Many of you dads out there feel estranged, intimidated and lost when it comes to your kids. I have good news for you: it’s never too late to make amends with your kids. Here’s why. Every child carries a longing in his heart for his/her father. If he had a bad father, he wants more healing. If he had a good father, he wants more time. Period.
But here’s the problem for you dads who are lonely and feeling guilty. You don’t believe this. If you have abandoned your kids but have come to your senses, or if your wife has turned your kids against you and you want them back, you need to understand a few things before you reconcile with your children.
First, because of their history with you (regardless whose fault it was) your children (regardless of their age) are hurting. Kids and even adult children express their hurt towards you as anger. This is what trips most fathers up when they try to reconcile. Dads reach out, get rebuffed and their feelings get hurt. So, they retreat from the kids and give up hope. You can’t do this. The kids are mad, mad, mad so acknowledge their anger and deal with it. Let them get it out and tell them that you are terribly sorry for the hurt they have suffered (even if the majority was from your ex wife telling them you were a skunk.)
Don’t walk away from their anger but let them know you can handle it. This will help them get past it. Once they do (and this may takes months, not weeks or days) they will feel sad and very vulnerable. Stay strong, stay patient and loving and let them know that you are serious about having a relationship. Let them know that you’re not going away. Don’t bully them. Don’t get mad at them. Don’t argue. Just listen patiently and wait. Show up again and again with kindness even if they say mean things. Here’s the deal- you are the grown up in the relationship. Even adult children act like they are 15 years old at times if they have been deeply wounded by a parent. That’s why it’s up to you to be more in control, more patient, more long suffering. They are still the child, you are still the parent.
Here are a few tips to get you started on the path to reconciliation.
1. Reach out simply. Write your son or daughter a letter on paper and send it. Email is OK, but when your child sees your handwriting, it is more emotional and more meaningful. If your ex wife tears it up and won’t let the kids see it, try again. You can also try emailing if you can’t get past her. If you have a restraining order on you, that’s a different story- you need professional help to reconcile with your kids.
2. Don’t badger but be persistent. Once you’ve reached out, wait a week or two and follow up. Write another letter explaining that you love him/her and that you are anxious to start a fresh relationship. Keep it simple. You don’t need to pour you heart out yet. That comes later. Write another hand written letter. Try emailing again. But NEVER post anything on your child’s Facebook page. That will embarrass your child and make him push you away.
3. Let your child test you. When yo first try to reconcile, you will get a lot of push back from you son or daughter. This is normal and healthy because he/she doesn’t want to get hurt again so he will guard himself. When he rebuffs you, let him know you understand. Wait a while and reach out again. When you do, expect anger and more push back but be patient.
4. Tell your child that she has every right to be angry. You would be angry to if you were here and went through what she has. Be understanding and always have a listening ear and be very, very slow to speak.
5. Don’t criticize his mother. If your ex wife bashed you to pieces, it is natural for you to want to have your say and straighten things out. Don’t do this now. Wait a year or so until the child is an adult to tell your side of the story. This is extremely important because when you criticize Mom, you put the child on the defensive and he will clam up. Swallow hard and hear him out. He will come to see one day the lies that might have been told. Kids always want truth and they can handle it when they are mature.
6. Don’t criticize him. It is natural for you to have angry feelings toward a child that disliked you or refused to see you. But remember, his perspective is very different from yours. Don’t call him names or tell him that you are mad at him. You can let him know that the situation makes you angry but that he doesn’t make you angry.
7. Ask what you can do. Letting your child know that you need her help in reconciliation puts the ball in her court. It also lets her know that she has a right to see things differently than you do. Asking for her help shows her that you are open to change and that’s what she really wants- a changed relationship, not more of the same. So ask her what you need to do to show her that you love her. Then be patient. What woman can refuse a genuine invitation to be shown love? Not many.
8. Get on your Knees. Prayer changes people. Sure, you can ask God to help your kids open up to you or for your ex wife to be nicer, but the most important part of prayer is that you come away from it different than you were before you started praying. God loves family. He wants kids to be closer to their dads. He is there to help anytime, any day, so use Him. He will never disappoint you.