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With Your Children

by Tom Hoerner

Seven Ways To Connect BetterAsk men how to connect with their children and most reply, "Connecting means spending time with your child." But where does a father find the time? Well, time is everywhere and everyday. It is at school programs, driving in the car, teaching children your trade, doing house chores, or building things. Time is priceless and valued by how it is spent.

Billy is a visiting father. His secret to connecting with his child is utilizing time to the fullest. "I try to take advantage of every minute I have with my son. My standard visitation order says I have possession of him from Wednesday after school to Thursday morning and the first, third and fifth weekends." For Billy, every minute with his son is quality time. "I use the time in the morning for us to talk as we get ready together. My son even likes to shave with me. After school is for exercise and doing homework; evenings end with a bedtime story."

In addition to court-ordered time, Billy's ex-wife is flexible with visitation. "My son calls me when there is a school project due, and I even take him with me when I run errands. He loves to go with me when I pick up supplies for my contracting business."

Billy also avoids the TV. He says, "Good conversation and the TV go together like oil and water. Besides, I think the television turns my son's brain to mush." Billy has house rules on watching TV. Number one, no TV during dinner. Number two, TV is allowed only after doing something meaningful or that has a purpose. "I make him draw, read or exercise before watching TV." Number three, if homework isn't done, the tube is off. According to Billy, the best part of limited television is how much more active he is with his son. "We ride bikes, play catch and swim as often as we can. I don't even have cable TV anymore. I'm saving money and I have a terrific relationship with my son because we are not stuck to the tube."

John, a custodial father of two, tries to include emotional support during his time with his children. He claims giving consistent love is the key to connecting. "My children are growing and developing their own lives and social agenda. They have their own friends and school activities and are always on the go. This makes it difficult to maintain an open and honest relationship with them. We are not always in the house at the same time.

"My biggest concern is that I get wrapped up in my work or domestic responsibilities, and sometimes forget to give my children the time they need and deserve. So, I have a house rule that dinner is always served at the table. This provides time for us to talk. The way I figure, kids are like dogs. When they are hungry, they'll come home. And when they do, I'm there."

"I know a lot about my children because of this. I know who their best friends are, what classes they are taking and what was the last movie they saw. This is the foundation to connecting with your children."

"I also spend a little time with each child individually and make an effort to hold and love them. When my kids were babies, I would crawl on the ground with them and make those goofy baby sounds. Today, I'm lucky to have 10 to 15 minutes of quiet time with them and maybe put my arm around them."

John also has a philosophy about saying good-bye. "I never let the last words out of my mouth be negative or cruel--even if we have been arguing. I just couldn't imagine something terrible happening to me or my children, and my last words had been anything but, 'I love you.'"

Steven Finstein LMSW-ACP,LMFT, RSOTP, Marriage and Family Therapist, Mental Health Advisor, and divorced father of two recalls the most powerful thing he did to connect with his children was showing up at their school. "This was something that my ex did not have control over. Otherwise, she stuck strictly with the divorce decree."

In first and second grade, Steven's son was tickled that Dad showed up to have lunch with him in the school cafeteria. "I would sit with him and his friends. He liked showing me off." Steven continues with a chuckle, "Today I think he is embarrassed of me. He likes me to drive off as quickly as possible when I drop him off at school."

"In the third grade my son was in a private school, and they allowed me to take him off campus for lunch. This was a real treat for him to go for a hamburger with me rather than eat the school food." Today Matt is 15, and he recently mentioned his great memories of connecting with Dad during lunch visits.

Steven made similar visits with his daughter. "I would show up unannounced and sit in her class." Steven's daughter, who is now 33, remembers Dad's visits and schedules school lunch with her daughter once a week. "I guess the combination of her being both surprised and proud of her dad stuck in her mind. I think the take home message is to create memories with emotional attachments."

Andrew Schultz, LPC and father of two advises that a father needs to step back and learn what is important in their child's lives. "Fathers need to read between the lines of what their children are telling them. How do their children feel or think about day-to-day activities, school, friends, or dating? The art of connecting takes practice and an understanding that, as fathers, we're not perfect. As long as we make efforts to learn about what our children need, and not focus on what we need from them, we are ahead of the game."

One last note on connecting with children; the best rewards are from the efforts put forth. In addition to playtime, the time spent with a child should be used teaching right from wrong, instilling basic values of self-respect and pride, and living by the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In turn, the rewards are immeasurable. There's no replacement for the words, "Dad, I love you!" or the memory of "Look Dad, I caught it!" In addition, the accomplishment of raising good children is considered a noble act (especially in a woman's eyes) and adds an overwhelming boost to a father's self-esteem.

The above is from The Ultimate Survival Guide for the Single Father, by Thomas Hoerner. Copyright (c) 2001 Harbinger Press. Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved.

 

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