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How to Make the Most of a Custody Weekend With Kids

I'm a newly single dad. Here's how I make the most out of our limited time together.

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Every other weekend, my eight and five-year-old kids crash at my place. I affectionately call it crashing because by Sunday afternoon the house looks like a tractor trailer took a detour through my apartment scattering everything from Legos, plastic cups, crayons, and clothing.

Even though the weekends feels and sounds like an extensive amount of time, when I sit down and crunch the numbers and deduct time spent eating, sleeping, and arguing over the pair not eating or sleeping enough, that leaves 31 hours — just 31 hours — to be together before it’s time to drop them home.

For newly single dads such as myself, it’s crucial to plan ahead and keep a loose schedule of activities to fill a weekend. Unfortunately, many single dads like myself are awful at planning ahead. But I’ve learned a few things during this period that I think are helpful for other dads in my position. So, here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the last few months that ensure time on Saturday and Sunday is spent having fun and not aimlessly driving around looking for things to do.

Do Chores Before The Kids Arrive

Don’t wait until you have the kids to food shop, clean the house and finish projects. Don’t block off a chunk of time to complete a report for work. It’s difficult, I get it. But do the work when they’re watching a movie or sleeping. I’ve learned this. Kids shouldn’t need to fight for your attention over stuff best completed when they’re not around.

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Plan Activities Ahead

The key to making the most of every weekend is planning large chunks of time. If you’re not the type of dad who likes to plan, become a dad who likes to plan. You’ve got to have a few ideas on where to take the kids or at least a rough idea of how to spend a majority of the weekend.

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Honestly, its simple to find fun things to do. For starters, the Events section of Facebook. You’ve likely been invited to hundreds of local fairs, festivals, and functions by friends and family that you’re unaware of because you ignore that section of your social media account. Check it on Thursday for weekend ideas. There’s a Discover tab that will show you events in your area, let you choose categories like art, crafts, and games and even show the other friends attending those events.

If you see a friend with kids attending an event that you think your kids would also love, reach out and suggest a hang out so the kids will have friends to play with and you’ll have other parents to BS with while the kids are getting face paint applied.

Finally, the best resource for information about local kid-friendly events is other parents, specifically moms. Moms, moreso than many dads, know the lowdown on everything going on in the area. I don’t know how the hell they do it. Mention to any mom that you’ve got the kids for the weekend but don’t have anything to do and, chances are, they’ll rattle off about eleven..thousand ideas.

Don’t Forget About Meal Planning

Since you’re not living with your kids, it’s essential to still incorporate the idea of the family dinner at your new place. I plan for at least 1-2 meals at home and ask for their help in preparing the meals. Tis  goes a long way in cultivating routine and helping you be a better family.

Oh, and just to let you know: Eating out for the entire weekend will send you broke. In 2015 and 2016, for the first time in American history, the average person spent more money eating in restaurants than buying groceries. The average American forks over roughly $232 per month eating in places other than their own kitchen. That works out to about $12.75 per person.

Have Emergency Items on Hand…

I’m not talking about bandages and Benadryl but unopened board games and craft ideas. New markers, unopened toys from Christmas or birthdays, or anything you see online and think “the kids would love doing that.” Break it out in case of bouts of boredom or if one of your pre-planned activities falls through.

…But Make Sure The Kids Have Time to do Nothing

Structure is important, but so is unstructured time. So it’s essential to make sure to give the kids at least an hour or two doing whatever the hell they want around the house. I encourage my kids to go pull out every toy in their room, read a book, or turn my dining room into a (supervised) art studio. It’s fun. It’s also necessary: unwinding from a busy day is crucial for brain function, even for kids. Research shows that kids need time to relax and decompress.

Write Down What You Did

That’s right. This activity serves two purposes. For one thing, it’s a reminder of your time together so the kids can look back in 5-15 years and go “oh yeah, remember when we did that?!?” For another, it’s a reminder for you in 5-15 months when you run out of original ideas for day trips and time killers.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Transitioning into a separation is hard for parents and kids. So it’s important to not put to much pressure on yourself to make everything memorable and fun. As the kids don’t live with you, there’s a good chance they miss doing the things you did when you lived in the house. Not living with my kids means I miss out on the little stuff, like reading to them before bedtime and cooking meals together. That’s the stuff that matters to me and them. Find what works for you and you’ll be just fine.