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ASK THE THERAPISTS: Was Mom right about Dad?


A reader asks for advice on restarting a relationship with an estranged father. - EpicStockMedia
A reader asks for advice on restarting a relationship with an estranged father. - EpicStockMedia

I have been estranged from my father since my parents’ nasty divorce years ago. Now that I’m starting a family of my own, he has reached out with a request to be a part of my life again. I find myself questioning whether the terrible things my mother said about him are true or not. What should I do?

- Cautiously questioning father’s motives

Blair

With so many marriages ending in divorce today, you’re not alone in your feelings of confusion. Divorce often includes a great deal of negativity coming from both parties, with children caught in the crossfire. I’m sure each parent had their own perspective that they were defending, which was validated by their pain. And too often, in an attempt to seek vengeance or to equal the playing field, children are used as a way of punishing the former spouse.

You need to proceed cautiously to source through fact and fiction. If there was any violence in the family unit that led to the split, then extreme caution should be taken. Why don’t you suggest you do a few sessions of therapy together? This would give you both a chance to share any pain you’re holding onto from the past in a safely contained environment. It is during this time that you will be able to determine, with the help of the therapist, whether it’s healthy for you to pursue a relationship with your father or not.

When your parents’ relationship was severed, you were a child and had to succumb to the after-effects of the split. As an adult, you get to choose the nature of your connection with each parent. You have the freedom to create a new relationship with your father that is based on healthy boundaries.

I’ve had many client’s express obligation to involve family members in their children’s lives simply because they are blood relatives. Guilt is never a valid reason to bridge relationships or engage socially with anyone for that matter.

With guilt aside, here are three questions to ask yourself before choosing to bring your parent back into your life:

  1. Is it emotionally and physically safe for you?
  2. Will they be a positive addition to you and your child’s life?
  3. Are you prepared to deal with the fallout that may occur with other family members?

Remember you are an adult now with parental responsibilities of your own. Take your time to gather information and then make an informed decision on how to proceed.

Jenny

Having been a through parental divorce myself as a child, I understand how painful and complicated it can be. While there is much more support available today for significant life events, our family certainly wasn’t given a survival guide for skillfully moving through divorce in a way that minimized damage to all members of the family.

Having been through my own healing journey, here are a few tips to consider as you explore the possibility of reconnecting with your dad:

  1. Too often parents drag children onto their battlefield and demand they take sides, which can leave deep scars and create unnecessary separation. I’m sorry if that was your situation. No one but you can decide if opening your heart to your dad is a healthy thing to do or not.
  2. Be aware that your childhood pain may resurface in his presence, especially if you were a child when you last saw him. Although you are an adult with much growth and maturity behind you, your inner child will need love and possibly protection as you revisit this relationship.
  3. Be realistic. Don’t get caught up in the fantasy of finally having the relationship you’ve always imagined. Stay present to the situation, without drifting into a dreamy Hollywood version of who you want your father to be.
  4. Manage your expectations. He is only human and will likely be carrying some baggage of his own around, such as fears about reconnecting and shame from the past. This baggage may limit his ability to foster intimate connections, which has no reflection on your worth as a person.
  5. Be patient. You’ve had a long time without contact so proceed with caution and stay connected to your needs as you explore the possibilities.
  6. Stay hopeful. Best case scenario, you may have a wonderful opportunity to create a new relationship with your father that is founded on respect and support. As author Susan Cain once said, “We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” This is an invitation for you to hear his side of the story, which might provide you with a fresh understanding of his life.
  7. As a parent, you will want to ensure that your child does not become entrenched in any difficult dynamics with your parents. Make sure you and your child are your first priority.

Thanks for sharing the uncertain prospect of rekindling a connection with your father. May this be the beginning of an exciting new chapter in your life.

Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award-winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.

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