Participating in a paternity test can be a stressful event in any man’s life, especially since the results have the potential to be so intensely life-changing.
Paternity test results may be the impetus to creating a new family or it can make an existing family stronger by confirming a biological relationship. Ultimately, when a paternity test establishes you are the father, whether you deal with this knowledge negatively or positively is up to you. Just remember, there’s a child involved and their needs matter just as much as yours.
There are many important benefits to establishing legal paternity, whether your child is still a minor or if they’ve become an adult. But psychologists are quick to assert that the emotional benefits of a healthy relationship between father and child are equally critical. If fatherhood is a new role for you, here are three ways you can establish and nurture those ties.
1. Invest Time and Attention
Showing up now and then just doesn’t cut it. A father needs to first invest time and attention with children in order for trust to be established (Joseph,Strain). When a child is old enough to talk and understand , it’s unwise to just say you’re their new parent and so you expect them to obey or respect you. Start slowly. If you don’t live in the child’s home, devote time on the weekends and whenever else you can to actively engage and spend time with them: reading stories, going to the park, watching TV, playing games, talking.
Studies consistently show that ‘part-time dads’ who come in and out of a child’s life can do more harm than good. In fact, children report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not consistently involved in their lives, struggling with their emotions and episodic bouts of self-loathing (Kruk). Make the time to be there for them consistently.
Even if there are times when your child doesn’t want to be with you, give them space, but don’t give up.
Fathers play a hugely important role in the mental health of their children much later in life. ~Melanie Mallers, Professor of Psychology (Cal State University)
2. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Unfortunately, you may live far away from your child or you may only have limited contact while establishing legal paternity in the court system. Don’t be discouraged! You can still keep the lines of communication open when you can’t be together in person. Be sure to:
- Make phone calls
- Send emails
- Talk face-to-face using FaceTime or Skype
- Send cards, postcards, and letters
Never allow the child to believe that you are not thinking of them on a daily basis (Meyer).
3. Respect your Child’s Mother
This tip is hugely important when establishing a paternal relationship with a child of any age, and is even more important when the child is a teen or if the paternity test determined you are the father of a child who is now an adult .
At first, you may be considered an ‘outsider’ in the established parental relationship of mother and child. If you speak ill of Mom or accuse her of being the reason you’ve never been in their life, your son or daughter is placed in the position of having to defend Mom and it can backfire. On the other hand, if you express your respect for all she’s done in raising such a great kid, that positive attitude goes a long way toward creating trust.
Even if you think your ex has wanted to perpetuate estrangement between you and your child, honestly acknowledge ways you may also have contributed to not having had a relationship all these years (Coleman). This takes humility, but kids are smart and they respect honesty.
The Bottom Line
Melanie Mailers, a professor in psychology at Cal State University says this: “Fathers play a hugely important role in the mental health of their children much later in life. They have a unique style of interacting with their children and men who report having had a good relationship with their father during childhood were found to be better at dealing with stress” (Kemp).
If your paternity test results indicate you are the father, embrace this new direction in your life. Fatherhood is one of the greatest gifts a man can enjoy, so don’t let it pass you by.
Can you think of other good ways fathers can develop relationships with their children? Let us know in the comments below.
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Coleman, Joshua, PhD. “How Parents Can Start to Reconcile with Estranged Kids.” Greater Good. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, 25 Aug. 2010. Web. 05 Nov. 2015. <http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_parents_can_start_to_reconcile_with_their_kids>.
Joseph, Gail E., PhD, and Phillip S. Strain, PhD. “Building Positive Relationships with Parents of Young Children.” The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (2012): n. pag.Vanderbilt.edu/csefel. Vanderbilt University, 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 5 Nov. 2015. <http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/modules/module1/handout5.pdf>.
Kemp, Rob. “The Importance of Father-child Bonding | The National.” The Importance of Father-child Bonding | The National. Abu Dhabi Media, 8 Feb. 2011. Web. 05 Nov. 2015. <http://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/family/the-importance-of-father-child-bonding>.
Kruk, Edward, PhD. “Father Absence, Father Deficit, Father Hunger.”Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC., 23 May 2012. Web. 05 Nov. 2015. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201205/father-absence-father-deficit-father-hunger>.
Meyer, Cathy. “Tips to Help Restore Your Relationship With Your Child/Children.” About.com Dating & Relationships. About.com, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2015. <http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/meetingyourchildsneeds/qt/restore_rel.htm>.