How Divorce Changed My Relationship to My Kids

Five dads who went through divorce discuss how it changed their relationship with their kids — for better or worse.

Divorce happens. In fact, it happens so often that there’s one every 36 seconds in the U.S. No matter the shape of your relationship or how gleeful you might be to not be in a marriage anymore, separating from your spouse is never easy. It comes with stress, self-doubt, and a lingering fear that your kids may resent you forever.

That fear is very understandable. Your kids are the people that you and your partner created and raised together. They are as affected by the divorce as you are, if not moreso. And after litigating the division of assets, settling into a co-parenting groove, and moving into the new place, you’ll likely realize that your relationship with your kids is … different. Sometimes it’s better. Sometimes it’s worse. Here, five divorced men talk about how their relationship with their kids changed after going through divorce.

Darryl Frost, Father of One

It’s interesting. He was young at the time — he was three to five years old when we were going through most of it. His mom was deployed to Afghanistan. I actually had just gotten back from Iraq. I was basically a single dad while she was in Afghanistan.

So, I was uniquely set up to be a single dad. I had a lot of responsibility. So my relationship with my son didn’t change that much. He also doesn’t really remember us being together. He has some memories. But most kids are very resilient, and he’s grown up with it. It hasn’t been a big issue.

Hodges Davis, Father of Five

I think in a lot of ways my kids and I became closer, because I became the de-facto custodial parent. The arrangement in my divorce was that I was going to pay all of the kids’ expenses. Because of that, every decision that required anything came through me. At that point, I didn’t have to ask anybody about the choices except my kids.

The second thing is, because I have five boys, they became closer to each other. And it was much easier for me to be a part of that group of six because it was all us guys. That’s the piece of it: it became us against the world in many ways.

Dr. Manish Shah, Father of Three

Well, you know, I’m a plastic surgeon. My ex-wife was a stay at home mom. My kids are now 18, 16, and 16. I left the house probably when my oldest was 10, the twins were eight. They were still in that concrete stage. They really didn’t understand what was going on. They were blaming themselves for what happened between us. But we spent a lot of time on therapy for me, for the kids. They remember everything because they weren’t so young that they didn’t have feelings about what was going on. They were definitely angry. Definitely sad. For the longest time, my oldest wanted us to get back together. Every now and then I still think she would like that to be the case.

It was stressful, for a period of time, between me and the kids. As they’ve grown up and been able to take a look at the situation for themselves and look at how we as parents have developed separately, I think we’ve actually gotten closer. They’ve understand the situation in a more mature fashion. Obviously, my ex-wife and I now get along well.

They understand why the divorce happened. I don’t tell them everything, but they now see each of us for who we are. They have much clearer eyes about everything.

Randy Zinn, Father of Two

I became much calmer. Little kids can be frustrating at times. That’s just part of the territory. My two kids are both pretty well behaved, but still, sometimes stuff happens. Sometimes you’re not in the best mood. Sometimes it’s because of your spouse.

What I found is that before my ex moved out, if I was upset with my son or my daughter, I would be more likely to raise my voice, or get angry. Now that my basic stress level is so much lower and I’m so much happier, I almost never raise my voice at my kids anymore. I’m so much calmer. It’s such a more calm relationship. I feel like my kids are happier, too. There’s no drama to our relationship anymore. I think it’s better for them.

Johnny Olson, Father of One

We were already pretty close before the divorce, but our relationship grew deeper. When you’re in a parenting partnership, you assume different roles. I was probably a little bit more all-business, a disciplinarian. But then we had joint custody. I’d have her every other week. And she became a little bit more of a confidante for me. She was older, 14 or 15. So I was able to use her as a sounding board for some decisions I was making in my life. I would say that it deepened our father-daughter relationship because of that.

Before the divorce, I don’t think she had ever seen me be as vulnerable as I was in that time of my life. Seeing her father cry for the first time her whole life probably put me way more into the “human” status. Sometimes kids put their parents on a pedestal.