August 16, 2008

Daughter and Deadbeat Dad
John K. Rosemond

Question: My 13-year-old daughter's father is irresponsible, to say the least. In addition to being a lousy co-parent, he frequently cancels visits and is often obviously lying about the reasons. Nonetheless, I've told her never to speak badly of him to or even around other people. There are times when I even end up defending him, sort of. When she questions his love, I tell her that of course he loves her. When he misses a visit, I tell her that if he gave things more thought, he'd do better. I tell her to talk to him about all this stuff and she says she can't. Sometimes her venting is rather sarcastic and ridiculing. I fear her power in relationships with males will suffer from her experience with bio-dad. Should I listen and say nothing or insist she speak respectfully of him if at all?

Answer: First, I caution you against trying to predict the future, especially your daughter's psychological future. Whether her dad straightens out his act or not, her adult relationships with men may be fine. Then again, girls grow up in healthy families with very adequate fathers and for reasons unknown fall into very dysfunctional relationships as adults. Today's parents seem to think that parenting produces the child. The fact is, parenting is an influence on how a child turns out, but it is just one of many influences. That's why some kids from healthy families go astray as adults, and some kids from very unhealthy families do just fine as adults. Keep focused on now -- not the hypothetical later.

You've obviously had numerous conversations with your daughter concerning her father's lack of parental responsibility and her very legitimate feeling that she's been betrayed. I applaud you for doing your best to keep his image as tarnish-free as possible, but she's old enough now to know that you're just saying what you feel you have to say. With the best of intentions, you are unwittingly feeding fuel to the fire of her anger and resentment. So, I think it's time to have what I refer to as the "final conversation."

Sit down with her when the proverbial iron is cold, when the issue of her dad's unreliability is not ablaze, and say words along these lines: "Over the years, you and I have had many, many conversations about your dad's behavior and your feelings about him. It has occurred to me that in the course of all these talks, we have talked about everything concerning your dad that we can possibly talk about. So, I've made an executive decision. I've decided that we are not ever going to talk about your dad again. The only exception would be if he does something he's never done before, like he spell s your name wrong on your birthday card. Otherwise, if you come to me wanting to talk about your dad, and it's same-old same-old, I'm simply going to tell you that we've had that conversation before, and I have nothing new to say. And you're going to have to deal with it, which is what you're eventually going to have to do anyway." And I'd let that be the end of it.

More than anything, your daughter needs to begin moving on. That process will begin with her accepting that her dad is considerably less than what she hoped for, that he probably will never step up to the plate of parenthood in any sort of adequate fashion, and that complaining about him is accomplishing nothing. She needs someone to help her get "unstuck," and you're that person.

Copyright 2008, John K. Rosemond

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