Updated: Sep 5
“I’m so confused, I really don’t know what to do,” the dad shared.
“My teenaged children have stopped coming to our house,” He continued. “I have attempted to convince them of how much I miss them. But nothing I’ve said or done has changed their disregard for spending time with me, my wife, or their half-brother. Numerous times I’ve asked why they don’t want to come. I don’t get any answer”.
“Last year during the holidays they visited for one hour, to get presents. I’m suspecting the same is going to happen this year. My wife is very angry and says we are no longer buying gifts for them. I’m not sure that’s the correct approach and I’m concerned it will make the situation worse”.
“I simply want my kids back in my life. I don’t want to alienate them further. I’m in a no win situation”.
Yes, my brother. You are.
However, not all is lost.
It is not uncommon for adolescent kids or teens of divorce to stop the ping-pong between two homes. The halt in visiting occurs more often with dad’s house, than mom’s house. In general, kids loath living in two completely different worlds. Everything from chores, homework, food, and pets have a different set of standards, expectations, and rules from house to house. At some point, they want to say, NO More!
If the other parent (in this case, the mom) will encourage them to remain close with both parents, it’s the ideal response. Sometimes that parent can get the child to explain why they no longer desire to visit. Dad must remain willing to listen and open to hear things that may hurt him if he truly wants to get to the core of the problem. It doesn’t mean mom, or his kids, are correct, it means this is their perspective. It needs to be heard and not automatically dismissed.
You cannot address what you refuse to hear.
As a rule one of these three reasons are often at the root of why the kids stop visiting dad’s home :
· Something in the home makes the child feel unsafe, insecure, rejected, or unloved. This doesn’t mean the child is being abused, or intentionally harmed. It could be something as simple as dad’s home added another baby. The addition often a baby can cause the first set of children to feel “outside the circle”. They view dad as forming a new family that doesn’t include them. It can happen at mom’s house too, but they accept it from her with a bit more grace. If dad isn’t spending extra time with his kids from the first marriage, or is expecting stepmom to fill that void, the kids can feel rejected.
· The rules ALL changed. If the stepparent wants stricter rules than the biological parent it can bring tremendous turmoil and resentment. If before the remarriage it was acceptable for the kids to eat fast food every night, leave soiled underwear in the bathroom, and stack the kitchen sink for a week with grimy dishes, they don’t want to change just because dad chose to remarry. If your spouse becomes their new “boss” the kids will rebel. Badly. And they will view dad as being manipulated by her. “We didn’t have to do any of this stuff before he got married”. And the child is deeply wounded that dad allowed their world to be turned upside down—again. In this situation changes in the home, can and often should, occur. However, it must be done by dad before the remarriage. Slowly and gently dad can change the patterns and rules in the house, this removes the bullseye from stepmom’s back.
· The other parent is encouraging and attempting alienation. Unfortunately, not every parent has their child’s best interest at heart. The other home might be nudging the child to dislike, reject, and distance from the other parent and stepparent. Before assuming mom is attempting to sabotage the relationship, it’s crucial to take the time to discover if the child is struggling with other issues. You cannot control what goes on in the other home. But you can control how you respond to it.
My recommendation for this dad is to offer his kids a different option. “Hey guys, I want to give you your Christmas presents. How about we meet for pizza, breakfast, etc. just you and me. What day works for you?”
They might still refuse but they will know he tried. And continues to try.
Stepmom might resent this option. It’s understandable. However, it’s dad’s job to explain that he must reach out to his hurting kids who have been wounded by the divorce. “Honey, I love you. I also can’t let go of my children. I’m not going to lavish them with gifts or money. I will buy one small gift for each. But I don’t believe God would ever want me to stop pursuing them.”
Words like this might help to tear down the walls around their hearts. “I love you. I will always love you. Even when you reject me, I will love you. With my last breath I will stay at the line of reconciliation, reaching out to you, praying for you, should you ever decide to come back into my embrace”.
It’s Jesus. In the flesh. By the power of the Holy Spirit how to continue loving those who reject, shun, and discard us.