The Long-Distance Dad, How You Can Be There for Your Child – Whether Divorced, Deployed, or on the Road by Steven Ashley
Steven Ashley takes the high road in this primer on the proper behavior for fathers separated from their children. Instead of coming across as bitter and vindictive, he is reasonable. He stresses the importance of communication, pointing out that children are ultimately the victims when mom and dad lock horns. Ashley’s long-distance dads include deployed military men and businessmen on the road for extended periods. But clearly his target audience is divorced and separated men dealing with complicated emotional issues. Even the most bitter and battle-scarred divorcé will probably agree with Ashley’s bottom-line philosophy: Do right by your kids no matter what. getAbstract recommends this book to long-distance dads who sometimes find that challenging.
- A poor relationship with your former spouse or partner ultimately harms your child.
- Respect is the foundation for a positive relationship with your child and your ex-spouse.
- Children from fatherless homes are statistically much more likely to have emotional and psychological problems.
- Consider a modified work schedule so you can spend more time with your child.
- Many bosses will react unfavorably when you suggest working fewer hours.
- Long-distance dads are still entitled to make rules and set limits.
- Explore “virtual visitation” as an option for interacting with your son or daughter.
- Before you date again, discuss the idea with your ex.
- Offer your adult children counsel, but don’t interfere in their lives.
- Your children come first.
The Long-Distance Dad Book Summary
Fathers Step Up
Not too many years ago, most people dismissed the notion that men should take an active role in parenting. Fathers worked outside the home and mothers raised kids. Case closed. But that has changed dramatically. Men have come to understand the benefits and appreciate the rewards of being involved with their children. In addition, the skyrocketing divorce rate has increased the pressure on fathers to work harder to maintain a relationship with their children. The challenge is also significant for military men who may be away from their families for months at a time.
“There have always been long-distance dads, and long-distance dads today have it easier than those in the past.”
Many studies and statistics offer evidence that children from fatherless homes are more likely to have mental health problems, drop out of school, abuse drugs, get pregnant and commit serious crimes. Committed fathers do not let distance prevent them from being good parents. More importantly, they understand the significance of establishing and maintaining a civil relationship with the mother of their children. After all, making trouble will only harm the kids.
Calming Rough Waters
Fathers must attempt to reassure their children, once separation becomes inevitable. With divorce, you don’t need to go into the gory details or bad-mouth anyone. Explain that living apart will not affect your love for your child. Fathers being deployed or leaving on a long business trip should explain where they are going and for how long. Your child will not enjoy the conversation, regardless of how much sensitivity and tactfulness you use. Separation rocks children’s stability and security.
“If you’re divorcing, remember to hold your tongue if tempted to say something negative about your ex-spouse.”
Once you become a long-distance father, schedule specific times and dates for interacting with your kids. Stay in touch between visits by phone or e-mail. Call your child after an important dance recital or Little League game. Acknowledge birthdays and other noteworthy events. Children crave routine. When they visit you, try to keep to their schedules as much as possible. Provide a clean, safe and hospitable environment.
Working to Achieve Balance
Achieving a healthy work-life balance is a challenge even for men in traditional nuclear families. But it’s a major issue for long-distance dads who not only have to support themselves but in most cases are also responsible for providing child support. Making the decision to cut back on work hours to spend more time with their kids is difficult for many single fathers. Military men also suffer since they don’t have any choice in the matter.
“It is disturbing and emotionally painful to a child when a parent misses an appointment with him or her.”
Some long-distance dads throw themselves into their work to avoid dealing with their feelings of loneliness and rejection. Other men, believing their self-worth depends on material possessions, work long, hard hours so they can have a fancy home and exotic car, and eat at the swankiest restaurants. Devoting enough time to your children is impossible if you are working excessively long hours. In addition, by not making enough of a commitment to your children, you risk a conflict with the children’s mother. Take the case of a divorced woman who lives near her ex-husband because she wants her child to have a positive relationship with the father. If he chooses to work instead of spending time with the child, the mother, as the custodial parent, could become frustrated, decide to start over and move hundreds of miles away.
