Re-Entry Strategies After An Extended Visitation

My son returned after his annual 8-week visit with my ex this past week.  Watching him walk down the jet bridge, I could already tell he was taller and had gotten a healthy dose of sunshine.

I never quite know what to expect after such a long visit, but he greeted me with the usual smile and bear hug.

My boy was home.

After signing some papers for the airline, we were on our way.  He had his carryon suitcase and began telling stories of fishing and fun.

Over the years, we have had variations on the “re-entry” after a stay with his mom.  I suspect the same holds true for you.

NASA - NASA atmosperic entry of Mars Exploration Rover (MER) aeroshell, artistic rendition

atmosperic entry of Mars Exploration Rover (MER) aeroshell, artistic rendition

This time, my son declared he does not get to see his mom enough.  I told him I understood how he felt and reminded him he would be going back two more times this year…for fall break and for Christmas.

He thought a moment and smiled and said he was glad he would get to see her.  And as quickly as he raised the subject, he was on to the next.

Like years past, we have been able to take a short trip immediately upon his return.  Before I got remarried, we would typically go visit my family (including his two cousins – both boys one of whom is a year older and one a year younger).  This year, we went with the blended family to Disneyland and Universal Studios for my son’s first visit ever to either.

So far, the transition has gone smoothly and he has adapted well to the old surroundings, stepbrothers, puppies, and rules.  Here are some best guesses as to why it has gone relatively smoothly:

  • I have consistently reminded him to contact his mom.  While he needs to be reminded to call every once in a while, he also needs to know I believe it is important for him to maintain contact with her.  This helps him understand the importance of regular contact…not just visitations.
  • I do not ask 20 questions about his trip.  As much as i would like to know every detail of his summer and how things are going with his mom, I give him the freedom to share what he wants to share and only ask general questions.  When he wants to talk, I listen and ask normal follow up questions.  I have found letting him share his summer stories at his pace works much better than quizzing.
  • I try to keep everything normal.  Consistency and familiarity seem to work best for my son.  I suspect your kids would also respond well to coming home to normalcy.  A few years ago, my son came home to a new rental home when we were subject to a burglary/arson.  Trying to maintain normalcy when most of his toys, clothes and furniture were destroyed was a challenge and taught me the importance of routine and comfort in situations where things change.

What traditions or routines do you use when your kids return from an extended visitation with your ex?

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FLASHBACK – “Ts” of Single Fatherhood – Thanks

Yesterday, my son returned from his summer visitation with my ex.  The plan is to resume with new content next week!

In the meantime, please do me two favors: 1) please forward a link to to any of your friends who you think would benefit, and 2) please send an email to if you have any topic suggestions – I’m always anxious to hear from readers and get input.

I stood there in the climbing harness, unable to get comfortable despite the constant adjusting. The crisp mountain air felt great and almost made me forget the discomfort.

I looked up at the obstacle course at Flagstaff Extreme and honestly thought the wire lines did not look very high, at least compared to what I anticipated.

I dominated the instruction/demo course which sat a full four feet above the ground. Bring on the real deal.

Photo Credit: Kate Hedin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kate Hedin via Compfight cc

Lesson learned. Looking up at a wire or obstacle 25 feet from the ground could not compare with looking down at the ground from 25 feet. I had some serious puckering going on up there.

We all know the power of perspective. A slightly different angle. A differing opinion. The wisdom of an elder. A pair of glasses. Each can completely change what we see.

Take a moment to forget the cooking, the laundry, the bills, the toys on the ground, the crying, the dirty shoes, the glitter, the homework, the little league team, the Wiggles, and the Lego you just stepped on.

Take a moment to adjust your perspective and express thanks you can call yourself “dad”.

Tell your kids “thanks” for something they did no matter how small.

Incorporate “thanks” (or gratitude or gratefulness…whichever resonates with you) for fatherhood and your kids into your prayers, your conversations, and your thoughts – especially when chaos reigns.

When you have those “pucker” moments with your kids, just remember to be thankful you have the privilege of being a dad. It may help you be a better one. And I, for one, could use the help sometimes.

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FLASHBACK – Sex, Drugs, Violence and Dirty Words

In one week, my son will return from his summer visitation with my ex.  For the next couple weeks, I will post some of my favorite posts and then resume with new content.

In the meantime, please do me two favors: 1) please forward a link to to any of your friends who you think would benefit, and 2) please send an email to if you have any topic suggestions – I’m always anxious to hear from readers and get input.

Enjoy the end of summer…

My son and I sat down to watch a classic movie with a PG rating – Beetlejuice.  

Photo Credit: Muotoilla * via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Muotoilla * via Compfight cc

I had fond memories of the 1988 movie – the Tim Burtonesque feel, the comic genius of Michael Keaton, and the Banana Boat Song.  And it was not even a PG-13 film like Iron Man or The Avengers – both of which he saw and I had no problem with.

I had forgotten a few critical scenes, words, and concepts my son might not have been ready to take in.  I had forgotten a PG rating in the 1980s could be just this side of an R rating.  Watching it again, I wonder if Beetlejuice should have been rated PG-13.

