There's an empty feeling every time I've finished delivering my kids to their mother, with little reminders all over my home: a living room strewn with toys, a juice box half empty on the table, clothes on bedroom floors.
Being a single parent in any capacity is hard, but the role of a noncustodial parent has a unique sort of difficulty. We love our children every bit as much as the parent blessed to live with them, but the time we have with them is limited. I did what I had to during the early stages of divorce and separation, when the wounds were fresh. I closed the doors to the kids' rooms but left some of the signs of family life — it helped me remember the love and laughter that filled my home before my kids had to leave.
But memories won't build a relationship with my kids, and I know it's up to me to make the most of my role as a parent. If your face-to-face parenting opportunities are limited, consider the following suggestions to bridge the long days between visits and to help nurture a meaningful relationship with your kids:
Maintain a civil, cooperative relationship with your ex-spouse
Your life will be easier if your ex knows you're still on the same team where the kids are concerned. Be available to help out whenever he or she needs a baby sitter or other assistance.
Commit to scheduled phone calls
Make time for daily calls to younger kids. Occasionally, call just to leave a warm message.
Tune in to the everyday stuff
When you call, ask about the details of your kids' day. Showing interest in their lives now builds a foundation for future parenting opportunities.
Use the mail
Send packages, postcards or books you think your kids would be interested in. Take photos of your shared experiences, and send them a copy.
When your kids visit, plan quality time together, not long blocks of screen time
Enjoy parks and local events, but avoid spoiling kids with glitzy, expensive outings and purchases every time they visit.
Maintain discipline standards and family routines
If it's time for homework or piano practice, or if your ex-spouse needs help enforcing certain rules, avoid being the fun-loving parent who looks the other way.
Big events are important, but so are routine functions. When possible, attend recitals and school or sports events.