“When people ask me about my father, I tell them I don’t have one.”
That’s what one boy said after his parents divorced.
Mike is that dad, and he told us those words cut him to the heart. A few years back, he moved to another state to pursue better work opportunities, and he explained to his two kids that he wasn’t abandoning them, just trying to improve things for himself and for them. Mike promised he would move back in just a few years.
But since then, both kids have gone through periods where they wouldn’t interact with him at all. And to say it’s been a struggle would be a huge understatement.
Quite a few dads today are in similar situations, and although this short blog can’t address every issue or capture the complexity and the depth of emotion that divorced dads experience, here are two thoughts to keep in mind during the challenges:
Make Your Love Unconditional
Divorce is tough on kids, and different children respond in different ways. Of course it’s tough on a dad too, but as much as possible, it’s best to be understanding, patient, and positive. Although you never meant to hurt them, they will feel some pain. And you can’t expect them to act a certain way or process their pain on a certain schedule.
So keep reaching out however you can, and don’t get offended when they don’t respond the way you want them to. Stay positive and encourage them every chance you get—whether or not they appreciate it or even want you around. That’s what unconditional love is.
That might not sound very hopeful, but it leads right into the second thought:
Take a Long-Term View
This is another one that’s easy to say and difficult to do. But remember that your kids will someday be teenagers and then adults who are out on their own. What you’re doing right now is likely paving the way for a future with doors that are either open or slammed shut. You never know when something will happen in their lives that will make them long for more of your presence. When that door opens—and there’s a good chance it will—you don’t want your kids to have any reason to hesitate or wonder how you’ll respond when they contact you.
So instead of thinking only about what you’re missing when you can’t be with your kids, focus on loving them anyway and preparing for the better day that may come in the future.
Make sure they know you will always be there for the support, wisdom, and encouragement that even grown kids need from their dads.
This is just scratching the surface. What would you add? How do you deal with FOMO* as a divorced dad? Share your insights with other dads (and pick up a few tips) on our Facebook page.
(*Fear Of Missing Out)
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What’s one thing your child has said about you that’s been the most difficult to hear? Was it accurate, or maybe driven mostly by emotion?
- Is there something about your job schedule or other things on your calendar that you could change so you can be a more engaged father? Spend some time evaluating your typical routine to see if there’s room for adjustments, even if it means simply sending your kids encouraging texts more often.
- How can you express “unconditional love” in your current situation? Talk through specific examples and challenges with another dad or someone else you’re close to.
- Going through a divorce or other major issues at home will affect your motivation as a dad and your ability to connect with your kids. Take steps to improve those other issues—and get help if needed—because it’s the right thing to do, and because it helps you be a better dad.
- Imagine (and start planning for) what your kids will be like a year from now, 5 years from now, and 10 years from now. How will your relationship likely be different? How can you start preparing to help meet the different needs they will have?