How to deal with the absentee father

Oct 1, 2008 at 8:02 p.m. ET

Whether your children's father has had minimal contact with your kids since birth or a divorce has made this a reality, raising kids without a prominent father figure is a challenge many families face. Find out how you can keep the lines of communication open, while helping children come to terms with a fair weather father.

I feel bad for my children and I say that very sincerely.  Their father and I divorced over three years ago and they have only seen him once since we moved to a different state.  While we were married their father was a very good dad, spending time with them, playing with them and showing them love.  As soon as he made the decision to file for divorce it was like he divorced his children as well.  He made his decision and it has been up to me to deal with the fall out.

Helping Children Understand

It is never easy to try to help your kids understand why their father is not in their life.  No matter what age they are they still have questions and it can still hurt.  Kids can also begin to act out in different ways because their father is not around.  Daddy's girls can feel like they are missing a huge part of who they are, and little boys who have lost their role model can feel lost and alone.

No matter what your personal feelings are for the children's father, it is essential that you always reassure your children about how much you love them and how much their father loves them.  If your children feel loved, it can go a long way to helping them be well-adjusted and grow up into strong adults.  Listen to them, let them talk, and let them tell you how they feel.  Make them feel validated and let them know that it is ok if they are hurting, or that they are allowed to still love their father.

Try to Keep Communication Open

It is not a child's responsibility to call their father.  Once a child is old enough it isn't even a mother's responsibility to keep that line of communication open.  However, when there are young children involved, it is the mother's responsibility to help their child have a relationship with their father that they can later grow. 

If your kids ask you to call, you have to try, at least in the beginning and even if you know there will be no response.  You want to make sure that your children know you are trying, because they will remember when they get older.  You do not want to have blame placed on you, or have your kids tell you as adults that you stood in the way. 

Send pictures to their father if you can, so that he knows who they are and what they look like as they get older.  It may even help him decide to pick up the phone one day and give them a call.  Let your children ask you questions and tell them stories about happier times, if and when they ask.  Letting your kids know you understand will help them adjust.

Knowing When to Give Up

There does come a time where you have to help your children accept that no matter how many times you call, that their father is just not going to call back.  This doesn't mean that you have to tell them their dad doesn't care, just be honest and tell them that you don't know why he behaves that way either.  There comes a time where you will have to stop calling so that your children don't get their hopes up just to be hurt even more.  There will come a time when you have to encourage your children to move on, and tell them that maybe when they get older, they will be able to talk to their father and ask them why.

You cannot allow an absentee father ruin your child's life, even if it will help form the adult that your child grows into.  As a mom, it is your responsibility to make your child feel loved, secure, happy and healthy.  It is your responsibility to see that your child grows up well adjusted so that they can deal with the realities they will face as adults.

Dealing with the Problems It Brings

There may come a time, as there did with my son, where your child starts to act out simply because he doesn't understand.  Kids are smart and while they can try to verbalize how they feel, sometimes it instead comes out in their behavior or attitude.   If your child starts to throw tantrums, cry, hit others, or just is not acting like himself, it is important that you try to reassure him of your love and that it is ok.  Don't make your child feel like they shouldn't be upset, let them know they have every right to be, but that you love them and are there to help them.

Remember, there are people there who can help you including teachers, counselors, friends, other family and in some cases church members.  While your child may feel completely alone, you know that they are not and you do not have to tackle it alone.  Don't be afraid to ask for help, so that your child can get the help that he needs.

I hope for my children that when they grow up they will be able to form a relationship with their father that they are content with.  In the mean time I will do the best I can to give them everything they need and fill in the gaps.  I may not be able to protect them from every hurt in the world, but I can certainly try.

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