Thabang Mokoena

You can still be a good dad when you don’t live with your child

Being a father

Physical separation should not stop you from meaningfully taking part in your little one’s life.

It’s much easier for mothers to build a bond with their child during pregnancy and in the early days, especially if they are breastfeeding. With dads, you have to form this bond more intentionally in other ways. When my daughter was born, we all lived in the same house and I was fully involved in feeding, changing nappies and playing with her, so I did bond with her really early.

Stay connected even when you don’t live together

My wife and I got divorced when our child turned five, which meant an end to the regular contact we shared. If you do not live with your newborn or toddler, I encourage you to hold, play and touch your baby as much as possible when you do visit.

Take an interest in your child’s interests

As your child gets older, she will learn and explore more and more. Exploration will inevitably come with fears and doubts of the unknown. Research shows that a father’s involvement increases a child’s confidence to keep trying. So, get out in nature and explore and expose your child to new things as much as is safely possible.

Make every weekend, every visit, an event. This does not mean go out and spend loads of money doing extravagant things. Simple things help to create a bond: going to the park, playing games outside or building blocks together at home. Encourage her to learn, to try new things. This will build her confidence, knowing that she is safe and Daddy is there.

My daughter is now six years old and has become very enthusiastic about exercise. So I do my best to make sure we are active together. If you’re not a “sport dad”, you could do simple things like tossing a ball together or playing hide and seek. Sport and an active lifestyle are key in a child’s development, both physically and mentally.

Communicate with your child

When you don’t live together, communication can be a challenge. I learned the hard way that little ones are not always phone people. So talking on the phone to my child was not what I expected it to be. She has a short attention span so conversations are quick and she becomes distracted. But don’t lose hope. Stay consistent and keep your promise to call when you say you will. My daughter now asks me about my day, and I make sure I give her as much detail as I can.

As a father you can foster a sense of respect in your children, for themselves and for others. You can do this by really listening to your child, even if you are not there physically. Allow them to express themselves and actively listen to them. The more open you keep the communication lines when they are young, the better the chance that this will continue when they are older.

Physical separation should not stop you from meaningfully taking part in your little one’s life. It may take some effort, but the rewards are immense.

Thabang Mokoena

Thabang Mokoena is a 38-year-old father of one daughter, living in Johannesburg. He loves sport, photography and technology and is the founder of @fatherhoodfriday

Connect with him @immortalthabang on Instagram.

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