opportunity to blame-shift or use the other parent as “the bad guy”.  This will jeopardize the co-parenting relationship and create a toxic environment for everyone! Also, do not make disciplinary decisions for the other parent. For instance, do not set restrictions that apply to their time with the other parent. Allow Dad to set his own consequences for his home.

We all worry about our kids and want them to thrive as they develop into the amazing people they have the potential to become. Even through divorce, your children can and will flourish and develop normally emotionally, and having a strong plan in place will help make that possible. This isn’t realistic in every situation, and that’s ok! Your children still have a strong future ahead of them, with your help. You’ve got this!


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Shannon Streger, a work at home mom, is the project manager for The Leaky Boob. She is a (not so proud) native Houstonian.  Truly the most un-Texan Texan you’ll meet. She has 3 amazing children who keep her days full! She has a degree in Kinesiology and Psychology from Houston Baptist University. Recently, she began the certification process to become a birth doula and IBCLC.  In her free time, Shannon enjoys road trips, anything outdoors with her kids, and 90’s movies. 

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A Journey Through Breastfeeding and Visitation

This post is one I am most proud of and I didn’t even write it.  A guest post from a dedicated Leaky, I am honored to share the story of Charity and her nursling Keegan and his relationship with his dad.  Desiring to protect and preserve the breastfeeding relationship she worked so hard to establish with her son, single mom Charity explains how they navigated the murky waters of parental visitation with his father.  Demonstrating how important community is as not only support but in challenging us and providing resources, Charity details her journey from resentment and anger towards her son’s father to flexibility and sacrifice to be sure her son receives what is best and normal.  Knowing that The Leaky Boob community was a part of her story encouraging her along the way brings me great joy.  I’m so grateful Charity was willing to share her story with us, it is my hope that as she found support and encouragement from so many through The Leaky Boob, her words will now be passed on to support and encourage others as well.


I remember the strange guy walking up to me with paper’s in his hand. I had known in the back of mind this day was coming.  I had hoped and prayed it wouldn’t.  I even had my self almost convinced it wouldn’t, but here it was.  He asked for me by last name, but it was my married name, I told him no it wasn’t me.  Almost as if it would stop this moment.  Like it wasn’t happening.  Then he asked with my maiden name.  “Yup that’s me”, “you have officially been served.”  And he got in his car and drove off.  I didn’t even have to open the manila envelope I held in my hand, my world was crumbling around me and I couldn’t move.  I sat down on the ground right there, and cried.  I have two older children by a different Father so this should be easy. I have been through it before.  What made this so different, some may ask.  This baby had been raised differently than the other two.  This was my Attachment baby.

I started to go back to the very 1st moment, sitting right there on the ground.  It all started with an email.  And then a drive to meet him.  He was cute, really cute.  We were both nervous but really liked each other.  So I stayed the night.  And then the next day he said he loved me and I believed him.  He moved in not to long after.  We looked at houses to move into and talked about getting married.  We also talked about having a baby.  I wrapped the pregnancy test in a little box with a bow and he came home from base and opened it.  He wasn’t as happy as I had pictured he would be.  But I pretended he was.  Well that didn’t last long and he was gone.  I got the it’s not my baby.  He saw me once or twice while I was pregnant and then he was born.  I called him and told him and he said he might try and make it up.  So I sent to two text messages with pictures of the baby and he came up.  He teared up a little or maybe that’s my brain playing tricks on me.  He looked just like his daddy.  He told me he would come back and see him before we went home.  The baby ended up in NICU the next morning and he never showed back up.  So I brought my little man home and decided I would forget about the daddy.  I could do this on my own.  I had done it before.

