I'm a divorced dad who has my kids every other weekend and a couple day visits during my off-weeks. I have a 5yo son who just started kindergarten and a 3yo autistic daughter.

I struggle with a lack of continuity with my kids. I feel I can enjoy time with them, but am unable to make a meaningful impact in the direction of their lives.

What can I do to have more impact? I want to be a dad, not a babysitter. I want to help them learn and grow and really help shape their lives.

  • 3
    I was going to answer, but Stephie's answer is very good. I'm a 40 year old father of 3 who grew up with a every other weekend dad. I love him and respect him more now then I did growing up. He never let me push him away, was always there for me, and he attended everything I ever had (that my mother told him about). Be strong of heart, your faithful love of your children will be rewarded.
    – Adam Heeg
    Oct 14, 2016 at 1:54

2 Answers 2


Kudos for asking yourself (and us) this question and your willingness to be a good dad. A lot will depend on the relationship with your ex-partner. I'm assuming a "reasonably amicable divorce" here.

  • Step 1: Be informed about whatever is going on.

Make sure you are up to date with school events, sports club schedules etc. Shared custody is so frequent today that many schools have developed a "double information" policy for those cases, just ask to be informed. From experience, a shared online calendar can be a blessing - accessible for everyone, always up-to-date and avoids misunderstandings that can happen in verbal exchanges. In a few years, your children can even participate. Attend important and not-so-important events, even on your non-visiting days.
If the relationship with your ex is good enough, listen to what she can tell you about current fads and interests in the life of your kids. Talk to your children. Listen carefully and remember what they tell you. Ask follow-up questions at the next meeting.

  • Step 2: Don't be a "sometimes" dad.

You are not the only parent who is absent from home for an extended time. Even in non-separated families, a parent may be away for shorter or longer time spans. Military parents, workers on oil rigs, people who travel for business... A short phone call, perhaps to say good night, Skype, even a postcard or (if you live close) or a note in the letter box are great means of staying present while absent. Be available, if the child wants to talk to you. Make sure they have photos of you.

  • Step 3: Be a dad, not an uncle or babysitter.

If you get only limited time, you are probably inclined to "make the most of it" by spoiling them a bit. Which is fine per se. But I strongly suggest to also take over responsibilities - take over some tasks that the mother might usually do. Go shopping, but not just for toys, but mundane necessities like clothes, school supplies, whatever they need. Take them to the dentist's or hairdresser's. (Talk to your ex-wife about sharing those duties and shopping advice if necessary.)
Teach them basic life skills, just like you would have pre-divorce. You might have to learn a few things yourself, as you don't have the mom as a backup. You children will have to learn a lot of skills, from brushing their teeth to tying their shoes, from riding a bike to driving a car and painting a room. There is a lot of what you can give them that will stay with them for the rest of their life.

  • Step 4: Be a rock. Be reliable.

Unless hell freezes over, try to be there for the scheduled visitations. If you must reschedule, communicate it clearly and as early as possible. You simply can't skip those weekends unless absolutely necessary. (This may be different if you and the childrens's mother have a more flexible system, but the base principle of the children taking first priority remains.)
Step in if necessary. If the mother gets sick, take over. Be willing to take sick days for the children, don't leave that burden to the mom alone. Even if grandparents or new partners are in the picture, be available and willing to make sacrifices in those mundane crisises.

One word of warning:

Even if you do all of the above and more, there might be a time when your children hate your guts and tell you so. It's probably not related to your divorce, even if they claim that. It's called puberty and happens in the best families. Remember the first mantra of child-rearing:
This too shall pass.
And the sage advice of my wise midwife:
Puberty is when the parents are getting weird.

  • Thank you. This has been really difficult for me and your advice seems good and actionable. Any suggestions for dealing with the lack of continuity caused by such short visits? Let's say I wanted to teach a skill, I can't do more than one or two in-home practice sessions and maybe one in the off-weeks if I'm not using that time to do something else like helping with school. Oct 13, 2016 at 13:43

Unfortunately, divorce is set up so that as the noncustodial parent, you have very limited opportunities for meaningful impact due to limited time with the kids. Here are a few things you can do on and with your schedule:

I. Keep up with your kids' school. Schedule at least one one on one meeting of at least half an hour with each teacher at the beginning of each semester. Initially this will be to understand what's expected in the grade and where your child stands; later it will be to ensure that the teacher understands your child's needs. Make sure the school sends you report cards and preferably any other communications as well. In my state, the law requires the school to send duplicate information to both parents - including for example completed and graded homework - but you still have to push the school to ensure they actually comply. Don't be afraid to use the principal to help you apply pressure if the teacher - who would rather just deal with the one parent who brings the child to school - is resistant to including you.

Get your children - well, one child so far, but eventually both - to bring their schoolwork to you and talk to them about it. Make sure one of the days on each weekend you have is just for fun and enjoyment with the kids, but don't be afraid to set aside time on the other day - to help out with things the kids are having trouble with. This time can be leveraged by keeping up with the kids' progress with the teacher on a more frequent basis.

II. Make sure you get some regularly scheduled one on one time with each kid. Don't be afraid to hire a babysitter for a few hours for one of the two kids while you are with the other one. Given you have the kids only every other weekend, I'd recommend a 2-3 hour chunk with each kid during that weekend. For example, you could hire a sitter for 5 hours, go do something with your son for 2.5 hours, then go do something with your daughter for 2.5 hours. Initially your son may need more time since he is older and needs his father more. Find a good sitter that your kids like.

III. If and when your ex needs or wants financial help with the kids, offer help in kind, not in cash. For example, you could select and buy clothes for the kids.

IV. Take the kids when your ex doesn't want them. There will be times when your ex would rather dump the kids on someone else. If you're always available for her to dump them on, you get extra time with them. That helps provide the continuity that would enable you to have more impact. Perhaps you can eventually negotiate extra time, so that you can have some weekly contact at a regular time instead of every other week. Maybe you can negotiate some evenings where you split the kids, giving you some scheduled one on one time during the week. You ex likely wants some one on one time with each kid, too, so this might not be as hard to negotiate as you might imagine.

V. Consider scheduling coordination time with your ex every couple of weeks, possibly with a counselor to keep disagreements from getting out of hand. That way you can be working toward the same goals with the kids to the extent that you agree on those goals. That could extend your impact beyond the time you personally have with the kids.

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