“Laura, my husband is always so sad about his kids. They no longer come to visit, and they hardly ever call or connect with him unless they need money,” stepmom Allison shared.
“On Father’s Day he is more depressed than ever,” she continued. “I want to help him, but I don’t know what to do. I get so furious with his kids for treating him this way. He is a good man and doesn’t deserve it. Sometimes I consider calling them and giving them a piece of my mind, but I worry it will make it worse.”
And stepmoms everywhere said, “Amen, sister.”
After a divorce it isn’t uncommon for a dad to feel deserted by his kids. The chances of that happening significantly increases when he remarries. There are numerous reasons why this detachment from dad occurs, and sometimes it can be repaired. In other situations, where he has little control, it will be much harder. Father’s Day, and holidays, stir up extra emotion.
The key to answering Allison’s question is that dad and stepmom must focus on the concern’s dad can adjust. Unfortunately, most stepmoms and dads concentrate on the circumstances and person (usually the mom) that dad can’t control. The frustration is so annoying, infuriating and exasperating (which is exactly why the ex-spouse is doing it) that it requires a tremendous amount of prayer and self-control to master the mind.
Dads tend to have an, “If my child doesn’t want me, then I will step away” attitude and I understand. Rejection hurts. But in most situations, he should do the opposite. Here are some examples:
What Dad can do:
- Send cards, texts, emails with lighthearted messages that communicate I’m still here. “I miss you.” “I saw_____the other day and it made me think of you” “Fishing just isn’t the same without you” etc.
- Show up at sports activities even if the child won’t acknowledge you. In this situation its best if stepmom doesn’t attend as that often creates more tension, unless the child already has a strong bond with her.
- Stay on top of what’s happening at school, don’t rely on the ex or your spouse to inform you.
- Take the child to breakfast just you and your kid(s). Sincerely ask them what is wrong. “What have I done that makes you want to reject me. I truly want to know.” Then LISTEN. This is where many dads fail to move forward. In order to heal what’s broken, dad must resist the temptation to start bashing the mom and accusing her of causing the problems. Even if it’s true, the child will likely shut down and defend the mom.
- Ask God to help you understand the deeper issues. Often, we are so eager to blame the ex, that we miss hidden reasons why the child is backing away. Even if mom is turning the kids against dad, they might have a deeper wound regarding the situation. Did you physically or emotionally move away from them? Do they feel your remarriage replaced your relationship? Do you have an antagonistic attitude towards their mom? Did you add another baby, and now they feel outside the family? Have you stepped back from parenting? Do they view themselves as a shameful disappointment to you? Often, we need a third party who isn’t emotionally involved to help us see the answers to these questions
- This part is going to be hard: Pause and reflect: Did you play a major role in the demise of their biological family? Even if mom had an affair or walked away do your kids see you owning your part in the demise of the marriage. Kids often forgive a parent easily. But many parents refuse to admit what they did wrong. They finger point at the ex-spouse, which causes the child to feel they must defend the other parent. And that keeps the relationship stuck in a rut of pride and confrontation. Have you ever apologized to your kids for the things you have done that made the mess worse?
- Dad, fighting for a relationship with your children may be the hardest thing you will ever do. And God will give you the strength you need every step of the way. Regardless of how they respond, keep extending love.
Fighting for your child’s affection, even when they reject you, may be your greatest moment in how they experience Jesus.
Christ was rejected, despised, belittled, hated, humiliated, spat upon and abandoned. And yet he keeps reaching out his hand of love.
When your kids become adults, with kids of their own and they look back, will they say, “My dad fought for me with every breath he had? He wanted me. I know he loved me.” Or will they say, “My mom made life so difficult for my dad that he got a new wife and kids and gave up?”
This doesn’t mean dad should become a doormat. Allowing kids to verbally disrespect and abuse a parent isn’t love. Setting healthy Christ-like boundaries is an act of love and must be done with the proper attitude. Most of us have never learned the honorable way to lovingly stand against disrespect, while extending a grace at the same time. The ability to wisely communicate “I won’t let you treat me that way, but I’ll never stop loving you” is a learned skill.
Dad, it also means remaining at the line of reconciliation, with an outstretched hand, consistently sharing and showing that the child is wanted, loved and desired. Nothing demonstrates this better than the father in the story of the prodigal son. He is passionately waiting, watching, eagerly anticipating his son’s return. There is no hint of anger, resentment, or fury, the father is elated when the scandalous son comes into his view. And he runs to embrace him, even when he’s covered with pig poop. (Luke 15:11-32)
Stepmom, your role is to not throw gasoline on the fire. Raging against the kids and his ex-wife might feel good but it isn’t helping his relationship with the kids. Adamantly praise the things your husband is doing right. Encourage him to continue to do the hard, sacrificial Christ-like thing. Trust me, I know it won’t be easy. Lovingly, help your husband to review some of the questions stated in the article.
When his focus turns back to his ex and what she is doing to alienate the kids, your job is to remind him, “You can’t control her, but there are things you can do to help the situation.”
On occasion stepmom having a heart-to-heart with the kids about their actions can help the relationship. But approach this very carefully. In a soft, calm manner, “I want you to know your dad deeply loves you very much. He may get frustrated but that’s because he wants a relationship with you so badly. I’m so sorry. You didn’t ask to be from a divorced home with all this chaos, and I hate that you are dealing with all this tension. If I can do something to make it easier, tell me, I’ll do my best to try.”
The worst thing a stepmom can do is shame or blame the child for not loving, respecting or wanting the dad. It backfires and can cause permanent damage. When anger towards the stepchild wells up inside of you, pray. Ask God to help you see the child through His eyes. Although it feels as if the child is intentionally trying to hurt your husband, he/she is merely acting out of the emotions and pain that is hidden inside.
Ask God to give you eyes to see what’s underneath the actions.
Stepmom, weep with your hubby. Comfort him. Love on him. And most importantly pray for and with him.
God is the healer of our relationships. Sometimes it takes years, but He will be our strength if we let Him.
Laura Petherbridge is an international speaker and author of, When ‘I Do’ Becomes ‘I Don’t’, The Smart Stepmom, 101 Tips for The Smart Stepmom, Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. She has appeared at/on the Billy Graham Center, Family Talk (Dobson), Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian Woman, FamilyLife, Lifeway, and Moody Broadcasting. Laura has been a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series implemented in over 60,000 churches worldwide. In addition to the US, she has spoken in South Africa, Australia, and Canada. Laura and Steve live in Atlanta, Ga, and have been married for 35 years. She has two stepsons, daughters-in-law, and grandkids. She may be reached at www.TheSmartStepmom.com