Hi Dr. Meeker,
I have been divorced for 4 years. My daughter (11 years old) hasn’t shown any affection towards me since she was 4. Her mother, for years, continues to alienate me away from her by saying things like “ignore him” and “his family is not good people”, “The only thing your father was good for was his job”. I have been so frustrated and I went back to court this year to finally get my ex to go to counseling and the court systems take so long. My daughter now has basically turned into my ex and continues to say negative things and is convincing my son to behave in the same way. She does not want to play games with me nor do anything with me.
We have been going to counseling but she shuts down.
Is there any hope for my daughter and I to have a loving relationship? She is so loyal to her mother and my son is exemplifying the same feelings.
I keep telling her that I love her, but I do get frustrated with her and try to point out what she is doing.
What can I do as a father?
Dear Desperate Dad,
Unfortunately, there are thousands of parents who are in your situation and feel rejected by their young kids. I want you to know that I have seen many, many kids grow up to see both sides of their parents and frequently reconcile with the rejected parent. So, NEVER give up hope on your relationship with your daughter. In the meantime, here are a few things that can help.
Negotiate with your ex-wife. If she will, sit down and say something like this: “We will be parenting our daughter for decades to come and I know you want to do a good job. SO do I. I would like to know what 3-4 things are most important to you when it comes to parenting her and how I can support you.” After she answers, then say. “I am happy to support you and I would like you to support me on these 3 things”. Then, make one of those a point of not bashing you to your daughter.
Tell your daughter that while Mommy has bad feelings about you, it is important that she has her own feelings. It is normal to feel the way Mommy does but she needs to know that her relationship with you is different from Mommy’s relationship with you.
Tell her that you understand that she has bad feelings toward you. Let her know that you never had bad feelings toward her and that you won’t. Let her know that no matter what she feels or thinks that you will always love her and be there for her.
Finally, pursue her relentlessly. Don’t be obnoxious but write her letters, call her. Don’t make her talk to you but keep letting her know that you are there and want to be with her.
As I said, never give up on her. Chances are excellent that she will come around, but it will take some time.