Dan sat on the couch visibly upset. His body was tense, and it looked like he was ready to start yelling or crying.
“My son and I used to be attached at the hip. Anywhere I went he went. Now, I can’t even get him to take out the trash without him yelling at me for ruining his life or accusing me of being mean or angry. I am angry! I have done nothing to him or his mother. She left me and yet I am somehow the bad guy. She is definitely turning him against me. I asked her if I could take him to my parent’s house for the Super Bowl and you would have thought I suggested I was taking him to Mexico so we could get matching tattoos. I have no one on my side. Everyone assumes I created this entire mess. The courts…don’t even get me started on the courts! When is someone going to listen to me and be on my side? Why does everyone assume that just because I am a man that I am a heartless and cheating jerk. I am so tired; I just want to have a good relationship with my son.”
As a therapist, specifically one who deals with fathers going through divorce, I hear a lot of frustrated comments from men who are trying to parent but feel they do not have any support. These dads say they are trying their best but fear they will never win their child’s heart because their child’s mother has poisoned their mind and anything they say is pointless. This is especially difficult for men who are already away a lot of the time for work.
This may be true.
The reality of the situation, however, is that dads often play a role in the frustration their children experience. This, in turn, makes things difficult for all involved without them intending to do so. One of the main things a divorcing parent needs to realize is that his child did not choose the situation. Children are processing many emotions and at times, these may erupt in frustrating ways for a parent.
When a dad is perceived as the villain, he often—as is to be expected—takes it very personally. It does feel like a personal affront. His child, his flesh and blood, has chosen to take the side of the partner he is no longer with and “hate him.” This creates tension and anger in the parent—child relationship.
This reality sucks.
Whether you were married, living together, or in a committed relationship with your partner, parenting under the same roof provides boundaries and structure that are hard to maintain once separated. The key word is “hard” to maintain, not impossible. There are hurt feelings, pain, and anger that cloud the judgment on both sides. The stability that was provided to your child when you were under one roof is now gone. While it may be hard, your main goal should be to surround yourself with support from those who love and care for you.
Here are some things to remember and strategies to put into place as you develop a safe, supportive environment for your children.
Divorce is a transition.
It can be a difficult one, but it is an event that has a beginning and end. The effects from the divorce however can stay with your child for a long time. You are hurt, angry, and frustrated, and now you have to also deal with a child who is going through the same feelings or worse. Patience is key and understanding that they need you is going to be an important tool to getting through without too much scaring.