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The absent father

My husband Sudip is a regional manager for a pharmaceutical company and his territory covers the entire Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. He is traveling for about 20 days in a month. Even when he is here, he has to spend a lot of time at the office. We have 2 children aged 15 and 12. They hardly get to see him and from the last 2 years, since his work has increased, his interaction with them is very little. My children withdraw from interaction with him as they feel that he does not know what is going on in their lives. They also seem to be complaining more when he is not there. What can I do to improve the situation?

 

In today’s world, traveling has become an essential part of many jobs and this creates a difficult situation for all the three parties concerned – the father, the mother who is left with the responsibility and the children who are deprived of the father with whom they can have a day-to-day interaction. For the children, it becomes a very tough situation as they themselves are going through the rough period of adolescence and the absence for long durations makes it awkward for them to conduct themselves when they meet the father. A lot depends on the father as to how he views the separation. If he were conscious of the effects of his absence and tries to make up for it, there would be no damage. If he is resentful of the travel, of the things that change when he is not there, he may find it difficult to fulfill his responsibilities. It can frighten him to come home and find a new change and he might find it awkward to react to the change. The temperament of your children and their affections towards your husband when he comes back can also make a difference. If he is defiant and complaining, it can become a discomfort and if is obedient and easy, it can make it worth your husband’s while to stay away. Your children may have a host of reactions to your husband’s absence. They may be in a state of protest and become extremely defiant. They also have feelings of disappointment as the father is absent mostly and they may start wallowing in self-pity. They may also feel alienated from other children whose fathers are with them.

 

What you can do?

 

You are the mediator between your children and your husband. You have to take the responsibility of trying to make the relations between your children and your husband less strained and congenial. The most important is keeping the lines of communication open. There should be more e-mails and phone calls between them. There should be a lot of details about activities and feelings in those exchanges. With these conversations, they can keep in touch with him and so they can strike a conversation with him right away when he is around. The second task is to defend the father when he is not around. Give a positive feedback and talk about his good habits and great times that you have had together. Do not use your husband for any disciplining tactics when you feel that you are losing your grip on your children. This will only make your children dread his return and they will not look forward to his return with any kind of pleasure or excitement. Even if you are not getting on well, do not use your children to get your venom out. Do not wait for him to mete out any punishment as this will put in a bad light and reduce your status as a mother. Your children will take your authority lightly and you will have a lot of problems in his absence. At the same time, do not build up impractical images of your husband. He has good qualities as well as bad. You could also explain your husband’s temperament and make the interactions between them pleasant. In a similar way, you will also have to convey your children’s expectations to your husband. You can keep him abreast of what is happening in the children’s lives, their interests, their hobbies and concerns. Make sure that your children’s loyalties are not divided and they are not unsure about themselves. Also, keep a check that they do not end up playing one parent against the other. You should be in more communication with your husband and decide on key issues before communicating it to your children. Your behavior is also going to be the key to your children and husband feeling good. You have to be vigilant to the needs of both. If your children sense that you are emotional about your husband’s absence, it will have a detrimental effect on them. You should encourage both the children to take on more responsibility when the father is not there. You might need to do it gently as they may resent being told about work while not resenting a request. At times, you would have to play the role of both the father and the mother. Do not overcompensate by indulging them unnecessarily. Treat them as when their father would have been around. You can cut out the self-pity and meet the problems straight on. The biggest problem might be of discipline. You might find it difficult to refrain from shouting and yelling. Discuss things with them like grown-ups and it may work better. Your children also might seek more friends outside home in order to compensate for the lack of interaction at home. You have to keep an eye on that as their need for father figures could make them very vulnerable. They might be in a state of protest and make friendships that may land them in problems. So watch yourself and your children and you might be able to improve the situation. It is going to be your call and your approach will make the difference.

Dr. Darshan Shah

Dr. Darshan Shah, a renowned psychiatrist and psychotherapist, is committed to make a difference in the area of mental health and help individuals cope with feelings and symptoms; change behavior patterns that may contribute to one’s illness and henceforth contribute to their newly improved pathway of life.

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