Q: “I’m the mother of a 12-year-old daughter whose dad is not a part of her life. They can’t relate to one another at all. How can I help with the hurt this causes?”
M.S., Paola, Kansas
As mothers, we often feel it is our job to “fix” everything. Unfortunately this is difficult to do when dealing with the relationship between a father and a daughter. My daughter’s relationship with her father has always been stormy, and when she started high school it hit rock bottom. She refused to go to his house any more or to see him. I knew that ultimately this was not a healthy situation for her, so we both went to a therapist who specializes in adolescents. She convinced my daughter to have dinner with her dad once a week. This seems to be enough time for them, and once in a while they actually plan an outing, such as a ball game or a trip to an amusement park. Some men don’t have a clue what to do with daughters, so having a short, set, weekly activity takes the pressure off. They don’t have to plan anything and the relationship can develop at its own pace. In the end, I believe that it is the responsibility of the adult to connect with the child, to be bendable and accommodating.
KF, San Rafael, California
Your daughter’s dad may not fully understand how his actions are affecting his daughter, so it may help if you talk to him about what you see. If you’ve tried that and it doesn’t help, consider discussing this problem with someone he respects and ask that person to talk with him. If you have tried everything and nothing seems to work, you can still be tremendously helpful by listening to your daughter. Encourage her to talk to you when she is angry or sad. Let your eye contact and few words show her you are trying to understand what she is going through. Don’t minimize her feelings. Don’t tell her everything will be okay if you can’t guarantee it will. Be careful not to put her father down. Just listen. Attentive listening has tremendous healing power. When your daughter’s father does not listen to her, your listening helps her understand that she is still a very important person.
B.K., Cleveland, Ohio
My 15-year-old daughter often says her dad doesn’t care about her or know anything about her. In a way, it’s true. He is a trial lawyer, and so his work takes his focus away from the family for weeks at a time. She tells him things that he just doesn’t hear. One thing that helps is that we began making of point of taking long vacations as a family whenever we can. An extended time together generally allows him to reconnect with her, if she’ll let him.
B.B., Auburn. Alabama
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