I agree that in most situations, dads seem to get less parenting time than mothers do, but generally, there is a reason for that. When it comes to child custody, mothers fight harder for the majority of the parenting time and typically do more of the day-to-day care for the minor children. Dads are making changes however to the way they parent. In the trend I see, dads are coming away with either the majority of the parenting time or at least close to equal parenting time.
In years past, there was a division of labor within the household. Dads were going off to work and the mothers stayed home with the children and took care of the household. Even when women entered the workforce, their roles still included taking care of the children. In a divorce situation then, the woman was obtaining the majority of the parenting time, and rightly so. After all, the custody arrangement is supposed to revolve around the best interests of the child and custody went to the parent who did the most for the children.
Dads Need to Step Up
Knowing this, what steps can dads take to obtain more parenting time? For one, dads need to realize that there is a lot of work entailed in parenting children. Parenting includes going to the water park and playing ball, but it also includes doing homework and taking the kids to the doctor. Dads need to get up in the middle of the night to feed infants and change diapers. When seeking more parenting time, dads have to demonstrate that they are willing to do the hard stuff too.
Dads need to get the kids ready for school, help clean the house and make dinner. It does not matter if you aren’t necessarily a good cook, anyone can make pasta. Learn to make a dish and make that your signature meal. Think also of nutrition. You don’t want to be the parent that just feeds your child junk.
Don’t Be the “Chocolate Cake Dad”
I always think of Bill Cosby’s show where his wife kept after him to feed their children breakfast and he did not want to. He ultimately got out of bed and fed the kids and when his wife came down the stairs, all of his children were at the kitchen table eating chocolate cake. He rationalized this by saying that the chocolate cake was actually nutritious since it had eggs and milk in it. It was a very funny joke and all too often, true. Don’t be the chocolate cake dad.
Moms Need to Give Up Control
Taking the step from doing very little for the kids and wanting to step up and do more however is often met with resistance from the mother. Dealing with that issue alone deters fathers from being involved, but the father who is seeking more parenting time when there is a break up has to be more involved in the children’s upbringing.
Dads often miss out on parenting right from the start. The baby comes home from the hospital and if the mother is breastfeeding, the chore of feeding the baby automatically goes to the mother. I hear a lot of moms complain during the divorce process that the dad never helped before, so why should she give him equal parenting time now? All of sudden, he wants to be involved, and that fact does not rest well with moms. Particularly when an equal division of parenting time means less child support money.
A lot of moms enjoy being the primary caretaker and simply do not want to share the responsibility. They like it when the baby can only be soothed by them or when the child is sick, they want their mother and not their father. Knowing this, fathers really have an uphill battle in wresting certain controls from the mother. Dads need to assert some control early so that they can have early bonding time with their child.
Discuss Parenting Issues Before Having Children
When couples are deciding on a marriage or living together, the advice they typically receive from others revolves around budgets and money. They are told to have a discussion about spending habits and how the money will be controlled because if you cannot agree on simple basic money management, the relationship is doomed to fail. Along with these money topic discussions, couples should also discuss child management. How will child-rearing be handled? Are you on the same page regarding how discipline should be handled? What will be the division of labor?
Dads need to make it known early that they have every intention of being apart of child-rearing from the very start. Be the dad that changes diapers and helps bathe the child. Go to the doctor’s visits and engage in discussions of nutrition and other matters that are important to you.
In nearly every divorce case I handle, the parents are at odds with how the child will be raised. One parent likes to give the child every toy in the world and the other one is more frugal. This causes unnecessary tension. Discipline and how that should be handled is another sore subject. People decide to have children and never discuss these important topics and when the children are there, they fight about these issues. Soon they seem at odds with every child-related decision.
Best Interests of the Child
Everyone believes that they are acting in the child’s best interest. However, think hard about your lifestyle and the time you have available when deciding how much time you seek in your parenting order. If you have to work 60 hours a week, then seeking one-half of the parenting time is not in your child’s best interest. If possible, your child needs to spend time with you or the other parent, and not in a daycare center.
Dads Bring Different Strengths to Parenting
Do not forget, as a dad, you have important strengths when it comes to bringing up the children. You might not be good at cooking, but you can demonstrate how to paint a room, or change a light socket. Make sure that you highlight what you are naturally good at so that you are not minimized. I have a client who put his child in a carrier on his back when he mowed the lawn and then had a toy mower for his daughter to practice on. He is teaching her at a young age about work ethic and she is likely to grow up knowing a lot of different things due to his influence. Everyone is important, make sure everyone knows your strengths and what you can teach your child.
Remember that your child needs you. Your child needs both parents and nearly all the studies show that a well-rounded child has access to both parents. Put some thought into what you can do, what you will do, and negotiate for the right amount of time with your child.