All Dads are vitally important parts of their kids’ lives.
In our culture many Dads may no longer live under the same roof as their children—but their kids still need fathers. Here are six ways for nonresidential fathers to be the best Dads they can be for their kids, no matter the situation.
1. Respect the mother of your children.
Regardless of their feelings for the mother of their children, fathers need to treat her with respect—for the sake of their children. Children are happier and feel more secure when their parents get along. Fathers should ignore negative comments, compliment the mother when they can, and keep the lines of communication open. Fathers should try to seek common ground with mothers around common goals for their children, and they should never criticize their children’s mother in front of their children.
2. Keep your promises.
Children who have endured divorce or the breakup of a parental relationship often feel abandoned and distrustful of the adults in their lives. Nonresidential fathers need to be careful to nurture or restore their children’s faith in adults and in them, in particular. Hence, they need to keep the promises they make to their children. If this means promising their children less, fine, but fathers need to earn their children’s trust by keeping their word.
3. Do not be a “Disneyland Dad.”
Nonresidential fathers are often tempted to play “Disneyland Dad,” that is, to spend virtually all the time they have with their children in fun activities. “Disneyland Dads” miss opportunities to help their children grow in virtue; they also miss chances to get to know their children in their ordinary lives. Nonresidential fathers need to challenge their children to grow in virtue and they also need to spend time doing ordinary things with them. They need to help their children with homework, to have them do chores around their home, and to tuck them into bed on a school night. Generally, they will discover much more about their children amidst the ordinary struggles of daily life than they will eating popcorn with their children in a darkened movie theater.
4. Stay in regular contact.
Nonresidential fathers should stay in regular contact with their children. If they live locally, they should be faithful about seeing their children on a given day. If they do not live close by or are incarcerated, they should be faithful about calling or sending a letter or email to their children on a weekly basis. Children thrive on maintaining regular contact with their fathers. This advice holds even for teenagers, who may have to be asked to make sacrifices in their social or sports schedules to keep up with their fathers. In the end, maintaining the father-child bond is more important than a missed game or movie with friends.
5. Do not be soft on your kids.
Nonresidential fathers often feel like they should go easy on their children when it comes to discipline. Given the brevity of father-child visits, many fathers do not want to alienate their children by disciplining them for misbehavior, but this is a big mistake. Children will take advantage of their fathers’ laxity by pushing the behavioral envelope even more. Nonresidential fathers should be firm, consistent disciplinarians with their children, even if that means that one or two visits are spent largely on discipline. In the long-term, children who are disciplined well are better behaved and more respectful of their fathers than children who are given a free reign.
6. Take care of your children financially.
Nonresidential fathers need to take at least partial responsibility for the financial welfare of their children. Children who receive regular financial support from their fathers do better educationally and are more confident that their father is there for them and their family. They should pay child support on time and be flexible enough to help their children when unforeseen expenses come up. If possible, they should tell their adolescents that they will help pay for college or vocational training. If employment or child support is a problem, fathers should contact a local fatherhood program to get help with job-skills, job placement, and addressing any outstanding child support they may owe.
Note: This advice draws on educational material from The Children’s Trust Fund of Massachusetts, The National Fatherhood Initiative, the National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families, and the National Center for Fathering.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2006). The importance of fathers in the healthy development of children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.