Son’s Absentee Father Causing Distress

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I’m a single mother and my son is 13 years old. His father and I broke up when my son was 4 years old. Since then my ex has come in and out of my sons life. He does not help me support him and he has a lot of issues. He makes my son broken promises and continues to disappoint him. I have always allowed him to be in contact with my son because i did not want to be the reason he did not talk to him. He goes months without calling him and then pops back into the picture. It hurts me to see what my sons goes through. Sometimes i take it out on my son and i know that i shouldn’t. A part of me wishes my son would stick up for himself and not allow this to happen but he does not. How should i go about handling this situation. My ex tells my son lots of excuses which pisses me off and then Im the one taking it out on my son with being angry or upset. Please help

A: You are doing fine until you get to the part where you take it out on your boy. You’re right. He doesn’t deserve it. He is mistreated enough by one parent. He doesn’t need to be mistreated by his mom as well. You know your problem isn’t with the boy. It’s with your ex.

The answer to your question is in two parts:
For you: Find a therapist to talk to about how to manage your anger so you don’t hurt your son. You certainly have plenty to be angry about. You need to learn how to focus it. You might even be able to engage your ex in couples work for the sake of your son. If he refuses to come, therapy will give you an important place to figure out the best way to manage the situation.

For your son: It’s fortunate that the extent of his dad’s mistreatment is broken promises. As painful as it is to watch, he has to deal with his own relationship with his father. Your son will figure out for himself that his father isn’t trustworthy. Don’t say anything negative about his dad. That puts him in a loyalty bind. Instead, offer him your support. That means listening to his distress without jumping in to try to fix it. It means comforting him by telling him he is a lovable kid and by reminding him that there are lots of other people who love him. It means not trying to solve the problem but instead letting him know you have confidence in his ability to make the right decisions for himself about how he wants to respond to his dad. At 13, you can’t protect him as you once could. He is on the brink of adolescence. He needs your vote of confidence.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

If you have raised your son with good values about how to treat people, you can count on those values coming through.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Nov 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Son’s Absentee Father Causing Distress. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/11/26/sons-absentee-father-causing-distress/

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