One of the most common laments I hear from parents after divorce is the loss of quality time with their kids. That is understandable. The time they had with their kids is reduced, whether they are the custodial parent or not.
While this challenge is experienced by both parents, it is more acute for the non-custodial parent. The same holds true for the suggested ways to address this challenge. These will apply to either parent but will be particularly useful for the non-custodial parent.
Here are some of the ways you can spend more time with your kids:
When divorce hits, one of the parents is moving out. Typically, it is the non-custodial parent, as the courts favor minimizing the number of changes for the kids. It is really hard to spend more time with your kids if you have to drive an hour across town to see them. That automatically whacks two hours of available time off the top.
Move as close as you can to your kids. While right next door might be a little too close for comfort for your former spouse, I recommend a mile or two away. The point is, you want to be within 10-15 minutes max of drive time. Ideally, you should be close enough that the kids can ride their bikes to see you. (If kids still even do that any more — but you get my point.)
Being closer will naturally create more opportunities for you to see them, and for them to see you. If you are convenient to their primary residence, you just might get asked by your former spouse if he/she can drop off the kids for “just an hour or two” while they: (fill in the blank).
I already hear the excuses from some of you why this is not possible. Sorry, I am not buying them. I would rather the extra hour you drive each day be to your work than to your kids. Being in close proximity to your kids will almost magically create more opportunities to see them. Being closer to work, won’t. Sorry.
Get a Job Where You Can Work at Home/Flexible Hours
More so than ever, work can be done just about anywhere you have power and an internet connection. If you don’t believe me, just head over to your local Starbucks some weekday, say around 11 a.m., and see how many adults are in there hunched over their laptops and on their phones. This is great news for you.
If you don’t have a job that allows you work remotely, or has flexible working hours, now is the time to get one. Before you start thinking up all the excuses why this is not possible, remember all your talk about how your kids come first in your life. Now is the time to prove it. I know getting another job can be a total hassle, but you will thank me ten years from now when you look back and see how you were able to be much more available to your kids because you made some hard choices to align your career around their needs. The time is now to make those changes.
Volunteer In Their School
Just this morning, I got an email from my third grader’s teacher looking for volunteers for a classroom activity. It is from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. These opportunities pop-up fairly often. So, if you live in the kids’ school district, you will naturally be in close proximity to their school, and you can take advantage of the opportunities for great interactive time. Trust me, your kids are going to fondly remember how often you dropped in to see them at school; it is a treat for them, sure to warm their hurting hearts.
If you have flexibility in your job AND live nearby to your kids, you will be able to take advantage of the recurring opportunities to volunteer in their school.
Schools are always looking for dads to volunteer, especially for field trips. There are never enough dads to help with the boys. A male presence is so helpful (and much appreciated) with things like restroom breaks and dealing with rowdy boys. Once you start volunteering you will become the “go-to” person for future events. I know this from personal experience.
I was blessed to be able to volunteer often at my kid’s school. One time I volunteered to help at a Book Fair. The woman heading it up could not believe that a dad actually volunteered, and she paraded me around to all the kids saying, “Look, boys and girls, we actually have a dad here today to help us. Isn’t that wonderful?! A dad is here.” While I felt a little bit like the freak at the freak show, it sadly underscored the fact that too few dads are taking the time to engage with their kids at school.
Take advantage of this time while your kids are young enough to want you there. Once middle school hits, you’re toast.
Coach Their Sports Team
If your kids love to play soccer, chances are they are spending a lot of time, well, playing soccer. If you want to grab some of that time and share it with them, there is no better way than coaching their sports team. As crazy as it sounds, prior experience is often NOT a requirement. I learned this quite by accident.
I volunteered to assist with my son’s soccer team a few years ago. My version of volunteering (and what I penciled in on the form) was to basically be a water boy. I was happy to bring snacks, drinks, and help with communications. I know this may be hard to believe, but I know almost nothing about soccer. Surprising, I know, but true. You see, I am a little on the, well, “older side.” Soccer was not a thing when I was a kid. That is why I was happy to just be a grunt for the team. Well, surprise, surprise, they were running short on coaches, so the guy that heads up the league called me and convinced me that I could easily handle the coaching duties because he was going to pair me up with someone who had coached before. Yeah, right! The guy they paired me with knew little more than I did!
Well, the season was a disaster, BUT I got to spend lots of extra time with my kid. And so can you when you volunteer to coach. Remember, having experience is rarely necessary.
Teach Their PSR Class
Like coaching sports, most parishes are scrambling to find PSR (a/k/a CCD, a/k/a Catechism) teachers. And, also like coaching, having experience is rarely necessary. Hopefully, you have a leg up because you have been living your Catholic faith for a while, but again, most parishes have a ready-made program. All you have to do is open the book to that week’s lesson, and, BAM!, you’re a PSR teacher.
Like coaching, this will give you weekly opportunities for extra time with your kid(s).
Become a Scout Leader
Ok, continuing on the theme… Like sports and PSR, most scouting programs are hungry for leaders. Like my soccer experience, I volunteered to be the assistant leader for my son’s Cub Scout den. No prior experience there, either. And get this: I was also a “helper” for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. It was a little awkward being the only dad in the mandatory training — but, hey, for my kid…
One of the big bonuses for being a scout leader is CAMPING TRIPS! These are great opportunities to spend lots of extra time with your kids. Plus, the other parent can’t limit this time. It is all yours with your kids.
And for all you single parents who think that moms can’t be involved in Boy Scouts or dads are shut out from Girl Scouts, it’s simply not true. I was on a Father-Son overnight camping trip this past summer with my son and about 25% of the “dads” where actually moms.
All of this is great news for single-parents trying to spend more time with their kids.
Go to Your Kid’s Events
I know, that in some situations, the custodial parent can be quite hostile to the other parent seeing their kids on all but the scheduled visitation times. This can really limit the potential for extra time. Hopefully, some of the other strategies I have mentioned will help.
If all else fails, just go to your kid’s stuff. You don’t need anyone’s permission to go see Johnny play basketball or watch Susie in her school play. The point is, there are usually plenty of opportunities for you to spend time with your kids and/or stay plugged into their lives outside of the “visitation schedule.”
Think Outside the Box
Too often I hear from non-custodial parents that they are restricted from spending time with their kids because of the visitation schedule, and yet, they don’t even think about the many ways they can stay actively involved in their kids’ lives outside of the schedule. Think outside the box! You will make your kids happy, and years from now, you will be so glad you made the sacrifices.