As a separated father, one often feels like an observer. At least that's how I feel when I have contact with my children or when I am with them. Unfortunately, I only experience my children sporadically, but with every encounter I recognize behaviors or patterns of thought in them that are new and perhaps even foreign to me.
I openly admit that every now and then I catch myself thinking: “Who did my son get this from? Not from me! ”. Or also: "If I had more influence on my daughter, she would be different now!".
Such thoughts are absolute nonsense, because with a child an independent person grows up. Of course, this person is shaped by his parents, but not exclusively. Other environmental factors also play a role, and scientists around the world have been researching and discussing the influence of these factors for decades. It is clear, however, that many personality traits are genetically created when the child is born. Neither mother nor father (nor the child itself) have any influence on this.
So it is very presumptuous when a father claims that the mother's upbringing alone made the child anxious or phlegmatic. And it is even more presumptuous when he says he would have done better and prevented the child from becoming anxious or phlegmatic. As I said, I know similar thoughts from myself, but they lack any scientific basis.
But what remains in any case is the strange feeling of being just an observer. Strange because as a father you would like to have an influence on the development of your child and as a legal guardian you should have it. But how much influence is possible when you only have direct contact with your own child on a few days a year? How is this little influence of the father to be evaluated when the great influence of the mother stands against it?
Even if you have legal guardianship rights as a separated father, the question still arises as to whether you can still bring up your own child or whether you should use the few hours spent together on tiresome parenting issues. As a separated father, are you also a tutor, or is it better to be a friend of your own child? Or none of that? Or both?
Parenting is not an option
Basically, a child needs both parents for healthy development, that means both mother and father. The roles between the parents are distributed differently, which is determined by culture, religion, education, social status and other aspects. But a mother can never replace a father, and a father cannot replace a mother. It is therefore not in the best interests of the child if a separated father withdraws from the upbringing because he thinks he has no more influence anyway.
As a separated father, I occasionally experience behavior in one of my two children that I cannot approve of. Let's say it's my son who's with me for the weekend. Then I ask myself the question: "Do I prefer to enjoy the weekend with him and ignore the topic, or do I talk to him about it and risk a problematic situation?".
In my experience, there is no general solution in such cases. On the one hand, it depends on the topic itself and how important it is in my eyes. On the other hand, it depends on the current situation, my mood and also the mood of my child.
Basically, however, I would say: Do not dodge the subject!
If it is a topic that, according to your experience and assessment, is important for the development and well-being of your child, then you have to seek the conversation. It is not just a question of fulfilling your role as a father or as an educator. It's also about your child having a legitimate right to be educated by you.
You may even be liable to prosecution if you do not protect your child from certain situations or prevent him or her from doing certain things. Young people in particular can come up with the most stupid thoughts when they are in the wrong circle of friends and thereby seriously endanger themselves or make themselves liable to prosecution. One of many examples is dealing with drugs. If you find out about it, it is your duty to act immediately.
How do I tell my child?
Such conversations can be really exhausting and nerve-wracking, because you will probably not always find your child open and understanding. I have already experienced that it took several hours for such a conversation. This is of course bitter in view of the short time available at our meetings. It would really be more convenient to forego the discussion and instead enjoy the short time.
A completely different risk arises for a separated father: It's not just about the current meeting, which may suffer from the difficult topic. It is also about future meetings that may be in danger because the child does not feel like having difficult conversations with the dad. Then papa won't be visited anymore if he's always annoying.
It becomes clear that a separated father needs a lot more diplomacy and empathy, but also courage and determination for a difficult conversation with his own child, than the mother of the child. The reason is that there is a lot more at stake, which cannot be cleaned up the next day. It is all the more important to carefully consider the need for such a conversation.
It may also help to have a chat with the mother before you talk to your child. You may find out things that will help you decide whether the conversation makes sense and what it is best not to talk to your child about. In any case, it is desirable to come to an agreement with the mother on important issues - if that is possible.
In an earlier article I already gave a few hints which rules I think can help to have difficult conversations with your own child. I repeat myself again here, but at this point it fits again:
“In my opinion, it is important that the conversation has a clear beginning and a clear end as soon as possible. And it is important that such a conversation - as far as possible and predictable - does not happen immediately at the beginning or at the end of the visit. Embedded in unproblematic, happy and easy phases, such a conversation can be easily digested by everyone involved".
Raising a child is certainly not an easy task. This is a major challenge even for intact families. This task does not get any easier for separated parents, because the separation brings additional challenges for parents and child. A separated father who rarely sees his child is, in my opinion, in the weakest starting position for several reasons. Nevertheless, it is also important for him to face this task and to accompany the child on its way lovingly, powerfully and with commitment.