How can I make my daughter's father see that he is hurting her feelings?

Q: I am so worried about my 18 year old daughter. Her dad and I split up when she was a toddler, and she does not have a good relationship with him at all. He criticizes her often, and leaves her out of family events and outings with his wife and their children. Both my daughter and I feel hurt and upset about this, and she recently told me that he's been texting her but she refuses to respond. What can I do make him realize that it's wrong to treat his daughter that way, and that he's having a huge negative impact on her?  

A: I totally understand that seeing your daughter being left out could trigger a "mama bear" reaction. And it's important (and often quite challenging at times) for parents to separate our own reactions and feelings from our children's. 

One way for you to begin that process is to take a close look at your daughter's behavior to see how she's feeling about this and coping with it. If she's upset occasionally but overall functioning just fine in her life (i.e. good attendance at school or work, a network of positive friendships, not abusing drugs or alcohol, etc.) then the first place to intervene here should probably be with your own upset feelings. 

On a practical level, if she has chosen not to respond to his attempts to reach out to her, I can understand why she would not be invited on outings with the rest of his family. That's a real-world consequence of cutting off communication, so if that's what she chooses to do, she's gotta be prepared for outcomes like this to result. That's part of becoming a mature adult - realizing that our actions and choices have consequences, and being willing to live with them.  

It's not your job (or even possible!) to "make him realize" anything at all here. Your job is to help your daughter live a fulfilling life without needing or waiting for him to take responsibility for his contribution to this dynamic. 

Therefore, I think the best you can do for her in this situation is to get tons of support for yourself so your feelings don't spill over onto her or cloud your perception. I know it's hard to see your precious daughter in emotional pain, but since we can't always prevent that from happening, we need to set a good example for our kids by handling situations like this with maximum maturity ourselves. And that's hard to do when our hearts are aching. Talking to a sympathetic listener can help.

My other suggestion would be to take your focus off of him completely, and instead devote your time and attention to being the best mom you can be for your daughter. Listen to her, connect with her, and have fun with her. 

When she's upset, don't feel compelled to fix it for her. Instead, calm yourself and simply listen while she vents. Parents often find that if they can keep their cool and listen all the way through without intervening, their kids run out of emotional steam and just go merrily on with their day even though nothing has actually changed about the situation that was upsetting them.

Her relationship with her dad will work itself out one way or another in time. Don't give this situation the power or opportunity to derail your own connection with your daughter. 

I hope this helps!


For more information about Karen's parenting or interpersonal communication consultations by phone, visit www.karenalonge.com

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