Dad from a Distance: How to Be a Good Father When You Don’t Live With Your Child


Being a father is a challenge under the best of circumstances. Fathering a child who doesn’t live with them full-time is so difficult and painful that many men eventually quit trying to be the best parent that they can be. They disengage from their child physically and emotionally, without realizing the powerful and critical role they play in their child’s life.

Children will always feel your absence if you are not there for them. If you love your child and care about his well-being, you must make an effort to stay involved in his life.

Here are a few tips that will help:

Be civil and circumspect in your dealings with your child’s mother. Even if you feel your wife is manipulative, duplicitous, greedy, or any other negative adjective you can think of, make the effort to treat her with respect. Keep in mind that this is not about her or you, but about your child. If you attack her, she’ll attack you, and your child will feel like his presence has destroyed your relationship. He’ll hear you arguing about him and feel that he’s to blame for the animosity; and if you and your wife do a good job badmouthing each other, he may come to believe that both of you aren’t worthy of his respect.

Show up. Woody Allen once said that 80 % of success was just showing up. The same holds true if you’re a divorced dad. You’re allocated a certain amount of time with your child and you should do everything within your power to not miss a second of it. There are going to be occasions when you feel down, or when you need to work, or when someone invites you to do something fun – but your time with your child should always take priority.

Avoid the Disneyland father syndrome. In other words, don’t try to buy your child’s love with trips, gifts, and tickets to rock concerts and sporting events. Too many dads substitute things for expressions of love. If you find yourself falling into this pattern, you’re probably doing so to escape the sadness that both you and your child feel. It doesn’t work. Plus, your former spouse is likely to resent this type of spending, especially if she is having financial problems. All you really need to do is “be” with your child. Talk to her, eat with her, play catch with her. That’s more than enough activity to establish a meaningful connection.

Treat your child as if he lives with you all the time. Really, this is all about your attitude. Your child can read you well and if you start treating him more like a nephew you’re fond of than the son you love, he’ll notice the difference. He may also comment to his mother that you seem distant or “different” in some way, and you can be assured that his mom will bring this up to you. When this happens, the odds are that you’ll react defensively, and an intense argument may ensue, which again is very alienating for your child.

Create your own support network. One good way to keep the peace with your child’s mother is to establish a group of men and women who will provide you with emotional and informational support. There will be times when you’ll need to vent and this network can give you an outlet for all the anger that’s boiling up inside of you. It also can connect you to other men who are going through the same things you are and their empathy will help you get through the most difficult post-divorce periods without blowing a gasket. Don’t discount the value of having input from women, too; they may well offer new insights from a different perspective that will be very helpful. You may want to join a divorced men’s support group or include a therapist in your network. The key is not to go it alone, for your sake and for that of your child.

Many men in the process of divorce find that counseling helps them learn to make the transition without losing the connection with their children and you should consider this, too.

Source: Dr. Stephan B. Poulter