Here are 10 fatherhood tips that might help grow your relationship with your children.
The following resource was adapted from National Fatherhood Initiative’s “Staying Involved with Your Children While Incarcerated” brochure and is used by permission. If you are allowed internet access, visit fatherhood.org for more resources that promote father involvement.
Our adaptation of NFI's brochure appeared in the Summer 2023 edition of Inside Journal®, a quarterly newspaper printed and distributed by Prison Fellowship® to correctional facilities across the country.
Written specifically for incarcerated men and women, each issue (offered in a men's edition, a women's edition, and a Spanish-language edition) explains the Gospel in a fresh way, offers encouragement and motivation, and shares practical advice for the daily struggles of prison life. Distributed to prisoners via chaplains, program coordinators, and in-prison volunteers, Inside Journal provides a unique way to share the hope of Jesus with those who may never attend a chapel service or Bible study.
10 PARENTING TIPS FOR DADS BEHIND BARS
If you have children, you can use your incarceration to build strong relationships with them.
Even if you don’t think you’ve been a very good dad in the past, you can now use this time to make a fresh start in parenting.
Be sure to follow all court orders. If you have a restraining order or visitation restrictions, some of these ideas will need to wait.
1) TAKE THE INITIATIVE TO REACH OUT AND CONNECT.
Your children might not be able to visit you often, but you can still write to them. Even if they don’t write back, keep writing.
As much as possible, try to talk with your kids whenever you call home. Learn more about their personal lives, school, and friendships. What are your children’s favorite hobbies? What do they like to do in their spare time?
Some children are learning a new language in school. Why not learn it along with them? You could even write simple letters to each other in the new language.
2) BECOME A LONG-DISTANCE COACH OR FAN.
Does one of your kids like basketball, football, or some other team sport? Does another want to be the next great figure skater? Is one child a fan of games like chess or Scrabble?
Learn all you can about the activities that mean the most to your children. When you do, you’ll be better equipped to encourage them.
You’ll also have more to share in letters, in phone calls, and during visits.
3) ASSURE YOUR CHILDREN THAT THEY ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ABSENCE.
Children often think they are somehow to blame for a parent’s imprisonment. Reassure them that they are not at fault.
If they ask questions about your situation, give age-appropriate answers. Be truthful. Lying can trigger anxiety, build distrust, and cause them to withdraw from you.
4) TELL YOUR CHILDREN YOU LOVE AND ACCEPT THEM, NO MATTER WHAT.
Think about how you communicate with your kids. How often do you compliment them?
Boost your child’s confidence by regularly affirming their unique qualities. When a child is assured of their parents’ love, they’re less likely to look for it in other—sometimes unhealthy—ways.
5) GET INVOLVED IN AVAILABLE PROGRAMS.
One way you can show your love is through Prison Fellowship Angel Tree®. Through Angel Tree, you can sign up your children to receive Christmas gifts purchased and delivered by local churches but given in your name.
You can even include a personal message to your children.
Angel Tree Every Day™ offers year-round opportunities, resources, and encouragement, along with events such as sports clinics and summer camps in participating locations.
For more information, ask your chaplain or religious services coordinator (or they can call 1.800.55.ANGEL).
6) BE WILLING TO TAKE RISKS FOR YOUR CHILDREN.
Admit to your kids you have made some bad choices. Ask them to forgive you for the ways you have hurt them.
This may not be easy, but by taking this risk, you will begin to rebuild strong bonds with your children.
Be willing to receive their anger or other strong emotions. These feelings are normal, so let them respectfully express themselves.
This helps them see you are a safe person for them.
7) RESPECT YOUR CHILDREN'S CAREGIVER.
It’s hard when you can’t have daily input on your children’s upbringing.
You may not always agree with what your child’s caregiver is doing. Even so, be careful to speak about and treat the caregiver respectfully.
Hearing you insult or criticize the person taking care of your children will only add to their stress and confusion.
8) HELP YOUR KIDS TO BE KIDS.
Many children of prisoners take on more adult responsibilities—such as helping care for younger brothers and sisters or doing more chores in the home.
When they come to visit you, make time to relax and play with them.
Avoid the temptation to vent your frustrations to your children.
9) SEEK HELP TO BECOME A BETTER FATHER.
Look for programs and other resources to help you become a better father. Perhaps your facility offers the National Fatherhood Initiative’s InsideOut Dad program or Prison Fellowship® parenting courses.
Check with your chaplain or prison administration staff to find out what’s available.
10) PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN.
Pray several times daily—during count, as you’re standing in the chow line, and while folding laundry.
Dull moments in prison can become meaningful as you keep your children in your thoughts and lift them up to the God who created them and loves them dearly!