A dad we’ll call “Bill” is desperate. He’s been separated from his three sons for about seven years. He does get to see them occasionally, but the distance is hard as you can imagine.

Of course, each of his kids is different, and that only increases Bill’s frustration and confusion. One has deep anger toward Bill, but he misses his dad at the same time. Another boy seems indifferent, and Bill wonders if that’s due to his ex-wife’s influence. Things are great with the third boy; they talk on the phone and express love openly.

So Bill is wondering: How do I deal with all of this? He wants to make the most of his opportunities with his sons and impart wisdom and encouragement to them, but each day seems to have new land mines for him to worry about.

Like all complex fathering situations, there are no easy answers. And in today’s world, there are more and more dads facing the challenges of living apart from their children and feeling that frustration. Often it’s multiplied by conflict with the children’s mother.

But there are a few general principles to keep in mind, and as we look forward to the new year, many dads should benefit from applying these ideas to whatever challenges you’re going through:

First, exert influence where you can. Family circumstances are often less-than-ideal, and it helps to just admit that, change your expectations, play the hand you’ve been dealt and make the best of it. That means admitting you can’t control what your children’s mom says or the attitudes she reflects to them, and you can’t control how your kids will respond to you. Some things you have to accept and just go from there.

Which means you need to focus on your own behavior and attitudes. Maintain your integrity in all things. Set some new goals. Plug into a group of men who will encourage and challenge you. Be humble and willing to admit mistakes when you’ve made them—even to your kids. Show them what it means to have character and persevere even through the difficulties you’re facing.

When you do have the opportunity, speak from your heart and bless your kids. Point out the positives you see in their lives. As much as you can given your relationship with each child, express your love for them openly and without hesitation. Don’t let discouragement or frustration stop you from affirming your kids the way they need you to.

And although you probably can’t change everything for the better today, you can let your kids know through words and actions that you’re committed to them for the long haul. Help them see you as someone they can count on.

Life may not have turned out the way you anticipated, but from this point forward do all you can to be the dad you know your children need.