I breastfed exclusively, wore him in a sling, co-slept, and didn’t let anyone watch my precious little man.  I had lost a baby 6 months before getting pregnant with him and so I wasn’t going to share him with anyone!  But I started to wonder once in awhile if his daddy ever thought about him and when he was 3months old I called him up.  He met me at a restaurant held him for a few moments and told me if I wanted to move out of state he wouldn’t stop me.  His words “I have screwed up your life enough, I won’t screw it up anymore”, hit me hard.  What screwed up my life?  You gave me the most amazing child ever.  And that was that.  He walked away.  That is until Child Support got started.  I got the it’s not my child a lot.  When Keegan was finally 6 months old we had DNA testing done to prove to him he was his.  He was.  I still wasn’t worrying about visitation.  He would pop in when he felt like it and I let him.  I figured as long as we weren’t fighting everything would be ok.  But then it happened.  We fought.  And then we didn’t talk at all, for months, no word.  Next I am sitting on the ground crying.  I called my mom and my dad, and a couple of friends.  I was grasping any emotion I could.  Anyone to tell me what I wanted to hear.  I wanted to hear this wasn’t happening.  I wanted to hear he couldn’t do this.  That wasn’t happening.  Why wasn’t that happening.  And then I started thinking, what about our breastfeeding relationship.  What about our co-sleeping relationship.  I have never left him with a sitter for more than an hour or two. He dosen’t even know this man.  I don’t want him to know this man.

One of the first things I did was email the creator of The Leaky [email protected]@B.  One of my favorite Facebook pages.  I thought my fellow Leakies could help out.  I wanted to know how to stop it.  I wanted to know how I could get it so he didn’t get to see him.  I didn’t want to have to hand over my baby.  I still didn’t want to share.  I wasn’t ready to share. I also started on a frenzy calling attorney’s that dealt with attachment parenting cases, especially breastfeeding cases.  To my surprise there wasn’t one.  I don’t live in a huge town but it isn’t small ether, and I couldn’t find one damn attorney that would back me up the way I wanted them too.  So I found the one attorney that calmed me every time I talked to him.  Yup I said HIM.  His wife was a fellow breastfeeding, co sleeping, baby wearing, cloth diapering mama. He had this way about him that was so soothing.  And then Jessica posted my question anonymously on The Leaky [email protected]@B Facebook wall.  It was bitter-sweet when I started reading the comments.  I didn’t hear most of what I wanted to hear.  I still didn’t want to share.  But I did get some AMAZING links.  And advice.  I also spent the next couple days staring at this amazing little boy I had kept to myself.  I only wanted to do what was I felt was best for him.  I wanted to shield him from the big ugly mean world.  And this big mean daddy that had hurt his mommy.  He was an asshole in my book.  A looser.  I had Keegan’s best interest in my mind.  Or so I thought at the time.

I had a Focus on Children class I had to attend through the court system in a couple days, and my 1st thought was the paper says NO KIDS!  Well that doesn’t apply to me, I am Exclusively Breastfeeding. I never leave my baby with anyone.  How am I supposed to go to this 3hr class and leave him.  So I did what any irrational person would do. I called the court house, and argued with the lady in charge of the class.  Of course I got the, honey the rules are the same for everyone, NO KIDS.  She did let me know it was my choice to show up to the class and if I chose not to I would be the one with the contempt of court charge.

So I got my sitter and, pissed off at the world especially the asshole making me leave my son to go to this stupid class, I headed out to the Focus on Children Class.  When I walked into the court room I thought “what a joke.”  This is such BS I have to be here.  The 1st speaker got up and started talking.  I of course was too pissed off to listen, until they brought in the family court judge.  Our judge.  He went on to explain that it was in our children’s best interest to settle out of court.  What?  What was this guy thinking.  I didn’t want to settle I wanted to fight, I was looking for a fight.  He poked the momma bear and this momma bear was mad.  He started to tell us why, sharing the effect an ugly court battle had on the children involved.  I have never cried so hard in front of people.  I was not going to let my little man go through this.  And then he said it loud and clear.  It was almost like the walls shook, “If the case ends up in court NEITHER parent gets what they want. We make sure of that.”  The best interest of the child is now in the hands of a stranger.  A STRANGER.  Is that what I had thought Keegan’s best interest was, a stranger’s choice?  This stranger didn’t carry him all day in the sling.  This stranger did feed him at his breast till he feel asleep.  This stranger didn’t wakeup 12 times a night making sure he was still breathing.  He didn’t know what was best for him.  I did.  I was his mommy.  I was the protester.  We watched a video that featured children in it talking about schedules and visitation and some were crying.  Heart broken their parents were fighting every time they got picked up and dropped off.  They asked why couldn’t they just get along for that moment.  I remember the most amazing thing I heard in that class: “Kids know a rock when they’ve got one.”  He explained it as there is almost always one parent that is the Splitting parent.  The parent that calls the other one names, wants to know what is going on at the other’s house, and having the child be a message carrier.  When your child grows up they will turn to the rock when in crisis and in need.  They will know that rock is always gonna be there for him/her.  I had decided at that moment that I wanted to be that Rock.  I didn’t want to be the splitter.  I wanted to be the bigger person.  I  wanted my son to be happy.  I didn’t want to have to hand over a screaming child.  I learned that almost any parenting schedule will work for children whose parents are cooperating.  That’s when I decided that’s what I wanted for my son.

