A just-released study shows that three-month old infants who have a strong connection with their father have fewer behavior problems at 12 months. Of course, the phrase “behavior problem” is a bit fuzzy when applied to 12-month olds. So to be more specific, the infants whose dads were actively engaged cried less, were less demanding, and were more social with others than infants whose dads were less engaged. The effect was strongest with sons—but girls benefitted from dad’s engagement too.
Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a sixth grade teacher and one of my students became very attached to me during the school year. Her parents divorced eight years ago and I began emailing with her dad a couple months ago. We started seeing each other but didn’t let many people know because we wanted to wait until school was out. The daughter got wind that something was going on and told her dad it was wrong for him to date her teacher and begged him to date anyone but me. I wasn’t expecting this reaction and we stopped seeing each other. He said he had to do what was in his daughter’s best interest. I completely disagree with this, because the girl has not liked any of the past girlfriends either. I’m absolutely devastated. He thinks she’ll come around now that school is over but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Is there any hope? What should I do?
A: Being a single dad myself, I can assure you that dating a divorced father is never easy (that’s what women I’ve dated have said and I know I’m not the only one…). We come with plenty of baggage and there are always unforeseen complications. Plus, children tend to be very protective of their dads (interestingly, they’re often more protective of dads than moms—perhaps because they see that moms already enjoy much more social support than dads).
Part of problem may be that the girl feels betrayed by you. Because the two of you had such a strong bond during the year, chances are good that she looked at you with admiration and respect and even considered you a friend. To have you suddenly dating her father might have made her feel that you were just using her to get to her dad.
It’s also possible that the girl is worried about betraying her mother. Most kids with divorced parents secretly hope that mom and dad will get back together—even if the divorce happened long, long ago. And there’s nothing like having dad start dating someone else to show a child that (a) she has no control over the situation, and (b) that her fantasy of a reunited family might never happen. So the fact that the girl really likes you muddles things even more by making her feel that she’s actually helping shatter he own dream.
As far as the dad goes, you need to understand that his first responsibility (and loyalty) will always be to his child—as it should be. And while it’s certainly worth trying to convince him to give things another go, his primary motivation will be to do what’s right for his daughter, whatever that looks like to him.
One thing you can do to help both dad and daughter come to grips with the situation is to slow the relationship down. In other words, be friends instead of dating each other. While it would have been better to have started the relationship from this angle, going the friend route now might work by giving everyone a little extra time to get used to the new dynamic.
At the same time, be sure to give dad and daughter some space to talk things over alone. I know you want to be there to give your side of the story and try to show them that you’ve got the best of intentions, but don’t.
Dating a divorced dad can be frustrating and infuriating, and the key to success is being very, very patient. Rushing things will only backfire.
Nice Chicago Tribune article on the ins and outs of dating for single dads, featuring some quotes from me:
… Single fathers have a tendency, more than single moms, to “feel incomplete” without a partner in the house, so they risk rushing into a new relationship that may not be right, said single dad Armin Brott, author of several books on fatherhood including “The Single Father: A Dad’s Guide to Parenting Without a Partner” (Abbeville)…
Remember the story a few months ago about the 15-year old girl who was forced to get up in front of the whole school and announce that she was pregnant? Or the 14-year old boy whose parents forced him to stand on the street with a sign declaring that he’d receive Fs on his report card?
New research is just now confirming what most sane parents already knew: humiliating punishments actually do more harm than good. And that’s certainly the case with the newest entries into the ”it-seemed-like-a-clever-idea-at-the-time” category of parental stupidity.
I’m a stay-at-home mom and ever since our baby was born, it seems like my husband and I are growing apart from each other. We hardly even talk anymore. We used to be great at communication, talking to each other about our days, discussing our child and what she is learning. We used to do things as a couple. But now I’m afraid our relationship isn’t as strong as it used to be. What happened?
When you first get married, spending time and doing things with your husband is a great pleasure. The two of you are developing ever-tighter bonds as you share and explore new experiences together.
But after a couple of kids come along it’s easy to lose track of what brought the two of you together in the first place. All of your focus is on the children and there’s often not a lot of time left for each other. If you’re like most parents of young children, it may take you a few minutes (and a few guesses) to remember the last time you and your husband went out to dinner and a movie alone.
My own father is an alcoholic and we’ve always had a pretty rocky relationship–especially when I was growing up—and I think he’s a horrible role model for how to parent. I’m scared to death that I’m going to turn out be the same kind of father that he was. Am I doomed? Are my children doomed because I didn’t have a positive role model for a dad?
Not at all. Most dads, as they grow and develop as fathers often find themselves spending a lot of time thinking about their own fathers. And they tend to ask themselves the same kinds of questions you asked yourself: Was my dad someone I’d want to use as a role model, or was he exactly the kind of father I don’t want to be? Did he support me and nurture me when I was a kid myself, or was he absent or abusive? Like it or not, the relationship you had with your father when you were young is going to have some influence on your relationship with your own children.