Try to eliminate all emotion from your demeanor as you speak with your child about her absent father, recommends OneFamily, Ireland's leading organization for single parents. Ideally, you'd already have resolved any feelings of anger, frustration or sadness about the absence to enable you to discuss it openly with your child.
Answer questions as honestly and completely as possible. Children often need or want a concrete idea of where Dad is and what he is doing with his life. If you don’t know, you’ll have to tell your child this. If you do know, give your child general information that won't cause additional confusion or upset. If your child asks questions such as, “Does Dad love me?” or “Why isn’t he here?” reply as positively as possible and explain to your child that your family may be a little different from some other families you know, but that doesn't make it any less of a family.
Empathize with your child’s feelings in response to the information about her absent father. Whether your child feels sad or angry or isn't sure how to feel, tell her you understand and that you want to help her feel better. Grieving for a missing father is a very natural response for children.
Assess your child’s response to the situation based on the explanations you provide and the questions asked. If you discern significant sadness, despondency, anger, frustration or depression, you may need to connect your child with a therapist or counselor who can help her accept and adjust to the absence. In addition, if your child begins to have trouble in school or in social situations, these symptoms may also indicate that she needs to explore her feelings further with a professional.
Tell your child that you will always be available to talk, listen or answer questions about her father. Promise that you will provide accurate information about him, if possible. Building and maintaining trust between you and your child about the absent parent is an important part of her adjustment and acceptance of the situation.
The absence of a father in a child’s life can have disastrous effects on a child, including issues of abandonment, behavioral problems, academic performance, youth crime, negative risk taking, mental and physical health issues, and problems with future relationships, according to Edward Kruk, PhD, writing for "Psychology Today." Your active support, as well as facilitating professional counseling for your child, may be important to help him adjust effectively.
Fathers tend to parent differently than mothers, offers Ditta M. Oliker, Ph.D., with the Psychology Today website. Fathers often spend more one-on-one time with children, with the result being a boost in the child’s social and emotional development. When fathers provide emotional interaction and support for children, the children often display higher self-esteem and empathy toward others and grow up feeling valued, states the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension System.
A strong father figure has a significant impact on both sons and daughters, advises Oliker. A boy will grow up with a positive role model, learning positive characteristics that will help him succeed. A girl pays close attention to how her father acts and treats others. This enables her to form strong opinions about men, based on her father’s actions and behaviors. Girls may also be better able to interact with the opposite gender after having an involved father.
When fathers engage in playful activity with a child, it creates a strong bond between parent and child, according to the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension System. It’s common for fathers to play more actively and roughly with children. This level of play may even increase children’s cognitive abilities. Children can also learn effective lessons about how to regulate their behavior and control feelings as a result of physical play.
The active involvement of fathers with children can enhance their academic success, according to Jeffrey Rosenberg and Bradford W. Wilcox, authors of “The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children,” published by the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect. Children may have higher IQs, more advanced language skills and better cognitive abilities. A child may show more academic readiness to begin school as well. The presence of a father can continue to have an impact into teenage years, with adolescents exhibiting higher academic achievements.
According to KidsHealth.org, responding to a baby’s signals helps to stimulate social and cognitive development. Bonding is a process in infancy that is established through answering cries, touching, talking and making eye contact with your baby. Although a significant amount of bonding comes from the baby’s mother, bonding with the father is also important, especially in moments when mom is not available. The Child Welfare Information Gateway states that infants who receive a lot of affection from their fathers are more securely attached than infants who do not. Depending on the other consistent individuals available for bonding in a baby’s life, an absent father can result in poor attachment and delayed social or cognitive development.
Setting the Stage
An infant’s relationship with his father can help set the stage for his development or social and emotional status later in life. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, babies with an involved father are more confident in exploring their surroundings as they start to progress into the toddler phase. Additionally, Colorado State University Extension states that the absence of a father can lead to negative behavior and poor academic achievement, especially in young boys.
Keep in mind that an absent father can impact a newborn even if he is physically present. The negative impacts on an infant son’s development can occur with a father who is emotionally absent and refuses to bond, so it is important to be emotionally available as well as physically present. The Child Welfare Information Gateway stresses that the quality of the relationship between both parents is also an influence on healthy development.
If you are raising an infant with an absent father, talk to the baby’s doctor to learn about ways that you can encourage your baby’s healthy development despite missing the influence of one parent. His doctor might have ideas about positive development activities or information about community support groups where you can network with other parents in the same situation.
Locate a DNA or paternity testing facility in your area. These can be found in the phone book or with an Internet search. Your state’s department of social and human services can also direct you to a testing center.
Contact the testing center via phone or in person. Make an appointment, if needed, and pay any applicable fees.
Take your child with you to the testing center. If the potential father can attend the appointment with you, that’s great. If not, he will have to make his own appointment. This is a painless test. A Buccal swab will used to remove some cells from the inside of your mouth, as well as the mouth of your baby and the potential father. A genetic testing lab will look at the swabs, compare the DNA and put together a paternity report. This report will explain if it is likely that the man is the biological father. If there is more than one potential father, swabs should be taken from all possible candidates. The results are 99.9 percent accurate, according to the website of the Connecticut Department of Social Services.
Shortly after you baby is born, you and the father will be asked to sign an Affidavit of Parentage form. You can fill in the father’s name if you know for sure that he is the father, but you should never have a man sign the form if you have any doubts about the baby’s paternity.
If a potential father refuses to take a paternity test, you should seek legal counsel.