That night  I went home and nursed my little man to sleep and the next day I went to see my attorney. He wanted me to write down three things. One was the visitation I wanted to give my son’s father.  Two the most visitation I would give him, and three the least amount of visitation I would give him.  Well I had a hard time doing that.  I still didn’t want to share, but I had some paperwork for my attorney.  I had printed off a couple articles that had been suggested to me through my question on The Leaky [email protected]@B.  One was from  La Leche League International about the breastfeeding relationship and visitation.  AMAZING article.  I loved it.  A must read for anyone facing visitation with their breastfeeding child.  One huge thing I took from it was they are only little for so long.  Five years go by so quickly.  Why is the other parent insistent on every other weekend?  Is it because that is the norm?  Well In my case it wasn’t going to be.  Remember, I wanted the best for Keegan, not just what I wanted or what his father wanted.  I just had to convince his dad to feel the same way I did.  Ha!  You mean the guy I hadn’t talked to in months?  The guy that broke my heart?  The guy that took me to court instead of coming and talking to me!!  Yeah that guy. That same article talks about the kind of parenting style the mother has done with the child under visitation plans.  Read it, and then reread it again.  Make sure you memorize it.  And then just when you think you have it down.  READ it again.  Because it’s just at that moment when you find something else you were missing.  So I highlighted all the points in this article I felt pertained to my situation and gave it to my attorney.  Then he brought up the question I had been waiting to hear.  I knew it was coming.  You know he is a year old now and the courts aren’t huge believers in extended breastfeeding, so when do you plan on quitting so we have a time line we can work with.  Well I don’t plan on quitting.  I am in this for the long haul.  I am going to let him self wean.  And I brought a letter for that too, a Letter for Court Cases in support of extended breastfeeding by Katherine A Dettwyler, Ph.D.

I left the office that day feeling pretty good.   Keegan had to have surgery and per the court papers I had to let his dad know of the surgery and when it was and where it was.  Now did I want him to go, HELL NO.  I wanted to be the bigger person.  I really did.  But that didn’t mean I wanted to face him.  That didn’t mean I didn’t want to rip his eyes out.  I hated him.  He was taking me to court!  For my son.  My son.  I tried to send the email 5 times and all 5 times I hit cancel.  But I didn’t want to screw up the case so on the 6th time I hit send.  I got an answer very quick.  Thank you I’ll be there.  NOT the words I wanted to read.  So the night before the surgery I of course didn’t’ sleep at all.  It wasn’t because I was scared of the surgery.  Nope that didn’t scare me at all. This would be the second time we went through this.  I was scared because I had to face him.  I won’t lie, I prayed all night he wouldn’t show up.  I thought in the back of my mind how bad it would for him if we had to go to court.  I wished his car would break down on the way.  We got there, no dad.  They called us back, no dad.  Ten minutes to surgery and I heard the nurse say I think they are right here.  I swear I almost puked on myself when I saw him walk into that room.  And when I was asked who he was I squeakily answered this is bio-dad.  Not that he had another dad.  But I sure as hell wasn’t gonna give him the credit.  They took my little man back and this time I didn’t cry.  I was too pissed off that he was there.  So we were sitting in the waiting room and I tried to not say anything at first but I couldn’t my stupid mind had played tricks on me, I didn’t hate this asshole that had broke my heart, I still loved him.  So after surgery we were headed out to the car and I said “If you would like to come and see him you can.”  He said “I would like to sit down with you and talk about the visitation if we can.  We don’t have to go to mediation, if we figure it out together.”   I said we will see.

