If you find yourself wanting to reconnect with your child, know that you are not alone. Many fathers find themselves, at one time or another, wanting to develop a better relationship with their child. Some relationships will take longer to rejuvenate, but know that any effort on your part will not be wasted.
If you’re a father, and trying to reconnect with your child, you probably carried a mental picture of how your homecoming would be. It may have included your baby uttering his first “Daddy” or your son running towards you with outstretched arms, or your older child begging to hear about why you were absent. Such expectations may lead to disappointment. Because what sometimes happens is an initial display of happiness on the child ’s part followed by sulky, withdrawn or even hostile behavior.
To understand why this happens, you must first realize that even just a few months seem like a lifetime to a child, and children instinctively adjust to new situations. They adjusted to you not being around. Now, they need time to adjust to having you around again.
Ultimately, most failed father/child relationships revolve around pride and selfishness. You must be willing to abandon both of these vices for this process to work. They will ruin any relationship every time, and any trace of them will make a bad relationship worse. Ready? Take a deep breath…
Your child’s reactions depend on his or her own personality, but there are several things that all returning fathers should keep in mind:
Meet them on their turf. Invite them somewhere where they are comfortable, and doing an activity they enjoy, but where you can still talk (eg. A basketball game, mall, movie, fishing, dinner in a nice restaurant), and be prepared to foot the entire bill yourself.
Tell your children how much you missed them and how happy you are to see them again. It may seem like they should know this, but they need to hear it from you.
Praise them for helping out while you were gone. Children are unsure what to expect from a returning parent. For example, they may fear you’ll “abandon” them again. Put their minds at rest.
Admit your wrongdoings. At an appropriate time, acknowledge the areas in which you have really screwed up, leaving nothing out. Be prepared for them to add to that list.
Apologize for your absence. Tell them you are sorry for each and every thing that you mentioned and that they mentioned. This is where the pride thing hurts the most. Do not argue with them. If they mention something for which you do not feel you should be found guilty, apologize for it anyway. You are not a good judge of what your child’s feelings are or should be. If they say it bothered them, it probably did! Allow them their time—this is about their feelings, not yours. It will certainly be difficult to keep your mouth shut at times, but if you defend yourself during this process, they will not see the humility or the sincerity of your apology, and you will have wasted your time.
Ask forgiveness. Have you ever been taught how to apologize and ask for forgiveness? Probably not. Practice this one in the mirror a few times before you try it when it counts. It is not easy. When you ask forgiveness for each and every item you apologized for, be prepared for your apology to not be accepted. Be prepared for your child to get angry with you and say some biting things. Respond with silence, and let them vent. These feelings have most likely been stored up for a long time. Your child may even leave. Whatever happens, do not look at it as failure. Depending on how bad you have screwed up, you cannot expect all the hurt to go away just like that.
Repeat the process. Continue to ask for forgiveness until it is granted. Perseverance pays. Even if it takes several meetings. Chances are they will forgive you eventually. They may just be testing your genuineness and sincerity. Every kid craves a good relationship with their father whether they admit or not. Be patient.
Try to avoid power struggles with both the mother of your children and your children. Take it slowly as you, and they, readjust to your presence.
Communicate. Talk openly and frequently with the child’s mother, and decide how you are going to work through your problems.
Be patient. This period of transition can last a long time – and it can be awkward. You can ease this by reviewing schoolwork, looking at family photos or asking your children about their activities.
Allow them to express their feelings. Don’t try to force positive responses. Older children may act coldly toward you. Acting aggressively or disinterested is their way of showing their hurt and anger at you for leaving. This behavior, though unsettling, usually doesn't last long. Just tell them how much you missed them, and how you’re looking forward to hearing about the things they did while you were away.
All the little things you do will add up and let your child know that you are available to them and that you want to reconnect with them. Keep up the good work and give it time.
10 Commandments to Help the Absent-Father Syndrome
By Jim Burns
Most "absent-fathers" are not absent by intentional choice, but rather other life choices and priorities have combined -- resulting in a lot of time away from home and/or little involvement in their kids' lives. If you're an "absent-father" you're not alone. You can begin today to make choices which will bump your relationships with your wife and kids up a notch. Here are ten commandments to help you get started.
1.Thou shalt talk with your kids everyday. Even a brief phone call to ask your kids how their day went -- when you are on the road, for example, communicates your care and concern for your kids.
2.Thou shalt listen to your kids everyday. Often times, it is easier to talk to your kids than it is to listen. Listening is a key communication skill -- one that can't be overlooked! Listening is the language of love. Listening to your kids will keep you in touch with what is going on in their lives.
3.Thou shalt affirm your kids everyday. Kids thrive when they receive meaningful affirmation from their parents. Paying attention to catch you kid in the act of doing something good or displaying a positive character trait can take work, but is well worth the effort.
4.Thou shalt offer your kids affection everyday. Dads, if it is your desire to build a stronger relationship with your kids, affection is a must. Not the affectionate type -- Learn to become affectionate. It is that important. Be sure to offer your kids genuine affection through loving words, affirmation, encouragement, small gifts and appropriate touch. (For ideas on physical affection, download our free tip sheet, "Keeping in Touch with Your Kids".)
5.Thou shalt intentionally work at relationship building. Chances are (if you consider yourself an absent-father) that you've already lost touch with kids. For instance, do you know the names of your son or daughter's closest friends-- Relationships with your kids, like any healthy relationship, takes work. Healthy relationships take time as well. Spend time with your kids. Find out about their lives; what they like and dislike, who their friends are, what their world is like, etc.
6.Thou shalt have a one-on-one outing at least once a month with each of your kids. This builds on the last commandment of intentionally working at relationship building. Schedule a monthly appointment with your son or daughter -- where relationship building can take place. These outings don't have to be elaborate. Go out for some ice cream, for example.
7.Thou shalt share your life with your kids. As you interact with your kids, be sure to open the door to your life, so they can get to know you as well. Healthy relationships are a two-way street. Share your own likes and dislikes, your hopes and dreams, your goals and desires and even your struggles (appropriately, of course.)
8.Thou shalt handle conflicts. One of the temptations of an absent-father is to be too busy to address conflict or even run away when it occurs. Conflict can either be a path to communication blockage and unloving behavior, or it can be a path to deeper communication, greater understanding, and loving behavior. Handling conflict, in the long run is actually a way to strengthen connections with your kids. Working through the conflict takes greater emotional involvement, but it is the loving way to care for yourself as well as your kids.
9.Thou shalt talk to your kids about big life issues. For better or for worse, parents have the most influence on kids' morals and values than anyone else -- unless by default -- if their parents are unavailable. If you see yourself as an absent-father, I encourage you, don't throw your influence away! Talk to you kids about the big issues in life; let them know what you believe and why.
10.Thou shalt 'be there' for your kids. Fathers, one of the most valuable contributions you can make today in effort to reconnect with your kids is to simply "be there;" involved in their lives. Your presence is a powerful affirmation and sign of caring towards your kids. Your presence provides kids with a greater sense of security than almost any other quality parents can offer. Sometimes, this means being willing to make some tough choices; like choosing to be your daughter's volleyball match instead of being at another business meeting. But, the value of being involved in your kids' lives is more valuable than a bigger paycheck.
Copyright © 2006 Jim Burns, Used with permission.