You Can Help Nurture a Father-Child Relationship
A few years ago, an 11-year-old girl named Jenny read one of my parenting columns about the importance of fathers and wrote a letter to me. In her letter she said that her parents were divorced and her dad didn’t come to see her as much as she would have liked. She went on to say that she wished that she and her father could have a “nice father-child relationship” just like some daughters and their fathers have.
I think about Jenny from time to time and wonder if maybe her father read a subsequent column I wrote about how children frequently wished they had a better relationship with their fathers. And I frequently wonder if her father ever started seeing her more, or if he didn’t if she was able to overcome this and lead a fairly happy life.
Some time after the Jenny letter, Kevin O’Shea, a stay-at-home dad and president of an organization for dads, and I wrote a book about fathers and fathering. In the book we said that more fathers are more involved with their children these days. But we also pointed out how important dads are to the healthy development of children. We took pains to emphasize that research in the past decade or two have shown that mothers are not hard-wired to be better parents than fathers. And despite the belief of many Americans that moms come to this business of parenting more naturally than dads, we took an opposite point of view. We declared that not only are fathers just as skilled at nurturing and raising children, but that dads bring various unique – and irreplaceable – qualities to the job of raising kids.
We found in doing our research, that one long-term research project discovered that those adults with the happiest and healthiest personal relationships were those who had the most nurturing relationships with their fathers when they were five years old. We cited the research of Michael Lamb, a professor at the University of Cambridge, and the late Norma Radin, a professor of child development at the University of Michigan, that confirmed that youngsters with the highest scores in a variety of developmental categories were those with active dads. Norma Radin’s widely-quoted conclusion was that “…kids who have contact with a father have an advantage over kids without that kind of contact.”
And thinking back to Jenny and to my contacts with children in clinical and court settings over the years has convinced me that children – both boys and girls – who don’t see their dads often enough usually feel sad and unhappy. They frequently think they did something wrong to cause their father to not come around enough.
Other children who have sporadic contact with a father begin to think that everyone important in their life will eventually abandon them. Often, as a result, they become afraid of getting close to others, particularly men, for fear that they might just go away.
If you are the parent of a child who doesn’t get to see their father enough, there are things you can do to help your father-starved child. For one thing, you can reassure them it is not their fault their father doesn’t come around often. You don’t have to say negative things about their father, but you can let them know they did not cause his absence.
Another suggestion is that you allow your child to communicate directly with their father (by phone, email, text, Skype) and make a direct appeal to their father to come and see them regularly.
Furthermore, you should take advantage of the power and influence you have as a single parent. Many children grow up in a healthy fashion even though one parent is missing or frequently unavailable. By being an attentive, loving parent, who offers affection and positive reinforcement, you can help them to grow up to be healthy and happy. Along the way, you can give them opportunities to talk about their bad feelings related to being neglected by their father, and then help them to channel those feelings into constructive activities.
In general, the good news is that a single parent can do a great job of raising a child. But the even better news is that many more fathers these days recognize their importance in the life of their child – and are doing something about it.