We sent a couple emails back and forth about not going to mediation.  He couldn’t afford the 120.00 hr. and I only could because I didn’t’ have to pay for it.  So I talked to my attorney and he said do it.  It will let us know what he wants.  So I wrote up what I wanted and printed off the same paper work I gave the attorney, highlighting everything he needed to read.  Grabbing the book Focus on Children, it was time for me to convince him everything I felt.  I showed up to the library and we sat down.  I had asked him to write down what he wanted and asked him for it and he said he didn’t have to write it down he wanted every other weekend.  Yeah, NOT!  No way I am thinking to myself.  One thing I learned from the Focus on Children Class was that in the state of Idaho, in most cases no judge will just hand a child over that does not know the other parent.  So I handed him my paper.  And it read as follows:

One hour a day for two weeks you must come to my house to see Keegan.  This is the fastest way to get a child to know someone.  This is on the child’s territory so the child feels safer.

At first he said no and then my tongue moved faster then it ever had. I was quoting the pages I had highlighted. I really didn’t even know I had them memorized.  And he got it.  He understood that Keegan would only be little for a short time.  That soon he wouldn’t be breastfeeding and needing mommy all day.  He understood that he needed short frequent visits. He understood that with breastfeeding until Keegan he self-weaned and the attachment parenting I was doing was what was best for Keegan.

After 2 weeks: for 6 months you get Keegan-Tues and Thurs from 5-7pm.  I will drop Keegan off at your house.

I chose this time because my older daughter has gymnastics and I would love to be able to watch her once in awhile.  That is also one of Keegan’s most well behaved times of the day. Also, I had learned that if you drop the child off then it is less traumatic normally because the child doesn’t have to stop what they is doing to leave.  That is when most parents have problems.  A child normally doesn’t ever want to stop what they is doing.

Every Sat. from 10-2, time to increase at 6 month intervals (10-4, 10-6).

I know this seems like a lot to some and not much to others.  The whole point of a phased in visitation schedule is so the child gets use to going with the other parent.  The other point of so many days was young children don’t have the longterm memories us adults do.  After 3 or 4 days a very young child won’t remember as well.  Then every six months the sat. hours went up.  10-4, then 10-6.  They stayed at 10-6 till he SLEF WEANS.  That was written in cap’s through out  the parenting plan.  His dad didn’t want every sat. as he has drill weekends and needed at least one weekend to himself.  So in the end we ended up with Tues and Thurs and every other Sat.

All it took was one email sent out and we were in agreement.  It started with one person being the bigger person.  One person saying “I’m sacred to death to talk to this person, but I have to think about the child involved not my feelings.”  It took the other person following the lead and saying yeah it is about the child.  You can’t use the excuse well I don’t know his number or how to get a hold of him.  If you got served your attorney can get his number, email address.  If you can’t put your feelings aside for the sake and well being of your child then you can’t say you want whats best for your child.  A child knowing and interacting with both of their parents is one of the best things for them.  I say lets grow-up, lets take back our parental rights and leave the courts out of making the life changing decisions for our children.  Put your excuses away!!!  So Keegan went to his dads house for a couple Tuesday’s, and Thursday’s and he just cried and screamed when I dropped him off so his father and I decided for the time being he would come to my house to see Keegan.  I can say that sitting in the same room with Keegan’s father kills me every time as I still love him, but we have a happy, healthy 18 month old son and his happiness is what matters to us.  We will make the sacrifices necessary to do what is best for him.

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