I have seen the scenario way too many times. A man has a child and then leaves, become an uninvolved and absent father. Then, after some time, he has a change of heart and wants to leave his absent father status behind. But the child and her mother have a life, and bringing a formerly absent father into it may not seem to be worth the trouble, or the scars he left are still too real. And the absent father gets mad or discouraged with the effort, and stops trying to be involved.
But the problem with this scenario is that it robs the child of a potentially strengthening and beneficial relationship with his or her father, and makes it hard for him or her to have a positive father role model. While it would certainly have been best generally for the father to have been involved from the start, it is important to find a way when a father is motivated to be better to let him be more involved in a positive way.
Consider these ten guidelines that an absent father should follow when he wants to be a positive part of a child’s life after a long absence.
Get stable and show it. The lack of personal stability was probably a driving force behind a father abandoning his family at the outset. Maybe it was fear of responsibility, lack of maturity, lack of money or just not being ready for a family. Whatever the case, that lack of stability has to be resolved before a father can be a seriously positive influence on a child’s life.
So, find local resources to get some training or education, get a job and stay there, and have a place to live that is conducive for a child. Make sure that you are current on the responsibilities that you do have, like child support, so that your involvement is more welcome by your child’s mother.
Communicate with your child’s mother. It can be really tough to reconnect with your child’s mother, but she is the gateway to the child. Express your desires openly and let her know how you have worked on your stability and personal responsibility. Apologize sincerely, and let her know how much you want to be a good influence for your child.
Learn about your child. If you have been an absent father and uninvolved for a long time, you will have a lot of learning to do about your child. Even as a father, you are coming back as a stranger. Be patient and learn all about your child. Learn about what to expect of a child that is and what they might be interested in. Get on her level and find out about her life - school, friends, pets, hobbies, favorite foods, favorite toys, etc. Putting your child first in the relationship and making it about her and not about you is an important step forward.
Meet in a safe environment. Remembering that you are coming from a “stranger position,” you need to make sure that you meet in a safe place. That can be at your child’s home, at a grandparent’s home, at a park or other public place. There will be lots of suspicion about your motives, and it will be important to keep the child and her mother feeling safe and comfortable.
Learn your child’s love language. Every child has a personal love language - one that best communicates love and acceptance to them. Find out which love language works best for your child and then use it.
Don’t just be a "Disneyland Dad". You probably have seen the Disneyland Dads - the ones who just want to have fun, take the kids to places her mom can’t afford to go, and spoil her rotten, only to send her home to a mom who has to make life run in the daily grind. Have fun with your child, but mix in some elements of real life and stability as well. It may be tempting to make your time together extremely fun, but don’t let it become competitive with her mother. You are both essential to your child’s life.
Get on your child’s level. Children can be intimidated by big men that they don’t know very well.
Get down at your child’s eye level when communicating with them. Use words that they will understand - not too big and not too harsh. Respect your child and just be with him or her, at his or her level.
Don’t try to change your child’s world. However her world is, it is hers. She feels comfortable with what she knows. So, don’t take her too far out of her comfort zone. If she has certain habits and rituals that she likes, don’t try to change them. Just go with the flow and get comfortable together first before confronting issues that you might want to change.
Be consistent and predictable. Children need consistency and stability, so it is important for a father to be that for his child. No big surprises like bringing a new girlfriend into the relationship too soon or changing plans at the last minute. Be where you say you plan to be when you plan to be there.
Keep your promises. Relationships of trust are built by making and keeping promises. Don’t make a promise you can’t keep, and stay true to the ones you do make. If you promise a trip to the zoo next weekend, don’t let anything get into the way of keeping it. The more honest you are and the more you make and keep realistic promises, the more rapidly your relationship will develop.
Children need fathers in their lives, and fathers need to be responsible for and to their children. These simple guidelines will help create the new relationship that both a child and absent father need in their lives and when followed will help improve the odds of making a hard situation better for fathers, mothers and children.