Dear Stavroula: Divorced Father Dealing with His Children

Dear Stavroula,

I am the father of two girls, ages 8 and 12, and have been divorced from their mother for about two years. The divorce was my decision without the consent of my ex-wife. At first, it did not affect communication with my daughters, and the girls would stay with me in my new home every other weekend. For the last six months, however, my eldest daughter refuses to come and stay with me and confronts me with enmity in a way that I cannot explain.

When I ask her why she treats me this way, she gives me ambiguous and general answers. Just the day before, the three of us went out to dinner; she had an attitude the entire time, and barely ate two bites of her food. I considered the behavior unacceptable and when I told her so, she got angry and attacked me verbally in a way that reminded me of her mother. I’m sure my ex-wife has turned my child against me, blames me for everything, and wants to cut off her communication with me. After this incident, when I tried to talk to her, actually to ask for her help in repairing the relationship with our child, she answered, “You should have thought about those things before you left.” What should I do to win back my child?

 

Pavlos

 

Dear Pavlos,

Unfortunately, it is common in divorce cases for one of the two spouses (usually the one who does not want to divorce) to use the children to punish the ex whom she considers responsible for her “misery”.

The practices used are many and varied. She avoids talking to the child about the other parent, or when she does, she passes along childish messages denigrating the other. She prevents the child from communicating with the other parent when he/she wishes to do so, using excuses such as “Daddy/mommy is busy with work now,” or when the other parent calls, refusing to give the phone to the child, saying he is asleep or studying, etc.

Sometimes things are even more difficult. The “wounded” parent is emotionally punishing the child for anything positive said about the other parent, or blames the ex openly to the child as if the child were an adult, often revealing details of their private life that do not concern the child.

The child can be affected by this situation and change his behavior and reactions to the parent who “left”. In this case, he “rejects” the parent, holds him responsible, and often blames him for absurd things.

From what you write to me, I would say that it is likely that something like that has happened with your daughter. Firstly, I would advise you to ask a specialist about your attitude towards your daughter and your attitude towards your ex-wife. I would even suggest that you visit the specialist with your ex-wife.

If your ex-wife turns your daughter against you, encouraging her to reject you, it’s really like asking her to reject a part of herself. Even if your daughter does not understand it now as she is young, this is something that will be hard to overcome in the future. Her communication with you is necessary for her own mental maturation, for her own mental calm.

Therefore, what your ex-wife should understand is that by turning your child against you, she is punishing not you, but her own child. The only way for a child to find balance after a divorce is to feel that his relationships with both dad and mom remain solid, that both parents are present in his life, even if they do not live together.

At the same time, try not to get into it with your daughter. Do not show her that you are angry with her; talk calmly and reasonably with logical arguments even when she is being contemptuous. Think about her as the victim of your conflict with your ex-wife and that your daughter has been hurt the same as, if not more than, both of you. Give her as much love and stability as you can.

You are constantly seeking communication with your daughter even if she denies it herself. Continue to be present at events that concern her, school holidays, sports, celebrations, and birthdays. Ask her to stay at your home, arrange to go out with her, give her exclusive time, just the two of you, without the youngest daughter, do things for “big daughters”.

Make sure you are consistent with your obligations to her, and keep proof that you are paying for her food and expenses, so if her mother accuses you of not being interested in your child, prove the contrary.

Finally, try to improve your relationship with your ex-wife. Speak to her calmly and reasonably in the best interests of your children. By improving your relationship with her, your relationship with your daughter will also improve immediately.