Expat dads don’t have to be uninvolved fathers
Expat living is great. Really it is. Vacations are usually somewhere exotic, or they are restful because where you live is exotic. The kids meet children from literally all over the world, so they learn about other cultures first hand. The whole family has the opportunity to learn a new language. Our eyes and minds are opened to the world on a more personal level. For the most part who would not want to pack up and move their family to a new country?
There are a few reasons people choose not to. Leaving grandparents and close friends behind, leaving their comfort zone, and the constant flow of “hellos” and “good-byes” are to name a few of the obvious ones.
The uninvolved father
Another reason is that in many families the father needs to travel quite a bit, and becomes an uninvolved father. Many expat dads are gone for weeks at a time, which makes it difficult not just for the mother but for the children as well.
Research has been published regarding the uninvolved father. The United States Child Welfare Department has issued findings that children whose fathers were involved in their lives have higher cognitive development, feel more emotionally stable, and are less likely to get involved in drugs or violence. It also found
that boys with involved fathers had fewer school behavior problems and that girls had stronger self-esteem. [source: Office on Child Abuse and Neglect].
Are the TCKs whose fathers are absent for several weeks at a time doomed?
I don’t think so and here is why.
Uninvolved does not equate to physically not being there. Uninvolved fathers are just that: fathers who are not involved at all with their children.
Expat fathers who travel do have to work harder at being involved due to the fact that they are absent from the home more often, but it’s not impossible.
Tips to help fathers stay involved
Below are some ways that a father who travels (or any father for that fact) can help stay involved with their kids’ lives.
Turn it off. When you are at home with the kids turn off the game, the computer, the cell phone. Spend time with your kids doing what they like doing. If they like to play a sport, take them out and play one on one. If they like to play video games, learn it and play against them. If they like to paint, take a moment to paint a picture. Just spending ten minutes coloring a picture makes a world of difference to your five year old daughter.
Turn it off at the table. Don’t answer the phone at supper. Don’t even check your phone for messages, emails, or any social media. Don’t watch TV, either. Sit together at the table and eat a meal as a family. This is very important because the dinner table can draw family together. It can be an opportunity to hear what was the best/worst part of the day from each family member.
Special times: In between the trips, try to take each child out individually to do something just with you. It could be as simple as going to the nearest convenient store to have an ice-cream together or even going to a movie or live sports game together. Just make it a special time where you can have the chance to listen to what your child has to say. They value your listening ear and though they may not admit it, they value your opinion and thoughts as well.
Bring back gifts: Bring each child a gift back from wherever you were. It doesn’t have to be huge and expensive. It can be just a piece of candy or small trinket, but that gift shows your child that you were thinking of them while you were gone. One of my children has a treasure box and many of those treasures are the small gifts that my husband has brought back from trips.
Message: If your child is older and has a smart phone, send them a small message while you are gone. It doesn’t have to be super long. Just a note that says “I love you!” will mean so much to your daughter. Or a shout of “Good Luck” to your son before a big game.
This is not an exhaustive list for sure. There are so many more ideas out there to help you stay involved in your child’s life. The main thing to remember is that your child values their relationship with you.
If you’d like some more ideas on staying involved click here to read more ideas for dad.
By MaDonna Maurer