I began talking with other dads about this.  There was the one who showed his son The Bad News Bears having forgotten about the amount of language and drinking in that PG film.

We have also talked about our tendency, especially with our boys, to afford more leniency with violence than we do sex and nudity.  How can we show them Braveheart and The Patriot because of the overarching story and message and turn our heads at the brutality, violence and blood?

I have another friend who will allow for a moderate level of violence in the media his son consumes, but draws the line when the story involves the mistreatment and disrespect of women.  But even those story lines can provide great opportunity for conversation about the consequences of being a jerk toward women.

So, what is the right answer?  Do we let the Motion Picture Association of America decide what our kids can watch based on their age and MPAA guidelines?  Do we say “no” to everything with adult content?  Do we shelter our kids as long as we can?

I do not have all the answers and, frankly, have quite a few questions.

Even if I censor the content at home, my son still goes to school, still visits friends (with older siblings), still rides in the car and sees billboards for local adult boutiques and Captain Morgan Rum.

I want to hear what you think, but here is my attempt to develop some boundaries:

  • Stay engaged in your kids’ lives and know what media they consume.  This seems like the first, logical step.  Ignorance is not bliss.
  • Educate yourself on the content they want to consume.  I routinely use sites like IMDBKids-In-Mind, and Common Sense Media to get reviews and recommendations about the content my son consumes.  He usually knows which films I will say “no” to, but often I need more information – especially if I have not seen it before and want a sense about what he will see.  Some of the sites even give you topics to discuss following the movie.
  • They probably know what you watch, so do not be surprised if they think the same content is OK for them.  In the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do category, our kids take cues from us, so if you do not want them watching horror movies, you may want to reconsider your Friday the 13th movie marathon.  They can see the “recently watched” shows on Netflix just like you can.
  • Engage in the discussion with your kids.   I remember watching a movie called Phantasm at a friend’s house when I was in late elementary or early junior high.  For whatever reason, I could barely go get the mail in broad daylight for several days after seeing it.  I was just waiting for the Tall Man to jump out from behind a tree or show up behind me when I looked in a mirror.  I have told my son about that experience, and it may have tempered his desire to watch a horror movie…for the time being.  Be honest about why you set boundaries on the movies they watch and let it be a conversation, not just a lecture.

What limits have you set on movie/TV content for your kids?  How do you approach the subject with them?

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From Interest To Understanding

Nothing grates on a dad’s ears like the words “I’m bored.”  My parents are quick to remind me I said those same words to them when I was a kid, but something tells me I did not use them as frequently as kids today.  Accurate or not, I choose to believe it.

So, when my son proactively told me he wanted to take up Jiu-Jitsu when he returns from visitation with his mom this summer, I could not have been happier.  Now, if he ever says, “I’m bored,” I can encourage him to practice for an activity he chose to do rather than just tell him to “read a book” or that “only boring people are bored” (which was quite an unhelpful thing to have been told when I was a child).

For years, I have encouraged him to pursue one of the martial arts, but he never showed interest. I always believed he would benefit from the discipline and methodical process associated with any of them.  Patience has never been one of his strong suits, and perfecting the basics of a art form before moving on to more advanced maneuvers seems like a valuable lesson as he hits his pre-teen years.  Further, those lessons coming from someone other than dad might be helpful at this stage.

Photo Credit: Christian Kaden via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Christian Kaden via Compfight cc

Even better, we have a Jiu-Jitsu dojo within biking distance from our house, so he can begin to spread his wings and learn responsibility along with his new activity.

Now comes the point in the story where I have not successfully gotten my son to dig deeper before beginning.

My son expressed a desire to someday be an MMA fighter as his rationale for studying Jiu-Jitsu.  He’s 11, so I get it.  And, if by chance he wants to be a competitive martial artist and has the aptitude, something like MMA could become a reality.

So, instead of lecturing him on the dangers of The Octagon, I decided to have him dig deeper into the philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu.  Where did it originate?  Are there different styles and how are they different?  Who practices Jiu-Jitsu best in the world?  What is the underlying philosophy of this martial art?

I had a few other questions in my text message to him explaining what I wanted him to do…how to move from interest to gaining some basic understanding before starting something new.

So far, I have received a short text in response to this line of questioning:  “A guy named Henry Okasaki”.  Presumably, he’s the greatest of all time.

I will encourage him to continue his research and tell me about it, but in the meantime, I need to do my own research so I can better guide him in this new interest.

What activities have your kids engaged in where you did not know much about it?  Have you found learning background before starting a new activity makes the experience better?

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Father’s Day Without Kids

I read an interesting post on Facebook yesterday.  A friend of mine posted how, despite loving his kids deeply, he really wanted to be left alone for Father’s Day.  You could feel the guilt he felt bleeding through the monitor.  But he still posted it for all to see.

I get it.

As dads, we relish in those moments of peace and quiet where we can get outdoors, watch the game, read a book, work on a project, or do absolutely nothing without interruption.

Photo Credit: JasonTuno via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: JasonTuno via Compfight cc

For those of us who are or have been the primary caregivers, moments of peace and quiet are few and far between.  Just when you get the kids down for a nap, you remember laundry must be done.

