The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 143 · Duration: 00:19:14
Disneyland Dad Undermines My Parenting
Well folks, the world has changed in just a couple of months, and maybe even weeks, and maybe even days for many. It’s a time fraught with a lot of emotions due to fear of getting the virus, spreading the virus, keeping our families safe, or keeping our parents or grandparents safe; even how to support family members that we can’t visit. It’s painful. There are economic issues so many of us are facing, it can be frightening. The help being promised so far is between difficult and impossible to access. We have no idea where all this is leading so we’re all dealing with the unknown. But here’s what we do know, focusing on what we can’t control is a recipe for high stress and anxiety and that’s a bad thing for us, and a bad thing for those around us.
Our children and teenagers need our leadership and the best way to bring it is to let them know that what’s going on is serious and why. Explain it at a level they can understand, an age appropriate level. Then let them know what you are doing and what they can do to stay safe, and what you and they can do to help the worldwide effort to fight COVID-19, specifically, what we’re doing to stop the spread of the virus because if it can’t find someone new to infect, it dies. That’s why we are social distancing, so the invisible threat, the virus, won’t be able to go from one person to another, infecting people and living among human beings. When people don’t spread it, it will die out.Let your children and teens know that what’s going on is serious and why. Explain it at a level they can understand, an age appropriate level.Click To Tweet
In the mean time, parents, while things are serious, let’s always keep our tone positive, make the best use of our stay at home time, and enjoy each other. Yes, let’s use our time at home wisely, get our closets cleaned out, exercise and all that, but relax and give yourself a break, too. Every day isn’t a marathon. Be sure to limit your news exposure and get what you need from your preferred news source, and then be done and watch something enjoyable or listen to some uplifting music.
Now, on to our question of the week. What do you do when your daughter is hostile towards you and blames you for keeping her from her father? This one comes from Lorraine of Missouri who writes:
I’m a divorced Mom and really a single parent. Dad lives nearby but is largely unavailable; his two priorities are work and girlfriends. When he does take the girls, 12 and 9, they get an abundance of screen time, fast food and junk food, and a couple of times a year they go skiing, to Hawaii, or some other exciting vacation. In my home, where they live 90% of the time, we have healthy food and snacks, limited screen time, and no money for exotic vacations. I can deal with this except that my younger daughter has always been challenging and she uses her father as a weapon against me; “Dad let’s me this. I like Dad better. Why can’t I go to Dad’s?” Even her older sister tells her that their Dad doesn’t want them, but she won’t hear it and constantly avoids her work and responsibilities, sneaks screen time whenever I’m not looking, and fights me on everything. When my oldest was born, I was able to stay at home and we built a great bond. My husband and I separated during my second pregnancy and shortly after our second was born, I went back to college and after a couple of years, needed to go to work, so we didn’t get as much bonding time as with her sister. Now my nine year old is turning into a terror. She screams if she doesn’t get what she wants; to watch TV, something she prefers to eat, if I make her take a shower when she doesn’t want to. If I ask her to pick her room up, put her clean laundry away, or take her plate to the sink after a meal, it’s an argument and one I’ll often lose. She constantly accuses me of not letting her see her father who makes it seem that I’m keeping him from her. How can I deal with this this when she’s being made to think I’m the problem?
Thanks for your question Lorraine. Your story is one I hear about often. These situations are never easy. I’d like to say that my heart, admiration, and respect goes out to you and all single parents out there.
Some single parents either had a child with artificial insemination, or had a child with someone who didn’t want to be involved and they decided to let that person slip away as their best option. Some single parents are widowed, and some are divorced and in a hostile and often an undermining relationship with their child or children’s parent. In some ways, this is the worst situation. Not only is a parent not getting help, they are having to fight a destructive influence and that makes things just that much harder.
The main thing here is that raising kids is a challenging endeavor in a two-parent family but as a single or virtually single parent, it can be, at least at times, nightmarish. Some level of parental burnout is inevitable, not having support or getting negative support is not sustainable without compromises to one’s mental health. So that being said, Lorraine let’s see what we can figure out here and get things going in the right direction for you and your nine year old.
Finding The Healthy Story
Lorraine, the story we tell ourselves about a situation or problem informs how we deal with the situation or problem. So getting a healthy story is critical to getting a healthy outcome.
Your story is that you didn’t have enough bonding time and that has left you and your relationship with your younger daughter permanently impaired in some way. Then your story goes on that she gets superficial needs met from her father, who undermines your parenting and she uses the comparison against you. To make matters worse, he makes her believe that you are keeping her from him, which is not the truth.
Lorraine, obviously there is truth to your story, but it leaves out a heck of a lot as well so let’s try a somewhat different perspective.
