The separation or divorce of parents often makes it difficult for a child to maintain regular and intensive contact with mother and father. The separation of table and bed is often also a separation of the child from the father.
If the parents live relatively close together and the child can visit both parents independently, then the alternation model is a way for all family members to maintain contact with one another. However, there is no separated father with the alternation model, so this should not be the subject of this article.
The alternative to the alternation model is the residence model. The child has the center of his life with one parent, the other parent has the right to visit in order to maintain regular contact with the child.
In most cases, with the residence model, the child has the center of life with the mother, the father has the right to visit. Depending on the age of the child, the right to visit extends from a few hours a week to whole days or even weekends. The classic is probably the rule that the child spends every other weekend and selected days and weeks of the school holidays with the father.
In my experience, however, this type of handling only works as long as the distance between the places of residence is relatively small. Exact distance information cannot be given at this point, because it is an individual perception of what is near and what is far.
However, it is rather unlikely that either the child or the father will cover a very large distance every other weekend in the long term. The stresses and strains of such a trip, the high expenditure of time and also the travel costs become so important over time that the fortnightly intervals can gradually become significantly longer.
My experience has also been that, up to a certain age, a child accepts the parents' access regulations without resistance. Girls protest - I have also experienced that - much earlier than boys. But for both sexes there comes the time in life and with it the day when the sentence is uttered for the first time: "I don't feel like visiting daddy!" From there it becomes exciting!
The difficult residence model
In this article, however, I do not want to go into the residence model with visits every two weeks. If this model works reliably and both parents and the child have got used to the regular rhythm, then, in my experience, the separated father can live with it very well, albeit after a period of adjustment and getting used to it.
In this article, I would like to focus on a residence model in which the separated father only sees his child now and then, without regularity, without predictability, without reliability. I would like to write about what it is like when the distance is so large that it is hardly worth visiting at the weekend. When visits are limited to the holidays and then do not take place regularly because they cannot take place regularly. I therefore call this residence model the difficult residence model in the following text.
With the difficult residence model, the child can only visit the father (or vice versa) if the father and mother have agreed in advance on a visit date and the modalities of the trip. This presupposes that the dialogue between the separated father and mother works to some extent, at least on a factual level. After all, agreement should be reached on the following aspects:
- When does the visit take place?
- Who takes care of plane tickets or train tickets?
- How are the costs of the trip divided?
- When the child goes to see the father: What should he or she have in their luggage?
It also assumes that the child wants to visit his father, which is not a matter of course. Children have their own will and their own ideas about how the weekend or vacation should go. At some point, friends become more important than dad, and one day the first big love comes into play. Then they are no longer willing to just go along with a deal that their mother and father made. My experience and the lesson from it are that it would be unreasonable to simply ignore these children's wishes. The quality of time together does not win if that time is enforced.
The devil in detail
In this article, I assume that the dialogue works, that mother and father keep to the agreements made and that the child visits his father happily, in good health and of his own free will. If this is not the case, then it can get complicated in any order, both for the separated father and his child, as well as for me as the author of this article.
The longer the intervals between visits, the more the issue of withdrawal plays a role. The fact that, as a separated father, you distance yourself from your child (and the child certainly also from you) if you haven't seen each other for several weeks was a new and very disturbing experience for me. I found that despite the anticipation of seeing each other again, in the first few hours of being together, the nerves on both sides could be a little bare.
I am writing in the past tense here, but that doesn't mean that these topics have passed for my children and me today. In fact, these issues still exist when I get together with my children. Opposite to before, today I understand a little better what is happening to me and between us. That helps me a little to deal with it well and to avoid one cliff or another. I used to be stranded helplessly and was overwhelmed relatively quickly.
It could happen that small things sparked an argument because we just weren't used to being together anymore. I often felt annoyed, disrupted in my habits or pressured to fill the days ahead with activities and to play the entertainer for my children. On the other hand it was definitely not easy for my children not to be with their mother and in their familiar surroundings.
This was all the more disturbing because rare visits were very valuable and therefore associated with high expectations - at least on my part. Everything should work out, from start to finish. And on the day of departure everyone should be able to say that it was great. Feelings like anger or stress didn't go with it, and certainly an argument was unsuitable.
In the course of several visits I was able to learn that these high expectations on my part do not exist at all with my children. My kids just look forward to seeing me without any expectations. They want to be with me, and they want to feel welcome, comfortable and secure with me - just like at home. That can mean that they are content to sit in my living room for hours and play with their Gameboy.
It took me a long time to realize that the precious time together doesn't have to be characterized by highlights and action. It is enough to just be together and do everyday things with each other - just like at home. That can be a trip to the zoo together, but also shopping for groceries together. It worked for my children right from the start, and it took me a lot longer to realize this.
In one word
Now, as a dad, you have to have a serious word with your child every now and then; that comes with education. If you rarely see each other, such a serious - and perhaps unpleasant - conversation becomes much more important. I have found that such conversations are quite possible without giving the entire visit a serious character. In my opinion, it is important that the conversation has a clear beginning and soon afterwards a clear end. And it is important that such a conversation - as far as possible and predictable - does not happen immediately at the beginning or at the end of the visit. Embedded in unproblematic, happy and easy phases, such a conversation can be easily digested by everyone involved.
Travel abroad with the child
Longer visits during the school holidays bring the wonderful opportunity to travel together on vacation. If you have a week or two to spare, a long journey is worth it, for example by plane to the Canary Islands.
Of course there are a few more points that need to be clarified with the mother. Above all else, the child needs an identity card or passport. But that is basically the same as with intact families, where both parents travel together with their child.
What is clearly different, however, is the fact that you, as a separated father who wants to travel abroad with his child, need a travel permit from the mother. Even if you are the father and your child is really looking forward to the vacation, it can happen that the customs officer at the airport or train station asks for this travel permit and prevents you from continuing your journey if you cannot present this permit.
In principle, the reverse also applies: The mother needs a signed travel authorization from you if she wants to go abroad with your child. I only doubt that a mother is as likely to be asked for this permit by customs as a father. Anyway, I'm writing for separated fathers in this article, so I'll only marginally mention mother's duties.
My children and I almost got stopped on a trip to Cádiz, Spain. Fortunately, we came across a very accommodating customs officer at Munich Airport at that time, who let us pass after my children (drowsy and intimidated) had confirmed that I was their dad and that I was going on vacation with them. That could have turned out very differently. So that the same thing does not happen to you with your child, get yourself a form for such a travel authorization and take it with you on your trip, filled out and signed. And then enjoy your vacation and have a lot of fun together.
Meeting and farewell
By the way, encounters with my children take place more often at my home in Munich than in Hamburg. Although Hamburg is a great city and worth a trip, I only fly there about once a year to visit. When I'm in Hamburg, I stay at a hotel and meet my children during the day. It is important to me and I enjoy getting to know the environment and friends of my children. But I think that the meetings in Hamburg have more of the character of a visit, while the meetings in Munich are closer to everyday life. This is due to such little things as cooking together or the ritual of putting my children to bed in the evening. It works in Munich, but unfortunately not in Hamburg.
Finally, I would like to mention that the end of a visit and thus saying goodbye to my children are just as emotionally difficult as the beginning of a visit. When I accompany my children to the security check at the airport and then watch them from a distance as they pass the control, a great sadness arises in me, which only subsides after several hours. To this day I have unfortunately not found a button on me with which I can simply switch the father mode on or off.