Disliking Dad

My daughter is only 6 years old, but at 5 years old she told her father that she does not like him. She knows that he does a lot to hurt me, which is only hurting her more. She is interested in playing soccer, but she has to miss out on a lot of practices and games because last year, her first game, she happened to be at his place, so they (him and wife and their kids) brought her to her game. She wanted me to hold her hand to the field, but he went off in front of everyone and called the police on me. He said he was leaving without even letting her play her first game. After that, my daughter told me not to tell him that she was in soccer and she did not want him to go to any of her games or practices. She cries every other weekend about not wanting to go there, and says she does not know why she has to go. She says “I told him I don’t like him, why do I have to go there?” This guy calls me all the time and harasses me. She is a very smart little girl, she knows it’s him and she knows he is just harassing me on the phone. He really does not care about visiting her, it is a power thing with him. Everything is call the police or threaten court if he does not get his way. What do I tell my daughter when she is crying and does not want to see this guy?

You won’t like my answer very much, but you do need to hear it. There is no indication that your ex is hurting your daughter directly. What is hurting her is the way he treats you. Your daughter is so close to you that she knows everything that goes on between you and her dad, and she doesn’t like him because of what is wrong in your relationship with him. This shouldn’t be her problem. She should be able to have a relationship with her dad and his family regardless of how he treats you. He’s her only real father, and she needs a relationship with him.

I recommend the book “Mom’s House, Dad’s House” by Isolina Ricci for suggestions on how to turn your relationship with your ex into the kind of “business relationship” that you would have with your plumber, rather than a relationship of “negative intimacy” where you continue fighting even though you are no longer together. You and he are maintaining this negative intimacy big-time, even though he’s remarried, and you need to stop it.

You need to make a clear boundary between your ex and yourself, and between your daughter’s times with him and her times with you. Here are a few suggestions on how to establish this :

1) Arrange a regular weekly phone call between you and the father, out of your child’s hearing. That way you can be prepared to keep your cool when you talk with him. Keep the weekly discussions to things you need to talk about as co-parents, such as sports gear she needs to take from one house to the other, meetings with teachers, etc. Do not engage in phone calls with him at any other time unless there is an emergency. Make an agreement with him that either of you can hang up the phone if you feel the conversation is becoming abusive.

2) Make it clear to your daughter that when she is with you, she is with you, and when she is with her father she is with him. If you attend her game when she is with him, she walks to the field with him; if he attends her game when she is with you, she walks with you. She can get used to this if it is clear and consistent. It will not hurt her. Explain to her that you still care about her but it is her father’s time with her.

3) Do not engage in discussions or arguments with your ex when your daughter is overhearing, and never, never talk to her about how you feel about him or how he has treated you. This is forcing her to take sides between her parents and to reject one of them. She should not have to do this; you are both her parents and she needs both of you. Tell her she is entitled to tell either of you that she won’t listen if you complain about your ex or he complains about you.

4) If your daughter complains about her dad to you, just listen and help her figure out ways to handle whatever he is doing without passing judgment on him in her hearing. As long as he is not abusing her, you need to encourage her to face the challenge of being with him and adapting to the different rules in his household.

If your daughter is not exposed to your feelings about your ex, she may be able to develop a positive relationship with him despite the fact that you and he never got it worked out. And if this happens, he will probably lay off with the police and court threats. I know this is hard for you, but your little girl will benefit in the long run from a relationship with her father if you can encourage it in this way.