I just wanted to share this with you, with the permission of the father who sent it to me. I am always incredibly grateful to receive your feedback on work that we have done because it helps us to understand how we help and what we can do to help more. This father came on one of our workshops and I worked with him a few times individually to support him through a very difficult period. It is wonderful to hear how he and his children have come back together. In the period after separation, if children are captured by one parent’s psychological and emotional reaction, it is imperative to work through this carefully. Waiting can seem such a difficult task when all hope feels as if it is slipping away, but with the right analysis and the right action, children can and do pull through. I will let this dad tell his story now, any comments and thoughts, as usual, are always welcome and I am sure he will read and respond.
I just wanted to send you a quick email to share some events that have been happening in my life and to again thank you for the advice you have given at key moments.
It was about 18 months ago that I attended your all-day workshop in Euston, as my three teenage children had just become alienated from me, due to my wife (now ex-wife) reacting so badly to me moving back to this part of London into a flat a mile or so from the former matrimonial home. The two boys (J now aged nearly 16 and D, 19) managed to get through that time and I managed to re-establish a good relationship with them, where they would stay maybe one night a week, without any agreement or discussion between me and their mother. But my daughter R, completely conflicted and very aligned to her mother, was very hostile to me and refused to answer my texts or to meet up. That was around the Autumn of 2012, not long after having had a really nice two-week holiday with all three children in the summer.
As time went on, I realised my youngest son was struggling at school and his attendance had fallen to 88%, meaning he was missing a day of school every two weeks. So I rang his school and made sure I attended his parents’ evening, where the full picture of my ex-wife’s neglect of his education became clear (and she is herself a primary school teacher). J and I had a long chat after that parents’ evening and I basically said to him that something had to change in his education and that something was he should stay with me for at least two nights a week to make sure he did his homework. He agreed that this was the only real solution. I offered to tell his mother but he said he would do it himself – three days later on a Saturday morning, he told his mum that he was going to be staying with his dad for two nights a week – Monday nights and Tuesday nights. It was an incredibly brave thing for him to do and from the start of the following week he did exactly that – and has done so ever since. At the start of the year I said to J that I wanted him to increase this to three nights a week and he said that was ‘cool’ – so J now stays with me three nights a week, every week, without my ever having discussed or agreed that with his mother.
Christmas 2012 was sad in that my newly-alienated daughter (she is 18 in April) did not get in touch and so I had some days up to Christmas Eve with my two boys but not my daughter.
However, I followed your advice of just sending texts, never ringing though, and sometimes I would get an acknowledgement, more often than not though I didn’t get anything back. For all of 2013 I was missing my daughter, occasionally hearing news that she had a boyfriend or that she was doing well at college, which is 10 minutes walk from my flat. I rented this flat so that she would be able to stay here and walk to college. As the year went on, the boys were staying more, I had a fantastic two weeks abroad with just me and my youngest J and we were settling into a good routine of me seeing both my boys regularly, again without ever having discussed or agreed this with their mother, so simply refused to engage with the issue. I was learning more about my two boys, seeing them as the young men they were becoming and allowed to have a relationship with them without a depressed, angry and often screaming mother standing between us. I essentially made my home a happy and welcoming place for them, lots of food and fun, without anything heavy. But I missed my daughter, prayed for her often and hoped that what you had said, about the mist lifting one day, would happen soon.
In the run-up to last Christmas I began to send R more texts and she began to reply more often. If I was away I bought three presents, gave the boys’ theirs in person and sent R’s home with the boys and would get a ‘thank you’ text. Little steps that meant a lot.Then one evening I was at work and I sent her a text asking her about university places and she began to reply and we had a long text exchange lasting around an hour. I had to go, so I signed off and said ‘Hope to see you soon’ and she said ‘yes, I would like that’.
About a week later, the two boys were coming over to decorate the Christmas tree and I sent R a text saying ‘would you like to join us’. She replied immediately and said ‘yes, I wanted to come over but didn’t know how to ask’. So she agreed to come over to the flat on Saturday morning. (I think J agreed to meet her outside the flat, so they came up together – safety in numbers).
J walked in first, gave me the usual ‘hi dad’ and a hug – and my lovely daughter R was standing here on the doorstep, looking nervous and a bit uneasy. She had dyed her hair blue, had pierced her nose and lower lip and had massive ear-rings actually embedded into the full ear lobe. I could see she continues to struggle with her weight. But I just thought she looked lovely. I remembered at that moment what you had said – that the alienation between a parent and child will lift in an instant, as if it had never been there. I stepped forward and gave her a hug and she came in and sat down and we watched TV, I went to pick up the Christmas tree, we then all went shopping in Bromley, came home and had a nice meal and then R went home. Before she went home, though, just as she was watching TV, she just said in a very matter-of-fact sort of way, ‘Dad, would it be OK for me to stay here a couple of nights a week so I can walk up to college?’
Within a week she was staying two nights a week and now stays two or three nights a week. She is an amazing young woman, studying hard for her A levels, including in philosophy, and we have lots of thinking-type conversations. She is so caring, so lovely, she has really found herself and knows who she is and where she is going and I am very proud to call her my daughter. I lost about 14 months with her, time she needed to take, but time that has made her an amazing person, wise beyond her years.
We’ve not had any big ‘why did you stay away’ type conversations, no blame, no recriminations, no explanations really, it just was what it was and now that phase has ended and R is back in my life. We sometimes go to the pictures together (still not sure what the Hunger Games is all about), haven’t met the boyfriend yet, but just having her back in my life is the most amazing thing. She said to me this week, ‘Dad, I’ve got a study month at college in May, can I stay here five nights a week’. I rented this flat so she could have access to college, so it is here for her as she prepares for her all-important A levels this year.
I just wanted to thank you, Karen, because you give people real advice about real situations and you set a real expectation for what they can hope for, but you also fill people with hope, real hope, that eventually our children return to us. I have had barely a taste of what some people (mostly men) endure, often years of silence from their children, losing them as toddlers and only having them return as young adults, and that must be utterly heart-breaking. I have had just a tiny taste of that, and it was at times unbearable, but your advice to hope, to keep in touch as best you can, to be ready for when they return, was a real life-saver. So thank you for all that you do.