Fathering from a distance

Some fathers are not able to see their children as much as they would like to. This might be because they work away from home, work long hours, or are separated from their family. Sometimes, this can cause difficult feelings for dads such as homesickness, heartache, jealousy, sadness or isolation. However, parenting from a distance does not mean that a father’s parenting role is less significant than it used to be. If a father is not able to have frequent physical contact with his child yet provides warm, stimulating, and positive contact when possible, children still benefit. Dads can stay connected with their children, even if they are not living with them, or if there is a big geographical distance between them. Some dads might worry that fathering from a distance means that they will miss out on quality time and developmental milestones. However, children benefit from knowing what their dads are doing and where they are, and dads benefit from knowing what is happening in their children’s lives.

Working long hours or working away from home

For many families with young children, parents have different roles. Fathers often spend time in paid employment and provide family income. Fathers may often be relied on by their families to provide money for food, living, education and holidays. Spending more time at work means that some fathers worry they might miss out on the new things their child is learning (eg walking, first words, first day at school), family experiences and community events. However, if fathers build a strong and connected relationship with their children when they are physically together, this bond is maintained and felt by both father and child, even when away from each other. A father’s emotional involvement with his child also acts as a buffer against work-related stresses, meaning that dads are more likely to feel better overall.

Suggestions for how dads can connect with their children when they work away from home or work long hours:

  • Before leaving on a work trip, openly discuss as a family how long you will be going away for and what you will be doing while away. Answer your child’s questions honestly and talk about the good things that your trip will bring. It is important that your child understands that you will be coming home and that you love them.
  • While away, stay in contact by phone, email, text message or Skype, to let your family know that you are thinking of them.
  • Take a list with you that includes significant events happening for your child and family while you are away. Try to make contact with your child before events, as seemingly small events to adults are often a big deal for children.
  • Collect postcards or small souvenirs such as drink coasters, hotel cards, nametags or pictures. When you get home, use these letters and souvenirs to tell your child stories about your time away.
  • Before leaving, look at a calendar with your children so that they can mark off and countdown to when you are home.
  • If you will be gone when your child wakes up, leave them a note or give them a call.
  • Give your child something that belongs to you that they can hold, sleep with or smell.

Separated dads

Some fathers may not have ever lived full time with their child, others may be recently separated due to a family or relationship separation. When separated fathers are involved with their children, children’s mental health and wellbeing is enhanced. Some suggestions for dads to stay connected with children who are separated from them are:

  • Stay involved with your child as much as possible. Spend time at your child’s early childhood service, attend their sporting events, write to them, and ring them.
  • Make the most of the time you do spend with your children (eg cooking, reading, singing and telling stories together).
  • Children love getting mail. If you have time, send a postcard, letter or card to let them know you are thinking of them.
  • If you are living away, try to have a space for your child when they come to visit. Put their favourite things there and make it as comfortable as possible, so that they feel at home when they come to stay with you.
  • When you need to speak to your child’s other parent or carer, do it directly, rather than sending messages through your child.
  • Avoid asking your child questions about their other parent or carer, or asking them to withhold information as this can make children feel uncomfortable or guilty.
  • Keep the focus of your communication (with your child’s other parent or carer) on your child’s accomplishments and needs. Your child will feel reassured knowing that both their parents or carers are interested in their wellbeing.
  • Keep a confidential diary to send between yourself and your child’s other parent or carer, this can be a way of sharing important information.

In separated families, father involvement promotes positive mental health and wellbeing for children.

Fathering worries and how to tackle them

Most parents and carers have worries now and then about whether they are doing the right things for their children and their family. This is not always a negative and can be a common sign of love and care. There is no ‘one’ right way to be a father. It can be helpful for fathers who do have worries to learn more about being a dad and ways they can manage their worries (e.g., talking to other dads, getting involved with a men’s group). Early childhood services are among several helpful places for fathers to talk about their fears and collect information on how to overcome these. For staff to be able to help fathers, it is important they are aware of common fathering fears and keep them in mind when interacting with fathers. Below are some worries that fathers may experience.

Some worries that fathers may experience

Common worries

Helpful information

How to tackle the worry

I don’t know how to interact with my baby. What do I say and do?

This fear can happen because babies cannot talk to communicate what they want. Trying to work out what a baby’s cry means can be stressful for dads. However, babies do not need to understand words to benefit from hearing their father’s voice or being held and comforted by them.

Chat to your baby about what you are doing or what you can both see. Your baby likes the sound of your voice, because it is familiar and soothing. Babies also benefit from gentle touch, being held, rocked and cradled because it helps them to feel secure.

Babies cry for a range of reasons. They might need a nappy change, a sleep, to be fed, or they might be uncomfortable because they are too hot or cold. Trying different things and observing their body language will help you understand what they need.

Am I a good dad?

There is no one right way to be a good parent or carer. It will take time to become familiar with the new role of being a dad.

Try to focus on the positive things you provide for your child, and listen when they tell you the things they have enjoyed doing with you. Notice and remind yourself of positive efforts you make and try not to compare yourself to other parents or carers because everyone is different.

I’m worried I don’t spend enough time with my child. How can I balance my job and time with my family?

With life’s demands, it can sometimes feel like there is not enough time for family, and balancing work and home life can be hard. There is no right or wrong amount of time you should spend with your child. Children benefit from quality interactions, where you engage and bond with them.

Make the most of the time you spend with your child and let them know that even though you may be away from them, you are still thinking of them. Make an effort to get to know the day-to-day life of your child and their world. This will help your child feel you are interested in their world even if you cannot be around as much as you would like. Try to monitor your own stress levels, looking after yourself is looking after your family.

Am I doing enough to look after my child and help them to be happy and healthy?

It can seem like children have endless needs and parents or carers can feel overwhelmed with having to support their children in so many different areas.

Try to have realistic goals and ideas about how you can help your child. Talk to your family and friends about how your child is going and share any concerns with staff at your child’s early childhood service or with a health professional.

My relationship with my partner has changed now that we have a child. Will things ever go back to how they were?

Having children means things will change between couples and in families.

Your relationship may or may not go back to how it was, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Either way, a new child in the family can mean there will be new opportunities for growth and development as both a family and a couple.

Make time to spend with your partner or your family. Communicate regularly and effectively. Think about the positive changes in your life and your relationship since you became a dad.

How can I meet other dads and get involved at my child’s early childhood service?

It can be hard to go to an unfamiliar place and meet new people. You may not always feel comfortable in an early childhood service. However, once you take some steps to being connected, things will become easier. Your child will also love having you involved with them.

Learn about how the early childhood service works, and get to know the staff. Keep an eye out for any invitations to dads’ nights or events; this will be the first step to meeting other dads. Getting to know other children, particularly your child’s friends, can help you feel more involved.

See also:

Fathers connecting with their children

Dads make a difference: Suggestions for families, schools and early childhood services

Dads make a difference: Further resources