12 Tips for Live-Away Dads
Whether through divorce, separation, deployment or other circumstances, some fathers & stepfathers don’t live with their kids. But a Live-Away Dad still has huge influence on his daughter. Here are some tips for how to have a close, positive and fun relationship with her.
- HANG IN THERE FOR THE LONG HAUL. Living away is tough. So is raising a daughter from two different homes. My involvement in my daughter’s life may be different than my dreams for the two of us when she was little, but it is no less important. I meet my responsibilities, including child support, without resentment. Both her mom and I remain tremendous influences in her life. I stay calm, committed, loving and loyal toward her—and do what I can to help her mom do the same. If abuse or abandonment happen, my daughter needs me to protect her, but she also needs to make peace in her life with that relationship.
- HELP HER PARTICIPATE. My daughter’s relationship with her mom is different than her relationship with me. My daughter 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 daughter is more comfortable talking to her mom about certain things, 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 daughter. I meet my adult emotional and social needs maturely with healthy adults.
- REMEMBER: MY DAUGHTER LIVES IN TWO HOMES. The hours before she leaves my home and after she returns are a time of adjustment (and sometimes grieving) for her. I respect that she may or may not want to talk right away about her time with her mom; I let her take the lead. I don’t pry for information or play down her feelings. She may sometimes be upset or moody when she leaves my home or her mom’s, sad that she has to leave either of us “behind.”
- FATHER THE BEST I CAN WHEN SHE 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, texting, snail mail, etc.).
- DON’T TRASH HER MOTHER. In word and gesture, I speak well about my daughter’s mom 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 her mom is a little wound to my daughter, causing her to think less of herself, her mom and me. Trashing her mom or step-father through words or gestures (in public or at home) humiliates my daughter and damages my family. No matter the circumstances of our divorce, I respect that her mother’s new family is now part of my daughter’s family. I’ll keep my daughter out of the middle, even if others don’t, and I’ll resolve adult conflicts away from my daughter so she can be the child.
- CO-PARENT WITH HER MOM. If possible, I communicate openly with her mom. As our daughter 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/spouses) for our daughter’s well-being. When I share my concerns and joys about our daughter with her mom (and vice versa), our daughter gets our best and most informed parenting.
- REMEMBER: MY DAUGHTER AND HER MOTHER ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I won’t misdirect any anger at my daughter’s mother toward my daughter. When my daughter 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 DAUGHTER. Lecturing and arguing get me nowhere. I can’t help my daughter 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 daughter 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. I may not agree with everything she says or does, but when I listen, I build the emotional connection that will help her listen to me when it really counts.
- FOCUS ON MY DAUGHTER’S POSITIVES. I don’t father by always pointing out what my daughter did wrong, so she can fix it. That may work on the job, but not with my daughter. Focusing on negatives undermines her strength and confidence—already stretched by living in two homes.
- MANAGE EXPECTATIONS WISELY. My daughter 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 daughter 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.
- BE HER FATHER, NOT HER 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, her mother, and herself proud.
Created with William C. Klatte, author of Live-Away Dads: Staying a Part of Your Children’s Lives When They Aren’t a Part of Your Home and Adapted from Dads & Daughters®: How to Inspire, Understand and Support Your Daughter. by Joe Kelly