Dear Aunt Dara,
Two years ago, my husband told me that he was in love with another woman and he moved out, leaving me and our three children (two boys, who are now age 13 and 11, and a girl who is now 6 years old). My ex is now married to the other woman and has legally adopted her 12-yr-old son. He says he is happy with this new family and he seems to spend a lot of time with his newly adopted son. However, he totally neglects his own children. He doesn’t call the children, not even on their birthdays! He rarely visits them, and when he does he acts like it’s a chore that he has to get out of the way so I’ll get off his back. At Christmas he stopped by briefly to drop off a small gift for each child, but wouldn’t come in the house. Our little girl was heartbroken and she cried all evening, but the boys just got mad. The boys say they hate their father and they don’t want anything to do with him anymore, but our daughter still cries every night and asks why her daddy doesn’t love her anymore. What can I say to my little girl when she cries for her daddy, and how can I get my sons to not hate their father? How can a man be happy with another man’s child and not want to spend time with his own children?
Puzzled and Angry at Ex-Husband
Dear Puzzled and Angry,
Not being familiar with the situation except for the clues in your letter, I don’t feel comfortable speculating about your ex-husband’s possible motives or how he could be happy with someone else’s child while neglecting his own. Honestly, I don’t know how a man can be happy with another man’s child and not want to spend time with his own children. My gut feeling is that he is not as happy as he says he is, and that he is struggling with guilt at having left his family.
Here are my suggestions on possible ways to manage the situation while minimizing the pain that you and your children are experiencing. First of all, you indicated that you think that your ex-husband views time spent with the children as a chore, and it will get you “off his back.” That tells me that you have repeatedly asked him to spend more time with the children. If so, then he may think that you are nagging him and he may feel pressured and resentful. I suggest that you not say anything else to him about calling or visiting the children. I also suggest that you not say anything negative to him or about him, especially in front of your children. Your children should hear you say only positive things about their father.
You also said that you and your sons are angry. You are the example that your children see. Anger is the natural response when your sons see that you are angry. (Please refer to my posting on Sept. 10, 2011 on how to let go of anger.) When your boys say that they hate their father and they don’t want to have anything to do with him, let them know that you understand how they feel, but avoid saying anything negative about their father. Furthermore, don’t tell your sons that they shouldn’t feel the way they do about their father. Instead, just let your sons vent, listening actively and affirming their feelings. Then follow this conversation with a prayer for God to fill your hearts with love and forgiveness and pray that God will bless their father. As you work to get over your anger, so too will they.
Your daughter needs to be assured that her father does love her, and that he loves her very much. Also assure her that his not being with the family is not her fault. (This is also a good time to assure her that God loves her very much and God is always with her.) When she cries for her father, encourage her to name something that she likes about him and to share the good memories that she has of him. Write a list of the things that she identifies. Ask her to identify ways that she can share some of the things on the list with her daddy. Perhaps she could make up a song about him, a story about him, write him a letter, draw a picture, send a card, etc. Let her call him and talk to him, without your saying anything to him. Make sure your sons know what your daughter is doing, and let them know that it is okay for them to express their thoughts also, when they are ready.
Finally, I am so sorry that your family is suffering such heartache and grief. Please know that I am praying for you and your children.