Based on our custody arrangement, my son is always with me on Mother’s Day and always with his mom on Father’s Day.  So, I’m always without my son except for a few moments on FaceTime.

But I am OK with it.

My perception of holidays has changed in the several years since the divorce.  Instead of focusing on the day the calendar (or Hallmark) tells me to focus on, I have a more holistic view.

I place high value on the moments I am with my son.  They pass much too quickly.

I place high value on the time I have without him…time where I can take care of myself, invest in my wife and stepsons, and pursue interests.

I place high value on knowing the holiday is not as important as the moments in between.

Let’s make those in between moments count.

What holiday/special day would you most miss spending with your kids?

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When The Kids Are Gone

A few weeks ago, my son traveled 1,700 miles to spend the summer with my ex.  This year marks the seventh time he has left me for this extended period of time.

Photo Credit: Jaws300 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Jaws300 via Compfight cc

For you single dads who also have extended periods of time where your kids  have visitation with their mom, you know the range of emotion you experience.  On one hand, you get some time to yourself to catch up with friends, get healthy, date, do a lot less laundry, watch something other than Scooby-Doo, and generally decompress.

On the other hand, you miss your kids, you wonder how your ex is parenting, you wonder how they relate to any significant other to your ex they spend time with, and you cannot help but wonder if they are safe and secure.

With FaceTime, Skype, texting, and all the other technology out there, you can keep in touch with your kids, but it is not the same as having them home.

The entire circumstance has a duality – on one hand you have some additional margin in your life.  On the other, you want to have your kids home and under your watchful eye.

How do we navigate this duality?

First – be prepared for the rapid deceleration.  Single dads travel fast.  Once your kids leave for their visitation, many of your tasks disappear instantly.  No driving to daycare or camp.  No making breakfast, lunch and dinner.  No reading at bedtime.  Depending on your particular circumstance, you may do little more than talk to your kids on the phone or Skype.

Your worth and value is not in what you do for you kids, it is in who you have been, who you are, and who you will be when they return.

Second – be prepared to focus on yourself for a bit.  Above I mentioned several activities you will have time for when you are not actively parenting.  Your list may look similar…but please make sure you have a list of some sort.  If you do not have a plan for your time alone, you may fill it with nothing but binge watching Netflix.  Not to say you should not do some of that, but you should have something more substantive on your list.

Do not feel guilty for enjoying your break from full-time parenting.  Instead, see it as a time for you to recharge and be the best dad you can when they return.

What are your top priorities when the kids are with their mom?

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My Son Joined Instagram

Several weeks ago, I wrote about my son’s request to get Snapchat.  Fast forward a few weeks and he will finally begin his social media journey at the age of 11.

After several conversations with my son and my ex, we have decided he can join Instagram.  Presumably, he will use it to stay in touch with friends over the summer when he is with my ex.  Also, he will (with his mom’s or my approval) follow some sports figures or other public figures on Instagram.

I found two great resources to help through this process.  First, Common Sense Media has a great post detailing the various issues associated with the various social media programs.  While you should always check for updates to these apps and see what new features they might offer, Common Sense Media gives a detailed set of concerns and solutions.

Second, I found a “social media contract” online so I would not have to recreate the wheel.  iMom has a comprehensive contract you can easily download and print out for your kids to sign.  If it does not cover all the bases (like getting approval before following someone), you can easily add an addendum or hand write it in the margins.

His mom and I discussed the consequences should our son violate the contract, and we will add those.  In case you are wondering, he loses privileges for various lengths of time…and might lose the entire app if he gets three strikes.

Both I and my ex will have full access to his account and to his iPod Touch.  So far, we have no reason to have concerns, and this first step into social media will be instructive to us as coparents.

Personally, I do not participate in Instagram, but I might join so I can follow my son!

At what age did you let your kids engage in social media?  What has been the biggest lesson learned?

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Practicing Dinnertime Manners

Our blended family of six usually sits at the kitchen island for meals.  Only steps away, our dining room table plays host to some stacks of homework.

With four boys in a variety of evening activities, dinner has become much more informal in these final weeks of school.  Puppies run through the house, we shuttle kids from one practice to another.  My oldest stepson finishes 8th grade soon and he has dinners, dances, and banquets.

Photo Credit: Kuba Abramowicz via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kuba Abramowicz via Compfight cc

Chaos was winning.  Manners were losing.

My wife had a great idea.  We needed to revive dinner in the dining room.  Napkins.  Silverware, Candles.

Waiting for everyone to sit before saying the prayer and eating.  Elbows off the table.  No talking with food in your mouth.

We did this last night, and had one of the best dinners we had had in weeks.  We had a great conversation, lots of laughs, and everyone even ate their broccoli.

Granted, we did bribe them with pizookie (a decadent cookie dessert) if everyone behaved.

But, even without the dessert, the time at the table was more enjoyable for everyone.  They proved to us and to themselves they had not forgotten how to act politely.

Looking at the family calendar, we may not all sit at the table again for several days, but we will do this again…pizookie or not.

What bad habits do you model at the dinner table?  Have you ever sent your kid to bed without dinner for bad manners?

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