Here at fathers.com, sometimes the best thing we can do with this blog is get out of the way and share insights from dads who have been through challenges and learned, some positive approaches with their kids, often after making mistakes along the way.
The latest example started with a question posted on our Facebook page for divorced dads:
How do you help your kids know that “It’s not your fault”?
The wisdom we received generally fell into three categories, and as often happens in these situations, the answers often went beyond this question and addressed broader principles and lessons these dads have learned.
First, do tell them, “It’s not your fault”
… and keep telling them over time. If possible, do it with their mom present as well.
Clearly, this is about more than just saying those words. Work to build a habit of open communication with your kids, where you regularly have conversations that are real and honest—in ways they can understand and handle at their age. That will probably mean admitting that you have not been perfect and there are things you wish you’d handled differently. One dad described another conversation to let them know: “We’re still a family, it just looks different now.”
Then, even more powerful than saying the words is:
showing them that you believe it’s not their fault by focusing on them and your relationship with them.
“Invest your time and energy on them,” one dad said. Be present in their lives in whatever way you can. Be consistent with love and encouragement. Laugh and have fun together. Get whatever help you need so you can be the best version of yourself—because it’s best for your kids.
Different dads made this point in different ways:
“Make the kids know and feel that they are the priority.”
Your actions will confirm that you really meant it when you told them it’s not their fault.
“Be patient. Give lots of hugs.”
“Make sure they know you love them … even if it gets weird after the third time you tell them.”
And third: avoid putting them in the middle of a battle with your ex.
Divorced dads surely hear this one a lot, but numerous dads mentioned this in response to the question. If your kids are going to believe the divorce wasn’t their fault, that will be much easier if they aren’t forced to experience bitter vindictiveness between you and their mom over and over when you talk about her or interact with her.
Although it’s extremely difficult, show respect for her—which is actually showing respect for your children. Say positive things about her and promote your kids’ relationship with her. Here’s some wisdom worth considering:
“In time and as the kids grow, they will learn certain truths without Dad ever having to be negative.”
“Eventually they will know the truth. You want to be the one who was always above board, supportive and honest.”
Hang in there, dads. Keep pursuing connections with your kids. Remember that they’ll be adults one day, sooner than you think, and what you do now can help create a strong relationship then.
What do you have to add to the discussion? It happens on our Facebook page.
Questions for Reflection & Discussion:
- How did you view your parents’ marriage and/or divorce as a child? What’s your perspective today on how it influenced you?
- Does open communication come naturally for you? In what ways do you need to grow?
- What conversations need to happen soon with your kids and/or their mom?
- What do you wish you could do differently as a father? Would your kids benefit from hearing that from you?
- Where would you place your children on a list of your priorities? Do your actions, decisions and daily schedule reflect that?
- What changes can you make to better line up your priorities and your actions?
- Divorced dads: Have you been able to get past bitterness toward your ex? If not, who can help you with that? If you have, who’s another dad you can help in this area?