“The Hardest Part of Being a Divorced Dad” originally appeared on The Good Men Project and was reprinted with permission.
This weekend I sat in my daughter’s room, rocking her as she cried. She is angry at me. It was some small thing that set it off this time, but the anger is there. Lately it seems like it is just below the surface. Even when she is laughing and smiling, I know when something goes wrong, all of the pent up emotion will come out.
All I can do is hold her. Hug her. Tell her I love her … but I can never fully understand. I am not the child of divorced parents. I can relate to the pain of rejection, the nervousness of the first day of school, the excitement of accomplishing something you put your mind to … but dealing with the divorce of your parents? I’m lost.
Telling her I’m sorry seems like such a weak word for the weight of what I feel.
She didn’t choose this situation. Why does she have to have two houses? Why does she have to split holidays? Why does she have to miss out on things at the other parent’s house?
In these moments, between the crying sobs and the questions, it is easy to wonder about our choice and if we did the right thing. Even through the pain I know we have caused, I believe we did. That doesn’t lessen the pain or fix my daughter’s broken heart.
How do I fix this? What can I say or do to provide the comfort and validation she needs? How can I be present for her, even when she doesn’t see me for days?
The answer to all of these questions are the same … I don’t know.
There’s a helpless feeling when you know your actions created this much pain for your children. Having my daughters just half the time, there is a lot of their environment I don’t control. There is a lot I can’t do. We can’t go back. We can’t all live in the same house. I can’t fill the void she has missing her mom when she’s at my house, no one can.
But still, there is a lot I can do.
Always show up
I can be reached. Any time they need me. My girls are still a little young to have cell phones, but technology is a wonderful thing. And when the time comes for them to have their own, it will be much easier, but even now, they can always find me. Any time their mom contacts me about them, I am available. They obviously have no way to know that, but if they want to FaceTime or talk, they know they can just ask their mom to make it happen.
Never deny them their mom
While I cherish my time with them and prefer that it goes uninterrupted, there are times they really want to talk to their mom. I will never tell them no. They need to understand that while we don’t spend a lot of time together as a group, if they need to talk to the other parent, that is always OK.
Talk positively about their mom and stepdad
While there is still tension between their mom and me, that isn’t something that needs to play out in front of them. They need to understand that while we may not see eye to eye on everything, we do on how they behave and respect their family. Their behavior can be challenging, but they need to know they can’t be mad at mom and come to dad for backup. While I don’t know what happens at their mom’s house, I believe responding as united as possible is the best thing for my daughters.
With so much outside of my control, I have to do the best I can to stabilize the things I can control. They need to know what to expect from me and their time at my house. While life happens and things come up, keeping the schedule and routine as set as possible is important. When they know what to expect, the transition back and forth will be less stressful.
There is going to be more anger and going to be more tears. The best I can do is continue to listen, empathize, and continue to rock them. For as long as it takes.
More from The Good Men Project:
- Top 10 reasons being a dad rocks
- What’s fair got to do with divorce?
- An open letter to my college-bound girl
- The most rewarding job I could imagine? Becoming a stay-at-home dad
- 5 ways being a new dad is just like being a rock god