My Dear Readers,
We live in an era where marriage and divorce often walk together hand in hand. We accept the notion that adults have the right of self-determination. If the marriage isn’t working and is irreconcilable, then move on. Right?
But what about the children?
The denial, rejection, and abandonment of a child by a parent is already devastating. It’s even worse when that parent leaves without a word and later tells the child by text message, “My door is always open to you.”
When a parent denies, rejects and abandons a child, the remaining parent is left to answer the difficult question of “why”? Whatever answer given is usually not enough and often leads the children to blame the one party that is the most vulnerable at this time: themselves.
In the midst of juggling the family’s financial responsibilities and struggling to protect the children from the growing self-doubt and self-hate, how does the remaining parent find the answer to these questions? How do they continue to communicate truthfully without further hurting the children?
Below is such a story.
Dear Visible Man,
I have no idea what to do about the trifling, no good, piece of crap of a man that is the father of my two children.
He has been court ordered to see his children, but he refuses to do so. He refuses to pay child support. He doesn’t acknowledge them on their birthdays. He didn’t attend or even acknowledge our oldest son’ s graduation from middle school.
On this past Father’s Day, my oldest son texted him to wish him a good one, but his father waited two days to reply with a terse “thanks.” What kind of man does that to his children?
This is extremely difficult for my oldest son. He was once very close to his father and now is dealing with the fact that his father has pushed him away with no explanation.
My son is very private about his pain, but I see the tears swelling in his eyes. I know he is angry. I was actually surprised that he reached out to him on Father’s Day. I was surprised again when a little while later, he sent my son a text message stating, “Hope you are having a great summer. My door is always open to you.” What the hell?
What does he mean by “My door is always open to you?” Why would a father say something so meaningless to his son? Why? I just don’t understand why.
I cannot believe that I married this loser, this piece of crap. Was he always this way? Did I miss seeing this side of him when we were together? Now, due to my error in judgment, my children are suffering.
He should contact the children and apologize for he has done. I am done with this fool. I will do what I can for the sake of my children.
Damn Tired, Lynnwood, WA
Dear Damn Tired,
In all honesty, you seek to provide your children with something that you have no control over.
If the father does not respond to a judicial order, and lacks the internal willingness to provide emotional support to his children, then it is time to accept the reality that his actions are showing you.
I have strong reservations for your descriptions of the children’s father. In your description there were terms such as “trifling, loser, piece of crap, and fool.” Understanding that you are extremely angry with the children’s father regarding his actions (or lack thereof), I must remind you that the way you refer to the children’s father are just as as unfitting and unacceptable as his behavior.
My grandmother told me many years ago that just because a bee stings you doesn’t mean you have to sting back. Rather, apply salve to the area and allow the wound to heal. I urge you to remember that the person you have described with such contempt is the father of your two sons, who are truly blessings. I want to caution you to be aware of what you say or how you express your feelings about their father around them.
Be aware that your sons are listening and internalizing your words every time you speak negatively of their father. Children take what they hear to heart, especially when it comes from a trusted source like a parent.
How many times did you tell them that they were just like their father when times were good? Did they react positively or with pride?
In light of your current comments, consider the type of messages your sons may be receiving now, and the questions they may be asking their psychological selves.
- “If my father is a piece of crap, trifling and a fool, what does that say about me?”
- “Does my mother feel the same way about me?”
I want to understand your frustration at the obvious pain that your children are experiencing. However, you must focus on what you can do to reduce their pain, and how to get their father more involved in their lives.
What can you do to stop their pain completely? Nothing. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to stop the emotional pain and suffering that has resulted from past and current experiences. Focus instead on providing assistance.
Utilizing the following strategy of “openness” one can do this: provide availability, access, and acceptance.
- Availability-be open and receptive to your children’s verbal and nonverbal expression of feelings
- Access-encourage vulnerability and exposure of the emotional wound.
- Acceptance-work towards acceptance of the pain that is associated with emotional wounding.
Remember, you are the “trusted source” for the children. Rejection by a parent can be devastating. The openness of the remaining parent is key in allowing the children a source or route to express the enduring pain and serves as a key way to heal the emotional pain.
How do you get their father to be involved in their lives? Stop and listen to what you are saying. Your words reflect and reinforce the pain of your children. Consider that you are attempting to force him to do something he must want to do, which is to be a responsible parent. His current behavior clearly indicates that he has no intention of doing so. Your children don’t need you to point this out to them.
Again, utilizing the strategy of openness, consider the following:
- Availability-remain open to communicating with the father as to the welfare and activities of his children
- Access– always seek ways for the father to have access to his children
- Acceptance-Be willing to “receive” the actions and behaviors of the father, whatever they may be. Remember, the willingness to receive is not an acknowledgment of “agreement.”
Remember not to place yourself in the position in which the children blame YOU for the inability to interact with their father. Maintain a written journal detailing your actions in the event that your children question you as to what role you may have played in the absence of their father.
What do you tell your children? Simply tell your children the truth. You can do this, and do it in a way that they can understand.
It’s going to be a bumpy road, no doubt. Again, utilizing the strategy of openness, consider the following:
- Availability-provide all the information that you know to your children. Maintain your composure, and provide clear and truthful answers to difficult questions
- Access-provide an avenue in which the children can communicate directly to their father if they so choose.
- Acceptance-utilizing the vulnerability, exposure and trust that “empowers” the relationship between you and your children, become their guide and companion as they walk this difficult portion of the journey.
Remember, allow your children to observe and witness the actions and behaviors of their father on their own. It can be of greater harm to attempt to protect them from the truth.
In closing, I want to respond to several comments that you raised. You questioned whether he was always this way and whether you had missed something. The answer is yes, this is the man that you married.
As we experience the journey called life and we grow older, we change. One thing that is beyond our control is the changes that occur within another. What we can do is to work towards understanding and acceptance.
You would be fooling yourself and creating additional difficulties for your children if you attempted to distract them, kept them from the truth, and attempted to make everything “nice.” Because of the father’s inconsistencies, they are vulnerable and exposed to being traumatized.
In your children’s world, bad things happen and monsters do feast in the night. As a parent, you cannot control their environment or protect them from their internalized feelings. However you can do the following:
- Assist them to navigate trouble and unsafe environments, particularly their internalized feelings.
- Become a safe harbor for them to anchor for short respites during hard times.
- Stick to the truth.
- Frame the story in a language that they can understand.
I also disagree with your comment,
“He should contact the children and apologize for he has done.”
This insinuates that he has wronged his children. That may be so, but that is still your opinion, not his, or more importantly, that of your children. Let his actions speak for him. Allow the children to see and listen to what he is saying as well as “not saying.”
Also, allow your children to receive his comments of “my door is always open to you” as a gift. Let’s call it the “Gift of Exposure.” In this gift, their father truly exposes his true self to his children and shows them exactly what they can expect from him.
Misery is a walk which is best taken alone. Let the father take this journey alone. One day he may regret his actions. His actions speak for themselves.
It is a false belief that “time heals emotional wounds.” Time is merely what it is, time. It is the work that one does, utilizing time that heals the wounds.
The Visible Man