Recently, I received this letter from a divorced man seeking
guidance about a troubling dynamic involving his young son:
"I have an 8-year-old son. His mother and I had a nasty
breakup almost two years ago. I filed to establish paternity and
ultimately to get shared parenting or joint custody. His mother
bad-mouthed me to him so much that he refused to speak to me and
would run the other way when he saw me.
His mother comes from a large family and I have no
relatives or family support in the area. I mention this because I
suspect there may be some ill will from the breakup and my son
spends a lot of time with her family. Long story short, through
counseling and court, things have gotten better for my son and me.
However, there are still many unresolved issues that stem from the
several months he refused to speak to me."
I imagine it's very difficult to experience the lack of
support you describe.
Though I don't know all of the circumstances compelling
others to respond as they have, harder still is the possibility
that others may have discouraged your son from having a positive
attachment to you. This concerns me because children derive so much
of their self-worth from the experience of identifying with each of
As troubling as this is, my best advice to you is to
remember that we cannot govern how others (the other adults in your
child's life) will behave or speak. We may seek to limit their
influence and may be annoyed at the possible unfairness of it all,
but I believe that your best defense is your son's own experience
Your son's impressions of you will continue to develop
over time. Eventually, he will come to his own conclusions about
who you really are. I know these are painful times, but I encourage
you to take the high road and focus on how you can make your
interactions with your son as positive and loving as
Be consistent when parenting him and really try to let the
rest go. It won't always be easy, but try. Your son may decide for
himself, in his own time, who was "right," but remember, this
isn't his job.
In any case, in my experience, the truth is usually
somewhere in the murky middle.
That said, whenever you do encounter your son, resist the
temptation to try and convince him that others are wrong about you.
In fact, I would encourage you only to speak well of his other
relatives, when you do speak of them, in spite of the negative
energy you imagine they may convey to him about you. Behaving in
any other way is self-serving, and only puts a young child in the
middle of something he cannot and should not have to
If you cannot communicate positive feelings about the
others he loves (and needs to love and trust, if he's to be with
them for any length of time), at least be neutral.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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