Email received from a divorced dad: I got separated in 2005 and our only daughter was 2 years old. I was a bad dad for…..
Email received from a divorced dad:
I got separated in 2005 and our only daughter was 2 years old. I was a bad dad for the past 11 years (I mean I rarely see her and talk to her). I decided to change and be the best dad I could be, but she is avoiding me now. Please help me with your wise suggestions.
Think about this. What if you were the daughter, and you hadn’t seen your father except for on rare occasions for as long as you can remember? Then he suddenly decides he wants to be in your life. Now you are 12 (which is a very difficult age when insecurities run high and you are trying to figure out if you are a child or a women, you can’t really relate to your mom, although she is at times your best friend, your friends can be mean, and you are on the brink of having romantic relationships with boys. Now, your father, who has never been here for you, wants to be in your life.
Wow. I can’t think of worse timing. Here is what I suspect the girl is feeling: confusion (why now?), anger and resentment (why didn’t he care all this time?), fear (he is a stranger), guilt (doesn’t want to be disloyal to her mom), and sadness (why didn’t he want to be in my life when I was growing up?)
I am not going to judge you, because I don’t like to judge and I don’t know anything about the situation other than what you have written. What I will say is, I give you credit for having the guts to try to have a relationship with your daughter now. Many men (and women) would have given up, figuring it’s hopeless, why try now? So it’s good to see you haven’t adopted that attitude. You know it isn’t going to be easy, but still, you sound like you are going to try, and you are reaching out for help on how to do it.
I can’t guarantee that these suggestions will help, but having been a 12 year old girl, and having a 12 year old daughter, I feel like they might.
Here are 10 suggestions for you in your attempt to build a relationship with your daughter at this point:
1. Talk to her mom. You have a much better chance of your daughter accepting you into her life if she has the support of her mother. I have no idea what your relationship is with her mother, but make it the best it can be, and convince her that your daughter is better off with you in her life.
2. Contact her on a regular basis. It sounds like your visits were very sporadic and unpredictable, so that is all your daughter knows from you. Show her that you have changed by contacting her regularly and when you say you are going to call, call. You need to change the pattern.
3. Start with short visits. Don’t overwhelm her. Take her to Starbucks for 15 minutes, a short walk, a few phone calls. Your relationship has to grow.
4. Recommend counseling. Maybe a therapist could help your daughter accept you. Maybe the two of you could go to a couple sessions together and sort things out with the help of a professional.
5. Apologize. Say the words “I’m sorry.” A lot.
6. Write her a letter. Consider writing her a letter explaining yourself, apologizing, taking full responsibility and blame for not seeing her. The thing about writing a letter is, she will have it in her hands to read at any time.
7. Accept full responsibility. No excuses. “Your mom and I couldn’t get along…” “Your mom pushed me away…” “We were fighting all the time and I felt like it was best to leave…” Your daughter doesn’t want you to rationalize anything you did. Have accountability for your actions with no excuses. Say, “I was wrong.” “It was the biggest regret of my life.” “I wish I could go back and do things over again the right way.” “I have missed you.” “I feel terrible.” I’m not saying I think all of this is your fault. I have no idea what happened in the past. What I’m saying is, your daughter doesn’t want to hear that right now.
8. Make sure she knows it wasn’t her. If you have to say it 1000 times, say it. “It was never about you. I messed up.” Teenage girls (well, really everyone) tends to take things personally, especially if they are abandoned.
9. Ask if you can attend her activities/sporting events. Watch her games or her chess matches. Showing up at an event is a great way to let your daughter know you care.
10. Don’t push too hard. If she pushes you away, you have to be willing to sit back, be patient and keep trying. Building a relationship with her could take years, and honestly, it might never happen (although I don’t want to think that.) This won’t be easy, so just keep trying. I will be hoping she comes around soon!