“A first priority of responsible parents is to do everything possible to rebuild that which divorce has torn down.”
Unsympathetic employers are another problem for long-distance dads. Companies tend to frown upon employees who ask to reduce their hours. In fact, they expect workers to arrive early and leave late if they want promotions and pay raises. Cutting back on your hours and potentially decreasing your income may also threaten the financial comfort of your children and their mother. Communication is the key. Explain that you intend to continue providing financial support while becoming more of a physical presence in the child’s life. Of course, your best-laid plans may be moot if your work schedule is inflexible. See if your boss will cooperate. Can you work 10- or 12-hour days to free up more time on other days? Is telecommuting a possibility? Build a strong case for yourself and speak to your boss. Explain the benefits for yourself and the company. You may be surprised with the results.
Some fathers feel like failures when their family breaks up, but that mindset is not productive. Seek friends who will listen to you and lend support without being judgmental. Getting professional help is another good option. In counseling, you can safely express all your emotions. A qualified therapist can offer an objective point of view and help you put things into perspective.
“The decision to parent more and work less is seldom easy, especially for men.”
An adjustment period is normal when you begin to spend more time with your child. You’ll have to do more laundry, and buy and cook additional food. Certainly you’ll have more responsibilities; however, you’ll also have the opportunity to forge a closer and more intimate relationship with your child. Connect with other families. Your child needs friends, and you need people who share similar feelings, challenges and circumstances. Places of worship can be ideal for making social contacts. Many churches and synagogues have support groups you can join.
“Divorced parents who are jointly responsible for their children are typically dependable, hard-working adults.”
As fathers become more involved with parenting, new organizations that support them are springing up everywhere. Peer-group meetings offer men a forum to discuss common issues, such as co-parenting, custody, child support, and relationships with exes and their families. Peer groups can provide comfort and inspiration. Consider starting a group if one does not exist in your area. It will be well worth the effort.
Be There at Every Stage
Every long-distance dad wants to have a good relationship with his children – whether they’re two or 32. But every age group has different emotional, physical and psychological issues. The key is responding to those needs so you can strengthen the bonds with your child.
“The idea that going through a family breakup means one is a failure is nonsense.”
Here are some basic guidelines to follow for different age groups:
- “Newborn to Age Five” – Establish a strong foundation with girls in particular, who because of divorce may grow up to view men negatively. Young children respond to pictures and sounds. Send your child lots of pictures of yourself and the two of you together. Let the child hear your voice on tape or by telephone. When you are together, engage in activities the child enjoys. Read books, explore a nearby park, visit the zoo. Make the time you spend together memorable.
- “Ages Six to Ten” – Children in this age bracket are aware of family dynamics and may be affected by your divorce and absence. Talk to their teachers or school counselors if you suspect problems. Be careful not to be excessively emotional; kids may blame themselves if you’re feeling bad. Children in this age group need to know that your love is unconditional and that they can count on you to be a part of their lives, no matter what happens. If your schedule allows, become involved with your children’s school activities, get to know their teachers and chaperone field trips.
- “Ages Eleven to Fifteen” – This is a crucial developmental period for children, physically and psychologically. Divorce and separation can have devastating effects, so maintain constant contact with your child. Statistics show that teenage pregnancy and suicide rates are higher for children from fatherless homes. Structure is vital. Set realistic rules and expect accountability – even from long distance.
- “Ages Sixteen to Twenty” – Young adults test limits – and their parents’ patience – as they spread their wings and express their individuality and independence. They may be moody, self-righteous and difficult. Keep the lines of communication wide open and be there to help them. Now is the appropriate time to discuss sex; however, don’t pry into your child’s personal life. Find suitable activities to share, even if that means just watching a football game on TV.
