As we corresponded, I mentioned that I usually work with non-custodial dads who can't seem to get enough time with their children and wish they could have more time with them. But her daughter's dad's situation is not all that uncommon. Particularly young dads, whether they are living at home with the family or are non-custodial, can have a hard time making time for children while they are busy making a living to support them.
So we brainstormed together about several things any mom can do to help encourage a dad to spend time and connect with his children on a personal and positive level.
Find role models. Often men learn best by watching the behavior of other men and trying to repeat it in their own lives. They tend to take input from a wife or the mother of their children less credibly than they do that of other fathers. So find a friend of your child's dad who is a committed and dedicated father and get him to invite your child's dad to an activity together with the kids. Going to the park, a zoo, a museum or a sporting event, or to really get out hiking or camping, will help your man connect with a positive role model to exemplify. It is amazing what can change in a man when he has a positive role model to set a good example in fathering.
Plan and calendar activities. If you are hoping to create some time together with a dad and his child, find an upcoming fun activity and then call him and get it on his calendar well in advance. For example, maybe your local library has a regular storytelling time that your child would enjoy with her father. Call or email dad and tell him that his daughter was really hoping he would take her to storytime next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. at the city library. Once it is calendared and he knows a child is counting on him, he will be more likely to keep the commitment.
Watch a movie together. If you are in a position where you can spend time positively with your child's father, consider buying, renting or downloading the movie Courageous. I don't think any man, however hardened, can resist leaving an experience with Courageous and not being more committed to being a great dad. The movie has strong Christian overtones that could turn off some dads, but the message is universal and the emotions it brings are not limited to Christian dads.
Find common interests. When I was growing up, my dad and I shared few common interests. But one we did enjoy together was camping. Find something that your child and his father both like to do and then facilitate opportunities to do it together. If they both like water skiing, get a friend with a boat to invite them to do skiing. If they both like a local sports team, check calendars and then get them tickets to a game. You can make a big difference as a mom if you can find common links and then facilitate a time-togther opportunity.
Reinforce good behavior. When your child's dad does commit and spend time with him, make a big deal about it. If you are in a position to do so, give him a hug and a kiss when they return. If not, send him a note after it is all over praising him for taking the time. Help your child make dad a thank-you card for the activity. Take a picture of them at the event or returning from the event and then put it in a frame a give it to him. Once he has done this a few times and he has received some positive reinforcement, he will be more likely to take the initiative next time.
A little proactive and creative thinking about getting your child's father to engage more with the child will pay big dividends down the road for you and for your child.