A recent letter: "My son lives with me and has no contact with his biological father. There is no male in our household, although my son has contact with two close male relatives. My son has hostility toward his father based on very limited past contact. What affect does an absent father have on male children?"
Fathers are important. Obviously they provide half the genetic material. The father is the primary and most valuable support person for the mother during pregnancy and childbirth.
During childhood the father has many important roles. He continues to be the main support person for the mother, a breadwinner, a mother surrogate in her absence, a role model, and one of the socializers of the children.
We once thought that fathers were critical to the development of sons. True, but fathers are just as important to their daughters. Achievement levels, sense of mastery, and marital happiness of girls correlate with the presence of an involved father. Daddies matter--to girls as well as boys.
A boy who lives alone with his mother does not have a male role model in the home to teach him how to shave or catch a baseball or ask a girl out for a date.
Plus there are many kids who rarely or never see their father. Some fathers want nothing to do with their child. Some are in jail or have disappeared. These children live their lives with a loss.
The boy in the letter has two close male relatives in his life. Great! He already has some male role models. This can be augmented by steering the child into sports, Boy Scouts, etc. where he is exposed to men coaches and leaders.
My suggestions for this mother:
o Don't dwell on the absence of a father. Don't think, "My poor boy, he doesn't have a father. He is doomed to a life of unhappiness." The reality is that this boy has no contact with his father. OK, thousands of kids survive this and so will he.
o Think of what the boy HAS: a loving, concerned, caring mother for starters.
o Concentrate on his STRENGTHS. What is he really good at in school, what can his mother and others can teach him that will give him an edge in this competitive world. Help the boy develop competencies based on his likes and talents--music, art, making models, collecting arrowheads--whatever.
o Tell him you understand he has this void in his life and you wish it could have been different. You wish you could wave a magic wand and make his father a loving presence in his life. But you can't. But there is a magic power he can find within himself. It's called COMPENSATORY ACTION. Because he has this loss in his life point out that he can work very hard and make his life something special to make up for it.
o Don't assume he must have an emotional problem because of the absent father. In the first place it may not bother him as much as you think. In the second place children tend to meet our expectations. Expect him to be happy and successful!
o Don't fall into the trap of giving such a child THINGS to make up for the absent father. Things don't work except to keep retail sales high.
o Don't try to get a man in your life to be your son's father. If you meet someone judge whether this is the one for you. Don't compound your son's losses by bringing home dates until you are sure there is a committed relationship; kids can be devastated by another breakup.
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