Divorced Dad Syndrome

Divorce is traumatic. It doesn’t matter who made the decision or whether it was done in a friendly manner. Divorce is listed second on the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale which lists life events on grounds of the stress value on a scale of 1 – 100. Listed number one is the death of a spouse or child (100) followed by divorce (73) and separation on 65. Change in financial status (38), change in life style (25) and moving (20). It is then clear that a divorced dad already has a stress value of 221 when he leaves the family home.

There are various losses involved with divorce for all concerned.  Be it calculated or miscalculated.  In most cases the children will stay with the mother and therefore the divorced dad usually experiences intense feelings of loss, guilt and even depression. They have to make major adjustments of which one is that they are not involved in their children’s daily lives. It is also traumatic to separate themselves emotionally from their spouse but at the same time continue in their parental role.

Divorced dads often feel powerless and exposed towards their ex-spouse in terms of visiting rights and access to their children. This process is however unique to each person and also depends on the ages of the children.

Because of his feelings of guilt the divorced dad struggles to bring normality and routine into his relationship with his children. Usually there is over compensation because of the negative emotional impact of the divorce on the children. The dad can then sometimes, consciously or subconsciously, try to become the favourite parent by complying with his children’s wishes and demands.  Inevitably he becomes the toy shop, bank and door mat. These dads usually throw all discipline overboard, healthy borders are not maintained, house rules aren’t implemented and the children are flooded with material effects.

Even worst, in most cases the dad will abdicate his shared responsibility in the children’s education. He doesn’t have to be involved in their homework, studying for tests or even searching for lost property at school. He becomes a Spur-dad once a week and every second weekend the fun-dad. He can then give undivided and quality attention to the children whereas the mother has to lay down the rules and routines back at home.

However, this Divorced Dad Syndrome can have toxic consequences for the children, their relationship with their mother and any future relationship their dad might have with someone else. Once a new woman appears in their dad’s live, the dynamics will change and the need for new rules and boundaries will arise.

Divorce doesn’t have to have a permanent negative impact. The dad’s handling of the divorce will have a determining effect on healthy relationships in the future. You can’t always choose what happens to you but you can choose how you will handle it.

A few guidelines for divorced dads:

  • It is so much easier for the children and adults involved if the parents respect each other and still have a team approach when it comes to the total upbringing of the children.
  • Don’t use the children as pawns to get what you want.
  • Don’t ever use the children to manipulate your ex or get back at her.
  • Don’t use the children to communicate with your ex.
  • Try to have a comfortable relationship with your ex. Talk about challenges or problems regarding the children.
  • Communicate rules and boundaries. What applies to the one home should apply to the other. Otherwise the children might become confused.
  • Watch that you don’t flood the children with gifts.
  • Listen to them and ask about their feelings. 
  • Do fun things together but also see that their homework is done when they go home on a Sunday.
  • Help with discipline should your ex ask you to. It becomes difficult for the mother with sons when they reach their teenage years.
  • As a father you should be a role model on how to handle and respect a woman. Talk to your sons about it.
  • Sexual education is also a shared responsibility.
  • Be involved in your children’s lives, in other words, know what’s going on.
  • Support them but reserve your authority and role as father figure.
  • Your children don’t always have to like you.  In fact, there’s something wrong if they always do. They should know that you love them unconditionally but you are not their buddy, you are their father. This gives children security.

The negative impact of divorce on children can be minimized if both parents always act in the best interest of their children. This will cause a win-win situation for all involved.

The Author: Elmari Mulder Craig is a Sexologist, Relationship Expert and Psychotherapist. She’s been in private practice for more than 15 years and specializes in individual psychotherapy and relationship therapy. She can be reached at elmaricraig@gmail.com or her website www.elmaricraig.co.za

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