For whatever reason, your second daughter has a less easygoing temperament than your older daughter. She’s more intense and related to that, more demanding. When she was born, you were stressed and occupied with college and then with work and may have had a hard time knowing how to settle and support her emotionally. Here we are at her age of nine and clearly she needs emotional regulation skills, something that all intense children and teenagers need. Additionally, she’s always been hard for you and you’ve no doubt tried many strategies to get her to settle down and be okay with the routines, structure, and the support and nurturance you offered her. Yet, she always seems to need more than you offer and seems to never be satisfied. There was the initiation of the Control Battle in your relationship, your daughter wanting more, your wanting her to be satisfied with what she got.
Taking Steps In The Right Direction
Here we are now with you chronically frustrated by her behavior and her feeling that you are never happy with her, don’t want to give her what she wants, and most likely feels that you love her sister more than you love her. She probably has even said that to you. But Lorraine, here is what you need to think about.
First of all, don’t even think about her father. He’s just a pain but there is nothing you can do about it so ignore it.
Secondly, let’s focus on what your daughter wants and needs. I don’t mean junk food, I mean real wants and needs, as in to feel loved and wanted by you, to feel she can be successful being who she is with you and in the world. To have friends and a big sister who likes and approves of her.
Lorraine, start by making a list of all of your nine year old’s talents and skills, perhaps art, singing, or physical activity. Certainly being strong minded is a characteristic that can be viewed as a strength. Maybe the way she is with a pet or younger children.
Now we are going to go on a one-week quest to turn things around and end your Control Battle and be on a positive path together.
Yes she is intense, but that’s not because she is un-bonded, it is her nature and her intensity has become a weapon because of the struggle and tension between you, what she experiences as rejection. So you are going to use validation, support, and affirmation of who she is to shift things. Start by listening to the feelings underneath the words and accusations she communicates.
For instance, she says,
“You always give Gina what she wants and you never give me what I want, you hate me.”
You respond with,
“What a terrible way to feel, that your own mother hates you and favors your sister. That’s terrible to feel that way, but I’m glad you’re telling me your feelings.”
Now she’ll go on with something more and you’ll do it again; validate, support, affirm, and empathize - the magic elixir.
Let’s say you want her to put her laundered clothes away so they don’t stay in the laundry basket. Rather than tell her to put her clean clothes away, ask her to help you put clean clothes away. It will be a change in behavior and right now change is good, and you’ll be inviting her to do something with you. Now suppose she refuses, don’t worry about it, just do it with a smile and a song, and then say, once again without anger or reprimand, something like, it only takes me a minute or two to do that job, it just feels a little silly like I’m treating you like a four year old and I don’t want to be disrespectful of you or your capabilities.
See what I’m getting at here? Take the stress and tension out, stay positive, and appeal to the fact that she wants to be respected, appreciated, loved, and essentially be successful with you. So when you take out the negative judgment and stay friendly and positive, it gives her a place to begin to drop her hostility and be more cooperative and vulnerable with you. She’ll see you as safe and someone who can meet her needs. She may always be intense, and that may be very different from your temperament and will be challenging, but as long as you accept that as simply a part of who she is, and don’t allow yourself to get derailed by hurtful accusations, and have faith that you have what she needs, things will move in the right direction.When you take out the negative judgment and stay friendly and positive, it gives your teen a place to begin to drop her hostility and be more cooperative and vulnerable with you.Click To Tweet
Moving Forward As A Single Parent
Lorrain I am glad you’ve reached out to me and I hope you can put this into action. Because when your younger daughter hits 12 or so, it will be important for the two of you to be in a healthy place. The challenges of pre-teen and early teen years for an emotionally intense kid and the parent of an emotionally intense kid can be significant, but if you can have built a relationship with her as her ally, then you’ll be a resource to her through those years.
Don’t be afraid to get high quality parenting support going forward because when your emotional resources are thin, it’s really hard to execute what I’m advising and support from a professional or a parenting support group can help you stay on track. Yes, your ex is a pain, but don’t give your power away to him, he’s not fulfilling his obligation as a father but you are fulfilling your obligations as a mother. Having a Disneyland Dad is an issue your girls will have to figure out how to deal with, we all have something to deal with, and that one belongs to them.
So all you single parents out there, and virtually single parents out there, we support you and appreciate you. Particularly now while we maintain social distancing, not having a partner to go through this with you, makes things that much harder. There’s a lot more to be said about raising kids as a single parent or in a hostile divorce situation, so don’t be afraid to ask me about your situation.
But for now, if you are a single parent, please reach out for help. For those of us who have a little extra emotional bandwidth to play with, let’s reach out to someone who could use the support. Even a little goes a long way, and let’s remember, the story we tell ourselves about a problem, informs our response to the problem. Let’s make sure our stories don’t lead to dead ends; we always have more options than we know.
During this very challenging time for our respective countries, and in our communities and families, many folks will experience feelings and situations that are overwhelming and I want to encourage you all to reach out to your mental health community. Many individual therapists and community mental health centers are providing services by phone and video platforms. If you’d like a consultation with me, give me a call or email and we can set up a meeting in a Zoom meeting room.
If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.
If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.
Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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