Whether through divorce, deployment or frequent travel, some dads live away from their children for long periods. Despite what we may think (or others may tell us) living away does NOT prevent a vibrant, loving and lasting relationship. Here are some ideas for how to keep the connection strong (as usual, pronouns alternate between daughter and son).
HANG IN THERE FOR THE LONG HAUL. Living away is tough. So is raising a child from two different homes. My involvement in my child’s life may be different than my dreams for the two of us when he was little, but it is no less important. I meet my responsibilities, including child support, without resentment. Both his mom and I remain tremendous influences in his life. I stay calm, committed, loving and loyal toward him-and do what I can to help his mom do the same. If abuse or abandonment happen, my child needs me to protect him, but he also needs to make peace in his life with that relationship.
ENCOURAGE HER BOND WITH MOMMy child’s relationship with her mom is different than her relationship with me. My child needs to participate fully in it, even when that’s hard for me (or her). I encourage communication between her and her mom, recognizing that I’m not responsible for their relationship. If my child is more comfortable talking about certain things with her mom than me, I respect and encourage that.
DEVELOP HEALTHY SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORTS FOR MYSELF. It’s normal to struggle sometimes with anger, loneliness and other difficult emotions. But I’m careful not to work those feelings out through my child. I meet my adult emotional and social needs maturely with healthy adults.
REMEMBER THAT MY CHILD LIVES IN TWO HOMES. The hours before he leaves my home and after he returns are a time of adjustment (and sometimes grieving) for him. I respect that he may or may not want to talk right away about his time with his mom; I let his take the lead. I don’t pry for information or play down his feelings. He may sometimes be upset or moody when he leaves my home or his mom’s, sad that he has to leave either of us “behind.”
FATHER THE BEST I CAN WHEN MY CHILD IS WITH ME. I can’t change how her other parents raise her or make up for what they do or don’t do, so I focus on what I can control: my own actions. I’m not judgmental about their parenting because no one (including me) is a perfect parent. I trust that her mother and I are each trying our best. I parent her calmly; give her choices; have clear expectations; show affection, patience, love and trust–without demanding perfection. I encourage her to communicate with and trust both of her parents, even (maybe especially) when she makes mistakes. I give her healthy attention when she’s with me and when she’s away (using phone, internet, mail, etc.).
DON’T TRASH MOM. In word and gesture, I speak well about my child’s mother even when I’m angry at her — and even if she speaks poorly about me. If I have trouble speaking well, I will wisely say little. Negative talk about my child’s mom is a little wound to my child, causing him to think less of himself, his mom and me. Trashing his mom or step-parents through words or gestures (in public or at home) humiliates my child and damages my family. No matter the circumstances of our divorce, I respect that his mother’s new family is now part of my child’s family. I’ll keep my child out of the middle, even if others don’t, and I’ll resolve adult conflicts away from him so he can be the child.
CO-PARENT WITH MOM. If possible, I communicate openly with her mom. As our child grows up, it’s incredibly valuable to have her other parent’s perspective. We do our best to work with each other (and our partners/her stepparents) for our child’s well-being. When I share my concerns and joys about our child with her mom (and vice versa), she gets our best and most informed parenting.
MY CHILD AND HER MOTHER ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I won’t misdirect any anger at my child’s mother toward my child. When my child doesn’t listen, does less than her best or makes other mistakes (normal kid behaviors), I won’t confuse her mistakes with her mom’s actions. Instead, I’ll remember that mistakes are great teachers, and do what I can do to make things better.
LISTEN TO MY CHILD. Lecturing and arguing get me nowhere. I can’t help my child if I minimize his feelings or tell him everything will be okay when I can’t guarantee that it will. Instead, I listen and am there for him. I accept my child for who he is; not who I want him to be, think he should be, or think he would be if he were raised only by me. I take the lead in communicating — even when I feel unappreciated. I may not agree with everything he says or does, but when I listen, I build the emotional connection that will help him listen to me when it really counts.
FOCUS ON MY CHILD’S POSITIVES. I don’t father by always pointing out what my child did wrong, so she can fix it. That may work on the job, but not with my children. Focusing on negatives undermines her strength and confidence-already stretched by living in two homes.
MANAGE EXPECTATIONS WISELY. My child has different rules and expectations in his mother’s house. I am patient with his responses to those differences, while remaining clear about my expectations for our home. I try not to compensate for our family situation by giving in to demands that I spoil my child or lessen my expectations just because he is a child of divorce. I remember that an honest, solid and lifelong relationship with him is more important than what happens today.
BE THE FATHER, NOT THE MOTHER. I am a powerful and encouraging role model, and I tell her she has a special place in my heart. My masculine actions and loving words help her realize that she too can be adventurous, playful and successful – and should expect respect from affectionate, honorable men. My belief in her will help her blossom into a young woman who can make me and her mother proud.
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