Whether through divorce, separation, deployment, incarceration, or other circumstances, some fathers & stepfathers don’t live with their kids. But a Live-Away Dad still has huge influence; Here are some tips to have a close, positive and fun relationship.
1. HANG IN THERE FOR THE LONG HAUL. Living away while raising a child is tough, but both her mom and I remain tremendous influences in her life. I meet my responsibilities, including child support, without resentment. I stay calm, committed, loving and loyal toward my child—and do what I can to help her mom do the same.
2. ENCOURAGE BONDS WITH MOM. My child's relationship with his mom is different from him relationship with me. My child needs to participate in it, even when that's hard for me (or him). I encourage communication with mom, recognizing that I'm not responsible for their relationship. If abuse or abandonment happen, my child needs me to protect him, but he also needs to make peace in her life with that relationship.
3. DEVELOP HEALTHY SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORTS FOR MYSELF. It's normal to struggle with anger, loneliness and other difficult emotions. I meet my adult emotional and social needs maturely with healthy adults; I don't work them out through my child.
4. REMEMBER THAT MY CHILD LIVES IN TWO HOMES. The hours before she leaves my home and after she returns may be times of adjustment and sadness, since she has to leave either parent "behind." I respect that she may or may not want to talk right away about her time with her mom; I let her take the lead. I don't pry for information or play down her feelings.
5. FATHER THE BEST I CAN WHEN MY CHILD IS WITH ME. I can't change how his other parent(s) raise him and I can't make up for what they do or don't do, so I focus on what I can control: my own actions. I don't judge their parenting because no one (including me) is a perfect parent. I trust that all of us are trying our best. I parent him calmly; with clear expectations, affection, patience, love and trust—without demanding perfection. I give him healthy attention when he's with me and when he's away (by phone, text, mail, etc.).
6. DON'T TRASH MOM. In word and gesture, I speak well about my child's mom even when I'm angry at her—and even if her mom speaks poorly about me. If I have trouble speaking well, I wisely say little. Negative talk about my child's mom humiliates and wounds my child, causing her to think less of herself, her mom and me. I keep her out of the middle, even if others don't, and I'll resolve adult conflicts away from her so she can be the child.
7. CO-PARENT WITH MOM. If possible, I communicate openly with his mom. As our child grows up, the other parents' perspectives are valuable—and a real bonus for our child. We work with each other (and our partners) for our child's well-being. When I share my concerns and joys about our child with his mom (and vice versa), our child gets our best and most informed parenting.
8. MY CHILD AND HER MOTHER ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I don't misdirect anger at my ex toward my child. When my child doesn't listen, does less than her best or makes mistakes (normal kid behaviors), I don't confuse her mistakes with her mom's actions. Instead, I honor mistakes as great teachers, and do what I can do to help her learn from her mistakes—and mine.
9. 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—building the emotional connection that will help him listen to me when it really counts.
10. 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—which may be already stretched by living in two homes.
11. 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.
12. 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, affectionate, playful and successful -- and should expect respect from other honorable men. My belief in her will help her blossom into a young adult who can make her mother and me proud.
Created with William C. Klatte, author of Live-Away Dads: Staying a Part of Your Children’s Lives When They Aren’t a Part of Your Home