Thursday, April 16, 2009

"12 Tips for Live-Away Dads" Nos. 7-12

My last post included the first half of my "12 Tips for Live-Away Dads." Here is the second half-dozen suggestions or dads who are divorced, deployed, travel frequently, or have some other reason they live away from their children for long periods.

Some very dedicated, experienced divorced dads helped me put these tips together, especially Bill Klatte, author of the fabulous Live-away Dads: Staying a Part of Your Children's Lives When They Aren't a Part of Your Home. (NOTE: pronouns alternate between daughter and son, because the tips are meant for dads & stepdads of both).

CO-PARENT WITH MOM. If possible, I communicate openly with her mom. As our child grows up, it's incredibly valuable to have her other parent's perspective. We do our best to work with each other (and our partners/her stepparents) for our child's well-being. When I share my concerns and joys about our child with her mom (and vice versa), she gets our best and most informed parenting.

MY CHILD AND HER MOTHER ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I won't misdirect any anger at my child's mother toward my child. When my child doesn't listen, does less than her best or makes other mistakes (normal kid behaviors), I won't confuse her mistakes with her mom's actions. Instead, I'll remember that mistakes are great teachers, and do what I can do to make things better.

LISTEN TO MY CHILD. Lecturing and arguing get me nowhere. I can't help my child if I minimize his feelings or tell him everything will be okay when I can't guarantee that it will. Instead, I listen and am there for him. I accept my child for who he is; not who I want him to be, think he should be, or think he would be if he were raised only by me. I take the lead in communicating -- even when I feel unappreciated. I may not agree with everything he says or does, but when I listen, I build the emotional connection that will help him listen to me when it really counts.

FOCUS ON MY CHILD'S POSITIVES. I don't father by always pointing out what my child did wrong, so she can fix it. That may work on the job, but not with my children. Focusing on negatives undermines her strength and confidence-already stretched by living in two homes.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS WISELY. My child has different rules and expectations in his mother's house. I am patient with his responses to those differences, while remaining clear about my expectations for our home. I try not to compensate for our family situation by giving in to demands that I spoil my child or lessen my expectations just because he is a child of divorce. I remember that an honest, solid and lifelong relationship with him is more important than what happens today.

BE THE FATHER, NOT THE MOTHER. I am a powerful and encouraging role model, and I tell her she has a special place in my heart. My masculine actions and loving words help her realize that she too can be adventurous, playful and successful - and should expect respect from affectionate, honorable men. My belief in her will help her blossom into a young woman who can make me and her mother proud.

Learn more about healthy fathering @

"12 Tips for Live-Away Dads" Nos. 1-6

Whether through divorce, deployment or frequent travel, some dads live away from their children for long periods. Despite what we may think (or others may tell us) living away does NOT prevent a vibrant, loving and lasting relationship. For several years, I've offered some ideas for how to keep the connection strong--ideas that were developed with the help of several very wise & brave divorced dads.

I get grief about these tips sometimes--a topic I'll address in a future post. Meantime, here are the first six of my "12 Tips for Live-Away Dads." (pronouns alternate between daughter and son, because the tips are meant for dads & stepdads of both).

HANG IN THERE FOR THE LONG HAUL. Living away is tough. So is raising a child from two different homes. My involvement in my child's life may be different than my dreams for the two of us when he was little, but it is no less important. I meet my responsibilities, including child support, without resentment. Both his mom and I remain tremendous influences in his life. I stay calm, committed, loving and loyal toward him-and do what I can to help his mom do the same. If abuse or abandonment happen, my child needs me to protect him, but he also needs to make peace in his life with that relationship.

ENCOURAGE HER BOND WITH MOM. My child's relationship with her mom is different than her relationship with me. My child needs to participate fully in it, even when that's hard for me (or her). I encourage communication between her and her mom, recognizing that I'm not responsible for their relationship. If my child is more comfortable talking about certain things with her mom than me, I respect and encourage that.

DEVELOP HEALTHY SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORTS FOR MYSELF. It's normal to struggle sometimes with anger, loneliness and other difficult emotions. But I'm careful not to work those feelings out through my child. I meet my adult emotional and social needs maturely with healthy adults.

