Relationship with the non-custodial father: Two Frequently Asked Questions
It is less disruptive for all concerned to have a father and a stepfather called by different names so that you, and anyone else (teachers, relatives, friends, etc) know who the child is referring to, without having to interrupt and ask, "Which Dad?" Many families use a name for a stepdad that will still identify him as a parental figure. Thus, names like Papa, Popsy, Pasha, Dad (as opposed to Daddy), ethnic variations of father such as Pere or Padre, and any number of made-up pet names, like Baba, Senshi, and even "Step" could be used for a stepfather. (I've really heard all of these and many more.)
This new member of their family is coming in while they are relatively young and will play an important part in their lives. Don't panic. So will you. Children can only benefit by having more people to love them. And they never forget who their "real" father is, no matter how many other people come into their lives. Keep up the frequent contact and involvement and you will always have a secure corner of their hearts.
I'd like to recommend a book that might be helpful for all the adults in this situation. Its called “The Good Divorce” by Constance Ahrons and it has lots of excellent ideas on minimizing the damage and forming a new "bi-nuclear" family for your children.
You can help him find more constructive ways to express his feelings.
This is a good time to provide paints and pastels and finger paint and
clay, because if it's difficult for him to say what he's feeling, he
can express himself nonverbally through art materials. Never ask what
It is also helpful to get some children's books about divorce, either from the bookstore or the library. He may be able to read Dinosaur's Divorce himself, and it answers many questions he may never ask about divorce. All such books dispel misconceptions, reassure him that other children go through this, too, and there are ways to cope.
An excellent book for you, and for his father, is “Growing Up with Divorce”, by Neil Kalter, PhD. This book gives a wonderful picture of how children experience their parents' divorce, and what you can do and say to help them through it. You might also check with your library or mental health providers to see if you can locate a children's divorce support group. These are enormously helpful for kids, and are available in many communities.
I wish you and your family good luck in this difficult transition time. Always remember that children do need two parents, even if they live apart.
Thalia Ferenc, MSW, MA, CSW is a psychotherapist in Kentwood, MI. She works on parenting plans and coordination, as well as child custody evaluations. See website.