In some cases, the holidays can be a challenge for adult children of divorce who have had a wound in their relationship with one or more of their parents. When the holidays come around, it can make grown men and women feel like children again, fearful of conflict and hesitant to favor one parent over the other.
However, you take control of how you think about it and changing your perspective can affect the way you feel about the holidays. Probably the last people you want to open Christmas presents with are your stepmother and her daughters. Perhaps you felt your dad didn’t have your best interests at heart when he married your stepmother and brought stepsiblings into your life. But there is much to be said for forgiveness.
My research for my book Daughters of Divorce spanned over three years and was comprised of over 300 interviews of women who reflected on their parents’ divorce. The most common theme that emerged was a wound in the father-daughter relationship.
Keep in mind the following:
- Although your father may have made some mistakes in his divorce and subsequent remarriage, is it fair to act as if he should be “in debt” to you for the rest of his life? When you hold resentment in your heart about your family’s situation, it only harms you.
- As you sit around the Thanksgiving dinner table this year, make a choice not to be a victim of your past. Tell yourself that you are a strong, capable woman who chooses not to be defined by pain.
- Accept the limitations of your family, and don’t expect them to be something they are not. Remember you are creating your own story today. If you wish to have your own family, keep in mind that you can and will make different choices.
If the power of positive thinking doesn’t help change your attitude, remembering that you are not alone just might. If you feel sad or anxious, or just plain tired of expectations you feel from your family, it is important to keep things in perspective. Often people think they should feel a sense of warmth, togetherness, and gratitude on the holidays. And if their feelings fall short of that, there is a sense of letdown. By managing your expectations, keeping your situation in perspective, and choosing not to be victim, you can reclaim your power.
Here are 7 things you can do to heal your relationship with your dad over the holidays:
- Be patient and try to have realistic expectations of your father. Give up the dream of a perfect relationship with him. After all, it may take time to reconnect after being distant for some time. Accept that tension may exist between you and can be worked through in most cases. Listen to your father’s side of the story and try to keep an open mind.
- Let go of the “blame game” and don’t make accusations. Be honest with yourself about any wounds that might exist and take responsibility for your feelings. Keep in mind that any healthy relationship evolves and is a journey of self-discovery and mutual understanding.
- Express your needs clearly and calmly to your father. If you are requesting a change in your relationship, try to make one request at a time so your dad doesn’t feel overwhelmed. For instance, “Dad, I’d like to have breakfast alone with you on Christmas Eve if possible” is a reasonable and specific request. It may take several requests before you can come to an agreement. Writing in a journal may help you with this process.
- Create healthy boundaries. It’s not necessary to dredge up past hurt every time you see your father. Since you can’t change the past, you may be better off focusing on the present and future. On the other hand, you may need to ask questions (to clear things up) in order to continue to relate in a loving way with your dad.
- Practice forgiveness. Even if it’s too late to connect with your father, you can do your best to forgive him. This does not mean that you condone his hurtful actions. You are just not giving them the same power over you. Try to be understanding and accept that we all have flaws.
- Write a letter to your father. One creative way to let go and formalize your act of forgiveness is to write a statement that fits your situation. For example, “Dad, I release you from not being active in my life after your divorce. I don’t know why you weren’t there. I’m okay with not knowing.” This statement can be sent in a letter or kept private. It can be especially beneficial if you’ve had a painful relationship with your father and you didn’t have a chance to heal before he died or moved far away.
- Accept the fact that even if your relationship with your father doesn’t meet your expectations– or he is absent in your life – you can still let go of the past and write a new story for your life by developing other healthy relationships. It can be therapeutic to talk to a trusted friend or therapist about your disappointment.
Finally, be sure to explore your expectations about your relationship with your father. What do you think a relationship with your father should look like? Is it realistic for him to make up for what you lacked in the past? Accepting your dad for who he is will help both of you to reestablish a new bond, based on who you are today rather than on your idealized image of your father from the past.
In most cases, it’s not too late to connect with your father, even if you haven’t done so in some time. In fact, the holidays may be a good time to initiate contact with your dad even if your attempt means just sending him a card or text message.
I’ve discovered that with work and patience, relationships between fathers and daughters can and do improve. Examining your parents’ divorce from an adult perspective and practicing forgiveness will allow you to create a new story for your life.
Terry interviews Tanya about her tips for healing her wound in her relationship with her father here: Daughters of Divorce Interview Series Podcast: Episode 1 The Father-Daughter Relationship.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.