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Whether through divorce, deployment or frequent travel, some dads (and some moms, too) live away from their children for long periods. But that does NOT prevent a vibrant, loving, lasting relationship. (Pronouns alternate between daughter and son.)
1. HANG IN THERE FOR THE LONG HAUL. Living away while raising a child is tough, but both his mom and I remain tremendous influences in his life. I meet my responsibilities, including child support, without resentment. 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.
2. 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 her communication with her mom, recognizing that I'm not responsible for their relationship.
3. DEVELOP HEALTHY SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORTS FOR MYSELF. It's normal to struggle with anger, loneliness and other difficult emotions. I meet my adult emotional and social needs maturely with healthy adults; I don't work them out through my child.
4. REMEMBER THAT MY CHILD LIVES IN TWO HOMES. The hours before he leaves my home and after he returns may be times of adjustment and sadness that he has to leave either parent "behind." I respect that he may or may not want to talk right away about his time with his mom; I let him take the lead. I don't pry for information or play down his feelings.
5. FATHER THE BEST I CAN WHEN MY CHILD IS WITH ME. I can't change how her other parent(s) raise her and I can't make up for what they do or don't do, so I focus on what I can control: my own actions. I don't judge their parenting because no one (including me) is a perfect parent. I trust that all of us are trying our best. I parent her calmly; have clear expectations; show affection, patience, love and trust -- without demanding perfection. I give her healthy attention when she's with me and when she's away (by phone, text, mail, etc.).
6. DON'T TRASH MOM. In word and gesture, I speak well about my child's mom even when I'm angry at her -- and even if she speaks poorly about me. If I have trouble speaking well, I wisely say little. Negative talk about my child's mom humiliates and wounds my child, causing him to think less of himself, his mom and me. I keep him out of the middle, even if others don't, and I'll resolve adult conflicts away from him so he can be the child.
7. CO-PARENT WITH MOM. If possible, I communicate openly with her mom. As our child grows up, other parents' perspectives are valuable -- and a real bonus for our child. We work with each other (and our partners) for our child's well-being. When I share my concerns and joys about our child with her mom (and vice versa), our child gets our best and most informed parenting.
8. MY CHILD AND HIS MOTHER ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I don't misdirect anger at my ex toward my child. When my child doesn't listen, does less than his best or makes mistakes (normal kid behaviors), I don't confuse his mistakes with his mom's actions. Instead, I remember that mistakes are great teachers, and do what I can do to help him learn from his mistakes -- and mine.
9. LISTEN TO MY CHILD. Lecturing and arguing get me nowhere. I can't help my child if I minimize her feelings or tell her everything will be okay when I can't guarantee that it will. Instead, I listen and am there for her. I accept my child for who she is; not who I want her to be, think she should be, or think she would be if she were raised only by me. I take the lead in communicating -- even when I feel unappreciated -- building the emotional connection that will help her listen to me when it really counts.
10. FOCUS ON MY CHILD'S POSITIVES. I don't father by always pointing out what my child did wrong, so he can fix it. That may work on the job, but not with my children. Focusing on negatives undermines his strength and confidence -- already stretched by living in two homes.
11. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS WISELY.My child has different rules and expectations in her mother's house. I am patient with her 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 she is a child of divorce. I remember that an honest, solid and lifelong relationship with her is more important than what happens today.
12. BE THE FATHER, NOT THE MOTHER. I am a powerful and encouraging role model, and I tell him he has a special place in my heart. My masculine actions and loving words help him realize that he too can be adventurous, affectionate, playful and successful -- and should expect respect from other honorable men. My belief in him will help him blossom into a young adult who can make me and her mother proud.