According to Statistics South Africa, four out of ten marriages end in divorce before their 10th anniversary.
This means many parents of young children are spending less time with their kids, as defined by parental plans and custody orders.
As Craig Wilkinson, founder of the Dad Coach, says: it's our children’s hearts that are tragically caught in the crossfire.
Having experienced this firsthand, he shared with Parent24 that telling his own children that their parents were getting divorced was probably the hardest conversation he has ever had in his life.
“My son Luke was 11 at the time and my daughter Blythe, 8,” he says. “It took everything I had to stop my tears from flowing.”
Their lives were being turned upside down, he explains, by the two people they trusted and relied on most in the world.
So validate their feelings, Wilkinson urges.
“Let them know that what they are feeling is normal and okay. Children often experience guilt when feeling anything negative towards their parents and will hide or suppress their emotions,” he says.
Visit www.dadcoachonline.com/udc for a 50% discount on the online dad course with the code PARENT24-50.
He says that since the parents are responsible for breaking up the world as they know it, in a divorce, children have every right to feel negative emotions towards their parents.
“After my divorce I realised that Luke was feeling very angry with me and his mom,” he says, “but he felt confused and guilty about what he was feeling. I let him know that it was okay to feel that way, that he had every right to be angry.”
He advises parents to never put their children in a position where they need to choose between mom or dad.
“Your children need both of you and they don't want either one of you to be the villain,” he says. “This is your stuff, not theirs, keep it that way and do everything you can to ensure your children maintain a great relationship with both of you.”
For dads who don’t get primary custody, he offers the following advice to stay connected and in touch despite not seeing the kids every day:
The two most important words in a father’s lexicon are BE THERE
Be present in your children’s lives from the beginning and consistently thereafter, he advises divorced and separated dads.
“Many men give up because it is just so hard, but fight to be present in your children’s lives,” Wilkinson says.
“Just because you don’t live in the same house or even city as them does not mean you can’t be there for them. Use technology to communicate daily, and plan your life so that you can dedicate quality time to them,” he says.
When you are with your children make it count
Whether it’s every second weekend or every second day engage fully when you are with them, he says.
“Do stuff they love doing, create memories, switch off all distracting devices and BE WITH them,” he suggests, adding that the time you spend with your children is incredibly precious: “Don’t waste it. You will never get it back.”
Be emotionally present and engaged
You can be present in your children’s lives even if you are not physically present, he advises, by making them know that they are the highest priority in your life and by always being available for them to call on.
“For a while when my daughter was 10 years old I lived in a different city to her,” Wilkinson reveals.
“I would call her every day and sometimes at night when she was really missing me, I would get her to look at the moon and I would do the same and the distance would disappear as we chatted and moon gazed together,” he describes, “feeling deeply connected.”
Craig Wilkinson says that father’s play a crucial role in the lives of their children, and in society. He started The Ultimate Dad Online Course to provide South African fathers with the motivation, information and skills they need to be amazing dads.
Visit www.dadcoachonline.com/udc for a 50% discount on the online dad course with the code PARENT24-50
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Read more in Parent24's #dignifieddivorceseries, here to help parents navigate the legal and emotional implications of a divorce.