Dear Straight Talk: I went through a divorce a little over a year ago. My oldest daughter, 17, has totally disconnected from me and I don’t know how to get our relationship back. Have any panelists been through this? Do they have tips for reconnecting? ~ Sad Dad in Carmel
Hannah, 18, Safford, Ariz.: My parents divorced when I was 5. For many years I harbored resentment and blamed my father “for leaving.” It softened only with time and growth. I realized I loved my father very much and became grateful for any time we spent together. To show your daughter you care, be there for her in every way possible. Prove that you did not divorce from her, too.
Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: My family went through a really tough divorce when I was 14. I always loved my mother, but after hearing that “she caused the divorce,” I honestly took sides and kept a stern hatred toward her. It was only a year ago that we started talking again. In the divorces I’ve seen, a favorite parent is pretty standard. It’s not necessarily the better parent. In my case I needed to blame the divorce on someone, so I put it on my mother. Time will heal this. When your daughter comes to her senses and realizes that this grudge is useless (as I did), communication will start again. That often happens when you go to college and realize your friends aren’t always around. Family becomes more important.
Leah, 20, Yuba City: The divorce hurt your daughter and her anger is being directed at you. Call her up, invite her out, attend her events. Even if she is rude or says hurtful things, never give up. In time, she will see how much you love her and want to be in her life. She will move past this – just be patient and caring.
Katelyn, 17, Huntington Beach: Ask her if she would like to talk. Listen to her side of the story and apologize for whatever you did. Don’t pressure her to take sides between parents. Stay open, loving and willing to take things as they come.
Taylor, 15, Santa Rosa: My parents divorced when I was 8. I love them equally, but if one were to start bashing the other, or they were fighting a lot, I’d lose respect. Give your daughter time. I’m sure she loves you. Ask her to lunch, drive her to school, anything. She still needs a father, so don’t stop trying to connect!
Dear Sad Dad: I’m so sorry for your situation. The panelists’ comments are as heart-wrenching as their advice is solid. I agree that it will help if you apologize genuinely and regularly for the breakup (regardless of your role). In addition, don’t put her mother down, check in often, make frequent efforts to get together, honor birthdays and holidays, attend her events and keep a caring heart no matter how rude or silent she is, or how much time passes.
Rude treatment can be an opportunity to say, “Ouch. You must be so angry at me. I’m so sorry. Tell me everything that’s on your mind.” Be the mature one. Think in archetypes: she’s the Scared Little Girl, you are the Wise Kind King. Lastly, kids are never too old to be told that it’s not their fault and that you love them – out loud and regularly.
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More from Lauren Forcella
All parents – not just those in Sad Dad’s shoes – can benefit from a crash course in nonviolent communication. Self-empathy, compassion for others and honest self-expression are its pillars. The system recognizes everyone’s needs and feelings, including one’s own. A great book to get started is “Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Cooperation.”
Avoid the trap that many divorced parents fall into of competing for the kids’ time by lifting rules, letting them indulge in unhealthy meal, or buying them electronics. While kids may act like they want these things, what they really want are non-material things: someone guiding their lives wisely and lovingly, taking time to just be there, preparing healthy meals, making sure they are getting enough exercise, getting them outside, etc. “Popularity” purchases mostly result in inactivity, escape, addiction and isolation – and yes, some “fun,” too, but the costs far outweigh the questionable benefits. In the end, such purchases will erode their respect for you.
Finally, if you have the money, family therapy can be extremely helpful to normalize things after a divorce. If other family members won’t go, go yourself. Or offer your kids to go by themselves.