My son was only 4 when he and his mother moved out-of-state following the divorce. Though we’d eventually share an every other weekend custody rotation, the first visit came after about a month of not seeing him.
It was going to be bigger than big. That weekend was going to be epic fun.
An older friend, who himself had suffered divorce saw my stress in planning and affording the most gigantic barrel of fun ever experienced.
He said, “Don’t be a Disney Dad.”
I was furious. How dare this man suggest I not provide the best weekends ever for my little boy. I’d for sure give him more fun than the weekends his mother could provide. He’d beg to stay with me.
My friend persisted, and soon convinced me it wasn’t clowns and pony rides my son needed. He needed a sense of normalcy. He needed me.
We had a tradition of watching Saturday cartoons together while enjoying warm donuts and cold milk. That morning, I spared him the piles of new toys and movie tickets, and clicked over to Bugs Bunny and Friends. Of course we had to have the donuts and milk.
I still cherish those few pictures from that first morning. His smile affirmed what my friend had known through experience – being fully present is their favorite present.
It’s a natural response. Motivated by competition, revenge, or guilt, dads feel the need to overdo it. Laughter and exhaustion from endless activities sure help pass the time, but they drift as quickly as the slipped balloon.
The one-on-one moments that remain endeared are not from being the “Good Time” daddy, but from being the rock of consistency in a turbulent time.
During the traumatic period of and following divorce, adults are struggling to cope with their own emotions. We valiantly proclaim our kids are priority, but in reality, we’re so wrapped up in lawyers, playing the blame game, exploring a new, unchartered life, and struggling to reconcile a future without a spouse that kids really don’t rate at the top.
So, how do we compensate? Gifts.
Gifts keep kids busy. They also help dads avoid having to deal with the reality of the damages of divorce. It’s a visual way to lessen our guilt by looking at a playing, laughing kid and patting ourselves on the back, “Good job, Dad. Look, they are having fun with all those new toys.”
Dads, Christmas is coming. I know your pressure, and it is solely something you’re placing on yourself. You do not have to deliver Disney this holiday. Times may already be financially tight between child support, alimony, finding a new home, and vehicle.
Don’t bury yourself below the guilt of gifts. Instead, be the man God wants you to be. Be the dad our Father desires you to be. Be the father your kids need you to be. Bows and boxes don’t make or break the love between a parent and child.
Try this instead:
Talk with your child about what Christmas really means.
Limit the gift giving to a maximum of 3. It’s the same number of gifts Jesus received the day He was born.
Reassure them that you love them and look forward to spending time with them over the holiday.
If your custody agreement doesn’t provide for you to see them on Christmas day, just explain that you will share Christmas on whichever day is scheduled in your decree.
Holidays can be inherently stressful, even for children. Spare them any additional grief that may arise because of the ex-spouse, extended family, or unmet / unrealistic expectations.
Dads, if you have met someone new, this is NOT the time to introduce them to the kids.
Consider which traditions to continue, and think about starting a few new ones to help define the changing family dynamic.
Provide as much normalcy as possible.
Don’t beat yourself up – trust me, I know where you’re at with this.
Have a Merry Christmas!