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Strengthening divorced fathers relationship with teenage & adult children

By Dr. Linda Nielsen


As children grow up, they begin more able to see the world with their own eyes. Some of the negative ideas they had of their fathers can start shifting. The following questionnaire can help teenage and adult children of divorce have an open heart to their father.

Step One
Consider your father’s situation at the time of the divorce

At the time your parents divorced, you probably were not aware of the obstacles your father was up against in trying to maintain a close relationship with you. So let this quiz help you travel back in time. Try to imagine yourself in your father’s place. Then ask your father to take this quiz and share his experiences with you.

Dumping & Demoralizing Divorced Dads
Use 0 for “no/never,” 1 for “rarely,” 2 for “fairly often,” and 3 for “almost always/yes.”
___ My father was given joint custody without having to hire a lawyer.
___ My father was legally allowed to have us kids live with him for almost as much of the year as we lived with our mother.
___ My teachers, doctors, counselors and coaches treated my dad the same way they did when my parents were married.
___ My teachers, doctors, counselors and coaches kept my father as well informed about me and kept him as involved in my life as they did my mother.
___ If I ever saw a therapist, he or she made sure my father was included and felt welcomed.
___ Score (15 possible)

If your father was treated like the majority of divorced men, your score on this quiz was pretty low. Now that you’re older, it’s time to ask yourself: How might my relationship with my father have been better if everyone had made him feel welcomed and appreciated for being actively involved in my life? Considering the way my dad was probably treated, can I be more forgiving or more understanding now?


Step Two
Re-examine your beliefs about divorced fathers and consider how they may have damaged your relationship with your father.

Your father had another powerful force working against his relationship with you: the negative beliefs and inaccurate information so many of us have about divorced fathers. Look at the following quiz to see how many negative things you believed at the time your parents divorced.

Divorced Dads: Duds, Deadbeats, Dunderheads
At the time of your parents’ divorce, which of these did you believe was true?
___ Most divorces happen because the man falls in love with another woman.
___ Most divorces happen because the husband is abusive, alcoholic, or unstable.
___ Fathers are far more likely than mothers to commit adultery.
___ Fathers generally lose interest in their children after a divorce.
___ Financially, most fathers come out much better than mothers after divorce.
___ Mothers are usually more depressed than fathers after a divorce.
___ College-educated mothers are generally less angry after a divorce than less educated women.
___ Divorced men usually remarry much younger women.
___ The husband is usually the person who wants the divorce.
___ Most divorced fathers do not make their child support payments.
___ Score (10 possible trues)

How many did you think were true? The correct answer is zero. Not one of these statements is true for the vast majority of divorced parents. The higher your score, the more difficult it was for your dad to stay bonded to you because you were making so many negative assumptions about divorced men


Step Three:
Consider the impact your mother has on your relationship with your father.

Even though she may never come out and say negative things about your dad, your mother can still give you a negative impression of him in other ways -- the expressions on her face, her tone of voice, the way she acts after she’s talked to him or when you’re going to spend time with him, or the “joking” remarks she makes about him or his wife. Hopefully this didn’t happen to you. Unfortunately though, it does happen to millions of children —especially when dad has remarried but mom is still single. Use this quiz to help you recall the impressions your mother gave you of your father after their divorce.

How Nice a Guy Is My Dad?
After your parents divorced, what impressions did you get from your mother? Use 0 to mean “never,” 1 to mean “rarely,” 2 to mean “about half the time,” and 3 to mean “regularly.”
___ My father is too stingy and selfish.
___ My father mistreats my mother.
___ Dad is responsible for the divorce.
___ Dad is not as good a parent as mom.
___ Dad is responsible for the problems my siblings and I have.
___ If it weren’t for dad, all of us would be happy now.
___ Dad’s getting married means he doesn’t love us kids as much as he used to.
___ Dad’s having other children means he doesn’t miss us kids anymore.
___ My father isn’t paying all of his child support even though he has the money.
___Dad is not nice a person as mom is.
___Your score (30 possible)


The higher your score, the harder it was for you to have an open heart and open mind towards your father. So now it’s time to explore your father’s side of the story. If you’re nervous about doing this, ask yourself why. Are you afraid he’s going to say something bad about your mother? And if he did, why would that be so upsetting to you? Since your mom probably has had a chance to share her feelings and experiences with you, why would you deny your dad the same opportunity?

Will it be worth it?

Here is a small sample of what young adults who have followed these three steps have to say:
“If it weren’t for following Dr. Nielsen’s advice, I still wouldn’t be speaking to my dad after not talking to him for 8 years since my parents’ divorce.”
“My father and I are finally talking honestly about things that have caused tension between us for years. And I’ve been able to apologize to him for the way I treated him and his wife when I was younger.”
“Problems in my family are never discussed —just ignored. Now 10 years after my parents’ divorce, because I’m finally allowing dad to tell me about his experiences, I’m learning what led to the breakup of our family. And I’m finding the father who had been taken away from me.”


This article is adapted from Dr. Nielsen’s book: Embracing Your Father: Building the Relationship You Always Wanted with Your Dad.



FREE PDF of the book

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