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Divorced Dad Wants to Be Closer to His Kids
Q: I am recently divorced and I have two children, ages 14 and 12. The eldest, my daughter, doesn't really spend much time with me on "my weekends." She would rather be with friends or go to teen clubs. My son, on other hand, loves to spend time with me. This lack of quality time with my daughter makes me feel we're growing apart. I work six days a week to pay child support and alimony. I will be getting married again this spring and moving further away from my kids. How can I draw my family closer together?
A: As a father of two grown children, I can understand your sadness at feeling that your daughter doesn't want to spend much time with you. First, it's very natural in terms of your son's and daughter's present ages that your 12-year-old male child would be more anxious to spend time with you than your 14-year-old daughter would. Please do not feel that her lack of desire to spend "quality time" with you translates to her rejection of you. Fourteen-year-old girls are trying to forge a comfortable adolescent identity among their peers and view their leisure time as time to do that rather than time to bond with their dad.
I would suggest that you express your genuine desire to spend some special time with her. Do so without any attempt to blame her for her present peer-oriented behavior. She does not need to be burdened with the thought that she is hurting you terribly because she doesn't want to spend much time with you. Ask her if there are some things that she would like to do with you that she could work into the time that you spend with her. Maybe the two of you could have a regular weekly breakfast out together at her favorite restaurant. Then she would have her whole day ahead of her to do whatever she wanted to with her friends. The goal here is to make her feel important enough to you that you want to spend some regular time with her. Ask some open-ended questions about how the two of you might do that and let her take the lead in terms of what she'd like to do and how much time she'd like to spend doing that. If you are on good terms with your ex-wife, ask her for some help on this.
Your daughter needs to feel your love and you can express that love in many ways, many of which do not necessitate long periods of time alone with her. Expressing more interest in her life and what matters to her on a regular basis would give her a feeling of being appreciated. That feeling could lead to her wanting to take some time to spend with you. Don't stop trying to connect with her because you are not getting what you need from her emotionally. Continue to be an affectionate father who always shows his daughter his love.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.