REMEMBER THAT MY CHILD LIVES IN TWO HOMES. The hours before he leaves my home and after he returns are a time of adjustment (and sometimes grieving) for him. I respect that he may or may not want to talk right away about his time with his mom; I let his take the lead. I don't pry for information or play down his feelings. He may sometimes be upset or moody when he leaves my home or his mom's, sad that he has to leave either of us "behind."

FATHER THE BEST I CAN WHEN MY CHILD IS WITH ME. I can't change how her other parents raise her or make up for what they do or don't do, so I focus on what I can control: my own actions. I'm not judgmental about their parenting because no one (including me) is a perfect parent. I trust that her mother and I are each trying our best. I parent her calmly; give her choices; have clear expectations; show affection, patience, love and trust--without demanding perfection. I encourage her to communicate with and trust both of her parents, even (maybe especially) when she makes mistakes. I give her healthy attention when she's with me and when she's away (using phone, Internet, mail, etc.).

DON'T TRASH MOM. In word and gesture, I speak well about my child's mother even when I'm angry at her -- and even if she speaks poorly about me. If I have trouble speaking well, I will wisely say little. Negative talk about my child's mom is a little wound to my child, causing him to think less of himself, his mom and me. Trashing his mom or step-parents through words or gestures (in public or at home) humiliates my child and damages my family. No matter the circumstances of our divorce, I respect that his mother's new family is now part of my child's family. I'll keep my child out of the middle, even if others don't, and I'll resolve adult conflicts away from him so he can be the child.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What About Adult Daughters & Dads?

Fairly regularly, adult women ask me for advice on what to do about their strained (or non-existent) relationships with their won fathers. That’s a tough question for me, since my focus is on the father side of the equation—and aimed at helping dads build strong relationships when their daughters are young….so their daughter will never have to ask this question.

Fortunately, I’m able to tell adult women about
an insightful book designed for adult daughters who want more from their relationship with their dads (it's also a great resource for dads of adult daughters and for for professionals who work with families). It’s called Between Fathers and Daughters: Enriching and Rebuilding Your Adult Relationship by Dr. Linda Nielsen of Wake Forest University, where she teaches the country’s only college course on father-daughter relationships. It’s fascinating to read, yet also has Linda’s no-nonsense, concrete strategies for improving the relationships between adult women and their dads and stepdads.

It’s rather baffling (or pathetic?) that there is only one college course on dad-daughter relationships, so little research on the topic, and so few books about it.

Even if you’re the dad of a younger daughter, check out this book, and it will absolutely convince you of how important you are to your daughter’s future.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Schools and Girls and Boys

It seems like this week is book week on this blog! I’ve been waiting for years to see if there would be a new edition of the classic book Failing at Fairness by the groundbreaking gender equity researchers Dr Myra Sadker and Dr. David Sadker. Well, it has arrived.

Still Failing at Fairness: How Gender Bias Cheats Girls and Boys in School and What We Can Do About It, the book tackles the ways that gender bias (intentional and unintentional) are stifling girls AND boys in classrooms from pre-school to college. Plus, the authors (who now also include Dr. Karen Zittleman) provide solid suggestions for teachers, administrators, parents and policymakers to fix the problems and improve learnng for our sons and daughters.

I have little patience for the arguments asserting that gender equity is old news, not longer a problem, or that it shortchanges boys by giving girls special treatment. To ignore gender in education is like trying to teach with a blindfold on. In some esoteric, ivory tower debate somewhere, that might sound like a good idea—but in practice it’s pretty dumb.
Anyway, I encourage you to read this book—it’s very readable and has tons of material that’s incredibly useful for parents.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Parenting Is a Contact Sport

Can you build a relationship with your children which is so strong that nothing will sever it? Psychologist Joanne Stern thinks you can.

Stern has written the book Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life (just released this week) telling how you can make 'real' contact with your kids, forming an unbreakable bond that makes you the person they want to share with, from toddlerhood to the teen years and beyond. She believes that this approach gives you the opportunity to guide and counsel your kids in every phase of their lives.

I had the honor of advising Joanne during the early stages of her writing this book, and I think she makes a very compelling case. You can learn more at