Q&A: Witnessing my son being neglected

Q: My husband and I divorced when our now-ten-year-old son was three. He visits his dad frequently, but unfortunately gets little attention from my “ex” who’s now remarried and has started a new family. My son tries to be brave, but I know he must feel hurt and rejected. What can I do?

A: Yours is a heart-breaking situation and our heart truly feels for you. Witnessing your son being neglected by his dad is painful, and you shouldn’t dismiss or minimise your feelings – both for you and your son’s sake.

After you’ve acknowledged and sorted out your own emotions, it’s important that you give your son the opportunity to identify and express his feelings, too. This is because children can’t grasp the complex dynamics of broken relationships. They don’t see things for what they are, and often assume guilt for the breakup, believing that they’ve done something wrong. Don’t wait for your son to bring up the subject. He probably won’t, especially if he’s trying to be brave.

Next, try to uncover what’s at the root of your ex-husband’s emotional neglect of your son. It may be he’s avoiding you or that his new wife is interfering, financial strain, etc. Whatever the reasons, he needs to understand and feel the weight his actions are having on his son. You’re more likely to achieve this goal and agree to a solution if you appeal to his emotions, rather than by shaming or harassing him.  

Finally, do everything you can to find a good man who can encourage and serve as a positive role model for your son. You might approach your father, someone from the community, or a trusted teacher, coach or neighbour about the possibility of spending time with your boy. Your son will be sure to benefit, even if his father doesn’t participate.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

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