Dear Mr. Dad: A good friend of mine, Rich, is a single father of a 4-year old boy, Max. Before becoming a dad, Rich had never spent any time around kids, and he has no idea what to do. He’s very serious and says it just isn’t any fun getting down on Max’s level and playing. At the same time, though, he feels bad that he isn’t spending enough time involved with Max. Any suggestions I can pass on?
A: The best “cure” for what you’re describing is for Rich to get out of his work clothes the moment he comes home. Did you ever watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? If so, do you remember how he started every show? He’d come in, take off his nice jacket, hang it up, and put on a sweater; take off his dress shoes and put on sneakers instead. No question that what you’re wearing affects your behavior (think of Superman and other superheroes who change out of their work clothes and into their costume—can’t very well go around saving the world in a fancy suit and tie).
Once Rich is in play mode, it’s time to start rolling around on the floor. It may feel weird for a while, but he’ll eventually get used to it. And even if doesn’t like that kind of play, there are plenty of other ways for him to spend quality time with Max. But the most important thing is to jump in. Rich may be feeling the need to entertain Max all the time and that could be what’s keeping him away. The reality is that all Max really wants from his dad is to be together. It hardly matters what they’re doing, just as long as they’re doing it together.
If you’re looking for some specific ideas, check out the winners of our Seal of Approval program at mrdad.com/seal. Browse the lists–there are some really terrific games/toys/activities that Rich and Max will have a ton of fun doing together.
Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been divorced three years, and have had a couple of serious relationships. My 11-year-old son, who lives with me half time, has met these women and a couple others, and seems pretty indifferent when the subject of my dating comes up. My ex thinks it’s reckless and harmful for my current girlfriend to be in contact with him. For now, I’m respecting her wishes. Still, I worry about this pattern continuing. For the record, in three years I’ve had a woman stay over exactly once when he is with me.
A: My advice is to keep kids and new partners apart until the relationship can be truly considered “serious.” Of course, that means different thing to different people. The problem is that kids form attachments very quickly (even if they, like your son, seem indifferent), and the last thing your son needs now is yet another breakup. I know it’s a tough situation–you don’t want to feel that your ex is running your dating life. But think about it as something you’ll do for your son. The fact that you’ve only had one girlfriend spend the night means that you won’t have to make any big changes. Could you confine your dating to the days your son is with his mom? When I was a single dad, I tried to do exactly that. That way, when my kids were with me, I could be there 100 percent for them, and when I was with a girlfriend, I could be with her 100 percent (or close to it).