Do a Google search for any question along the lines of: activities to do with kids — and your internet search will be fruitful—dozens of websites pop up, offering various ideas from The Top 100 Sights to See in NYC to the Top 50 Things to do Before a Child Turns 18, along with community experiences, and good old-fashioned outdoor activities.
Any single dad who thought taking care of his kids on a weekend away from mom would be an awkward experience, has at his fingertips countless ways to keep a child busy with superficial and entertaining things.
These unique adventures will not only help fill out weekend schedules with new and exciting trips, they'll also help manage the reality that dad and mom are no longer together. They'll give split families a chance to build excitement into what would otherwise be a self-conscious and weird weekend away from home, and mom.
When I was starting out with my single mom status and feeling really shaky about my new role, I got some great advice from one of my favorite single dads. He told me to plan activities to look forward to, weeks in advance, where each trip or event is planned together, researched, and anticipated. By doing so, it would help focus everyone's attention on something fun (instead of dreading quiet weekends in a new living arrangement). Over time, as each activity occurred and another planned, the experiences would create a new history for my kids and me. And it worked!
We planned trips. I introduced them to events their father didn't like. I brought them to new places nearby. We did things we had never done as a traditional family. We built our own new history.
But, in truth, as much fun as it is being a tourist in your own town, eating out in restaurants all the time or going to a museum or somewhere new every time you have your children not only becomes boring in its own right, it's expensive and a bit contrived. Relatively little about these events is truly meaningful—useful, needed, incredibly helpful, but how many times can you run away from the home you're trying to create, even if it's not ideal?
One thing I know about children (any of us really) is that they (we) like routines. So here are a few ideas to add to the weekend adventure warrior in you—think of these as basics - use them to tether yourself to something meaningful. Make them a part of the relationship you have with your children. Use them as a way to let your kids in on who you are so that the next time you’re both on a roller coaster, they have more than a little familiarity with the guy (or gal) sitting next to them!
1. Get to know your kids — away from their relationship with their mother (or father). Find out what they like, what they think about things, the books they're reading, and their classes in school. Learn who your child is away from your own prejudice and perceptions. Show them respect, and you may be surprised at how fabulous they are!
2. Hang out with them — in your new home, with your awful cooking, and your weird new friends (NEWS FLASH: the new people in your life will seem really weird to your kids). Who cares? They need to see you role model how to create a new life. Over time, they'll be moving on to college, out into their own apartments, and they'll model how you do it. So just do it! They'll watch you manage the stress as you figure things out. And you can feel good about being with your kids, knowing that even though it's not a fancy afternoon at a theme park, the choices you're making and what you're doing with them still have meaning.
3. Put down your cell phones — I know we're all wired up these days. I get that the gadget is a lot more entertaining than a conversation about your kids' fascination with bees or something about history class, but in truth, your child and you need to focus 100% on each other. Right now. The cell phone and all it has to offer is the new cigarette these days, and it will be there when your kids go back to their mother's/father's house. Your child needs to feel safe, and your job is to be the parent who teaches them they are safe. My advice: limit cell phone use for everyone to a few times a day.
4. Reveal who you are — to a kid, dads (and moms) are these strictly parental, rule-enforcing beings who make them eat vegetables or who visit them at the end of the day to tuck them into bed after a bath. Kids revere parents, until they don't (like as teenagers). But do they really know who you are? When was the last time you shared with them stories about your own life, introduced them to a hobby of yours, or admitted you can't do their math homework? Let them see you for who you really are (within reason… ).
Parenting on your own gives you a chance to create a new history with your children, where you get to be their #1 male (or female) role model! It's a tremendous honor, a huge responsibility, and an unexpected gift coming out of divorce. Frankly, it's a lot of fun!
Written by Laura Bonarrigo
Laura Bonarrigo understands divorce. For most of Laura’s life, divorce dictated who she was. Her first divorce occurred at the age of seven—her parents’—and she has spent most of her life thinking about, or healing, from the experience. She married young and divorced in her early twenties, when most people are just beginning to think about marrying. Then, two decades later, after 15 years of marriage to her second husband and the father of her children, the stakes were higher and the decision more difficult. Through a lot of soul searching, she ultimately knew the best thing for her family was for this second marriage to dissolve. Three divorces have forced Laura to learn the hard lessons of forgiveness, understanding and patience. Visit www.LauraBonarrigo.com to learn more.