Divorce is a tough situation, especially if you have kids: It’s hard to be away from your children, whether it’s part of the time or most of the time. One of the common struggles for whichever parent ends up with less time with the kids (often the dad) is making that precious time meaningful without breaking the bank or constantly being on the go. I’ve been divorced for a number of years, and my kids from that marriage actually moved to a different state with their mother, so I’m limited to seeing them about three times per year.
Because of this limited custody situation, I try to make the most of our time together and make every moment count. The following are some things I’ve learned over the course of my time as a divorced dad, things that have helped make it possible to be close with my children even though I’m far away most of the time.
1. Dads Are Not Event Coordinators
Finding ways to enjoy the time with each other should be the first priority, not feeling compelled to deliver special outings. Event outings, as I like to call them, are good for a special occasion, but they need to be just that: special.
2. Recipe for Success
Some of the fondest memories my kids and I have together are made around the dinner table. Mealtime is central to the family experience for anyone, and we’ve often laughed — and cried from laughing — at whatever silly situations we’ve found ourselves in. When my daughters are with me, my wife and I have a sort of rule that all of us be together for dinner at least five out of seven nights per week. It was hard at first with my oldest being 15 and wanting to hang out with her friends, but nightly dinners have become so regular in our house that she looks forward to it.
Get the kids involved in the meal preparation! My wife and I love food from many cultures, and since the kids don’t experience those foods on their own, we try to explore them together so they can be open to trying new things. I remember an experience we had making falafel, a deep fried Middle Eastern dish. It took us about an hour to prep everything, and then another half-hour to cook them. What a great night, full of really bad falafel jokes (there were many and they were fal-awful!).
We also try to find at least one recipe in every meal none of us has ever tried, so we can all share in the first-time experience. We try not to make it difficult or outrageous, but watching my 8-year-old daughter prepare risotto and proclaim, “I love it!” warmed our hearts. Food becomes a great way to open up some new experiences. Tack on a couple of hours after dinner with your favorite board game and you’ve got great family time.
3. Saturday Is Musicals Night
In our house, Saturday nights are the nights we usually stay home together. Because my daughters, wife and I all happen to be musical comedy fans, we’ve made it a tradition on Saturdays to stay in and watch a musical. From the Disney 90s classics like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King to newer movies like The Princess and the Frog and Enchanted, and back in time to retro musicals like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, we’ve watched just about all of them. My oldest once sent us a message from her mother’s house letting us know that she and her sister went to the library and picked up a musical to watch on a Saturday night. It felt great to hear that the weekly ritual they have at my house meant so much to them, that they continued the tradition at their mom’s house as well.
Not every family loves musicals like ours does, and not every dad has the entire Beauty and the Beast songbook memorized or loves belting it out off-key like I do. My 3-year-old happens to scream, “Again!” every time I sing “Gaston” in the car, so I know I have at least one solid fan. You can pick whatever movie theme works best for your family.
A great tip for the budget-conscious: use your local library! Library cards are free and libraries often have a ton of movies available for checkout. This is a great way to get catalog movies as opposed to new releases. You can also check out books and audiobooks to read or listen to together. The library can be a lot of fun and, in most cases, it’s totally free.