Ask the Expert: My daughter blames me for our separation

Listen to your daughter’s point of view without being defensive. Photograph: Thinkstock

Listen to your daughter’s point of view without being defensive. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 01:00

Q I split up with my wife eight months ago and it is becoming hard to see my 12-year-old daughter. She seems to be really angry with me and blames me for the separation. The marriage did finally end because I had an affair, but this was after years of problems. To make matters worse, my ex-wife seems to be pitting my daughter against me and telling her too much about what happened between us.

I don’t think it is healthy for my daughter to be so angry, and she seems to be pulling away from me and not wanting to see me much at all. Any time I talk to her it ends up in a row and makes matters worse.What can I do?

A Children often feel very angry when their parents separate and they frequently get sucked into their parents’ conflict, taking sides and blaming one parent for what happened.

This is particularly the case for young teenagers who are beginning to see the world in a more adult way and can make judgments for themselves about what they see as right or wrong.

Many of the teenagers I have worked with can be really hurt by the infidelity of one of their parents and see it as a betrayal not just of their mother, but of them and the family.

For an adolescent, who might think idealistically about relationships and who is coming into an awareness of their own sexuality, this sense of betrayal can be particularly acute.

Also, you have the added dimension of your daughter becoming a teenager and possibly entering a normal phase of teenage rebellion and being critical of her parents’ shortcomings, which might only add to her anger at you.

Listen to your daughter without being defensive

The key to helping your daughter is to listen to her without being defensive. Parents often think that they are listening to their children, but in fact use the time to defend what has happened, or to explain their point of view.

However, what children really want at this time is for their parents to appreciate their point of view and to hear how they are feeling, however upsetting it is to hear it. Once this happens, some healing can begin.

This means that if your daughter blames you for ending the marriage, rather than immediately defending yourself or blaming her mother, take time to ask her questions, such as “What makes you say that?”, and to acknowledge her feelings: “You sound really angry at me about what happened.”

Be prepared to take responsibility and apologise

Many teenagers really appreciate it when their parents take responsibility for their part in problems and offer an apology, as appropriate.

For example, depending on what is bothering her most, you can acknowledge that you regret how the marriage ended and you are sorry for any hurt it caused her or her mother, if that is whom she is upset for. Or you can apologise for the loss your daughter feels personally, or if she feels you were not there for her when she needed you.