Child of Divorce Doesn’t Want to See Dad

How should I handle my daughter's aversion to seeing my ex-husband? The court has granted him visitation rights, but she's very angry with him for leaving the family and doesn't want anything to do with him. She needs to know that I understand her feelings. At the same time, I don't want to keep her from developing a relationship with her father. How do I walk this tightrope?

Your child’s reaction is not unusual. In a groundbreaking study, Drs. Judith Wallerstein and Joan Kelly found that more than 50 percent of the children who have been impacted by divorce and who are currently involved in custody battles were angry with their fathers. Most of them felt that dad was insensitive to their pain and their personal needs at the time of the divorce.

Here’s your dilemma: if you tell your daughter to “buck up” and spend time with her dad whether she wants to or not, she could end up repressing her anger in unhealthy ways. This in turn might make her a prime candidate for depression. If, on the other hand, you simply allow the anger to go unchecked, she could become bitter and unable to forgive.

There are three things you can do to avoid these extremes. First, encourage your daughter to express her feelings, and give her a listening ear when she starts to talk. After all, she does have a legitimate reason to be angry. If she’s uncomfortable speaking to you about this, help her find other outlets for her emotions, such as journaling, poetry, drawing, or painting.

Second, model forgiveness toward your ex-spouse. This could be more important and have a bigger impact on her than you realize. It’s possible that even without speaking a word about her father, you’ve been inadvertently setting an emotional tone that supports your daughter’s resistance to seeing him. Perhaps it’s time to remind yourself that what’s done is done and what’s past is past. If you are a believer, you should eventually be able to find a way to extend the forgiveness you’ve received from Christ to your ex-husband. This may mean more to your daughter than anything you might have to say.

Third, see if you can find someone to serve as a mediator between your daughter and her dad. This should be a neutral third party who they both can trust. If you’re not capable of filling this role yourself, maybe you can persuade a pastor, a counselor, or a good friend to take it on.

If you need referrals to qualified Christian therapists practicing in your local area, call us. Our counselors would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.


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Helping Children Survive Divorce

In Their Shoes

Co-Parenting Works

It’s OK to Cry

What Am I Feeling?

John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership

Divorce Care

Children and divorce

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