A Divorced/Separated Parent’s Guide to Making Visits Count

If you are a parent who does not live with your child, it’s important to make every visit count. Here are some ways you can do that:

Never, never skip a “date” with your child. If you do have to change the time or day for some valid reason, make sure you talk with your child about the change so he understands that you will be coming, just at a different time. Don’t rely on his other parent to communicate this information to him — it might not be communicated in a positive way.

Never be late for a “date” with your child. It is very important for you to act like he is a priority, not to just say that he is one.

When you are with him, focus on his needs. If you have your child in your home half the time, I do not recommend this. In that situation, it would be important for him to experience a “normal” family setting, but if you only have him for a few hours a week, it is appropriate for you to really pay attention to him during that time.

Establish family rituals. Your child will remember the things you do over and over again and he will come to look forward to doing them with you. Simple things like cooking pancakes together, or going for a walk in a nearby park, or tossing a baseball can make lasting, positive impressions.

Take lots of photographs of your times together. At least once a year go through all of the pictures and remember the good times you’ve had together.

Video at least one event every month (more if you can). Then near his birthday, have a home movie night. Make popcorn and watch a whole year of family videos. Point out all the things your child has learned in the last year.

You can also get involved in your child’s school. Depending on how your visitation is set up and your work schedule, you may be able to volunteer in your child’s classroom one day each week. At the very least, you can attend all of the school functions that are aimed at parents. Be sure and communicate to your child’s teachers that you very much want to be involved in his life and are completely supportive of his school situation. Offer to help in any way that you can and let his teachers know that you absolutely want to be included in all parent functions. Prepare a stack of self-addressed, stamped envelopes for the teachers and ask them to mail you all parent notices. Let them know that you need to be notified of all upcoming functions so you can arrange your schedule to attend.

Holidays can be a very stressful time for everyone. It is only natural for both parents to want to be with their children on special days. If you have limited time with your child, you will probably need to be the one who is creative. If you celebrate Christmas, for instance, consider declaring June 25 (or any other day) Christmas. Break out all the Christmas decorations, bake cookies, sing Christmas carols, have a big family meal, and exchange gifts on that day. You can even include your extended family in “your” Christmas. Or if your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, select another holiday that is important to you and change the date to fit your visitation schedule. Sometimes these “declared” holidays can be even more meaningful than the nationally recognized versions.

Last medical review on: August 23, 2008
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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