- “Adult Children” – If you’ve done a good job with the other stages of development, your kids will probably want to continue their relationship with you. Parents frequently have difficulty treating their children as adults. You still may have the urge to fix their problems. Just let them know that you’re available as a sounding board. Offer advice only if they ask. Be careful not to overstep boundaries if you’re a grandfather. Don’t be invasive or sabotage your child’s parenting efforts. Respect is a two-way street.
Technology: Your Best Friend
Communication has never been easier. You really have no excuse for not staying in touch with your children. Almost everyone has a cell phone and they all come with text messaging. “Virtual visitation” – video conferencing over the Internet – is an even better option for divorced or deployed dads. More states are enacting virtual visitation legislation as judges acknowledge the importance of children having two involved parents. Of course, virtual visitation is impossible without the consent of the custodial parent. You may have to include virtual visitation as an option in your divorce settlement.
“We protect our children by being honest about our feelings – so long as we’re careful not to burden them with our emotions.”
Virtual visitation requires an investment in the proper equipment: computer, Webcam, appropriate software, broadband router, high-speed Internet connection, and headset and microphone. Mom and dad will have to agree on a virtual visitation schedule, who is going to pay for what and who will be responsible for repairing broken equipment.
Make Peace, Not War
Interested in ruining your chances of having a close, meaningful relationship with your child? Then pick a fight with his or her mother. Learning to get along with your ex for the sake of your children may be your single most difficult challenge as a long-distance dad. Resist the temptation to push emotional buttons. Keep your interactions focused on the kids. Show the proper respect – even if you don’t feel like it. Harboring anger is counterproductive.
“It is the long-distance dad’s job to reassure his children that he will remain in their lives.”
Take a businesslike approach in communicating with your child’s mother. Discuss issues calmly and be assertive but not aggressive. Make sure you understand one another even if you don’t necessarily agree. Work within the boundaries of legal visitation agreements. Don’t feel obligated to follow your attorney’s advice blindly. Avoid contentious situations. Your child will suffer miserably if your co-parenting is fraught with anger and dissension. Jealousy can also be a huge stumbling block, particularly if one parent is remarrying.
“It seems that the more school field trips I went on, the quicker I was accepted by my daughter’s teachers and other parents.” ”
If a civil relationship with your ex-wife is impossible, consider communicating through e-mail. Emotions will play a smaller role and it will give both of you a record of your interactions. But e-mail is not foolproof, and people often misinterpret messages. Whether you communicate in person, by phone or by e-mail, maintain a dialogue with your child’s mother. You don’t have to be friends but you do have to work together. Always remember what’s at stake.
Dating: Proceed with Caution
Seeking companionship after you’ve worked through the emotional upheaval of divorce is normal. But if you don’t handle the situation diplomatically, your decision to date and possibly cultivate a relationship can upset your ex. Consider broaching the subject through a letter or e-mail. Respectfully explain your intentions while reassuring your ex that your child’s best interests are always your first priority. Promise not to invite women to stay overnight at your house when your children are visiting. Demonstrate that you are sensitive to your ex’s feelings.
“It’s important to present a united front with your children’s mom as a team.” ”
Introducing your children to your dates during the first year after a divorce is not advisable. They may still be secretly hoping that you and their mother will reconcile. Go slowly. Your child needs a lot of time to adjust. In addition, some single women may not understand that your child’s needs have priority. Being a potential stepmother may not be very appealing. Be upfront with dates. Explain that your children come first and that they are part of the package.
“Jealousy is likely to get in the way of your attempts to successfully co-parent when one person appears to be replacing the other.”
A very sticky situation can arise if you believe your ex’s new relationship is harming your children. Children should not have to deal with men sleeping overnight in her home. Most courts agree that’s unacceptable. Notify authorities if you suspect that her partner is involved with drugs, excessive drinking or physical abuse. Above all else, your duty is to protect your children.
About the Author
Steven Ashley is the founder of the Divorced Fathers Network. He self-published Fathers Are Forever: A Co-Parenting Guide for the 21st Century. Philip S. Hall is a psychologist and author of Educating Oppositional and Defiant Children and Parenting Your Defiant Child.