How to help your child deal with an absent dad

By Drum Digital
22 May 2014

Dealing with an absent dad is an extremely difficult and often painful situation for you and your child. We give a desperate mom some expert advice so she can act in the best interest of her child.

Dealing with an absent dad is an extremely difficult and often painful situation for you and your child. We give a desperate mom some expert advice so she can act in the best interest of her child.

A young mom in our SuperMom Facebook community recently wrote us a letter asking for advice. She explained she and her son’s father broke off their relationship while she was still pregnant. Although they initially didn’t have much contact, she now sometimes sees the father in social situations and her little boy becomes very distressed in these situations. “When he sees his so-called father around, he screams and runs to me. He won’t allow his dad to touch me, gets very stressed, cries and shows him the door. Is it normal for my son to act like this?”

Johannesburg counselling psychologist Deborah Bernhardt works with divorced families and as a family mediator. “It is certainly not normal for a baby to get stressed, cry and show the father the door while accepting and playing with other men [as this boy does],” she says. She says it’s important to address the following:

How could the behaviour of the parents influence the child?

Are they arguing in front of the boy? Is the dad trying to engage with the mom on a physical level? This might be unusual for the boy if it isn’t something other men are doing. Does the mom become anxious or emotional before, during or after interacting with the dad?

All of these situations could contribute to the child feeling negative towards the dad. He could perceive the dad as intimidating or as a threat to his mom. He could also be seeing the dad as a rival for his mom’s attention. All of which would explain his emotional reaction.

The way forward

Bernhardt says in order for the father and son to ever have a positive relationship, it’s vital the parents clarify the nature of their own relationship to avoid giving the boy mixed messages. “Thereafter they should agree on what contact would be appropriate for the father and child in terms of frequency, duration and place.” She adds it will be in the boy’s best interest to have a neutral third party supervise these meetings.

-Dalena Theron

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