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The question

I am a divorced father of four teenagers ranging in age from 14 to 19; the separation happened five years ago. I believe many terrible and inappropriate things – if not outright lies – were said about me to my children by my ex and her family, but my children would never tell me that and I have never asked. Over the past few years I’ve watched my kids deal with this new normal and noticed my oldest pull away from me more and more. She is now in college and makes virtually no effort to contact me, reply to my texts, answer my phone calls or visit. She and I were close prior to my divorce and it breaks my heart. My other children seem to also be distancing themselves. What can I do?

The answer

Some of the questions I get are tougher than others and this is definitely one of the tough ones. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate being estranged from one’s offspring. (I received a question once from a man diagnosed with a terminal illness trying to get closure from his estranged son, who wouldn’t return his calls or e-mails. It was awful.)

Being a parent is never easy. It’s such a mountain of labour to get children on their feet. All those years of feeding them and clothing them and attempting to drop wisdom on their little noggins, trying to make sure there’s a roof intervening between their heads and the rain and snow – and all, as it must seem to you at the moment, for naught?

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But it’s not just about the work. It would kill me to become estranged from any of my three boys for any reason. I would miss each one of them like a limb.

I already miss the little kids they once were. One’s moved out: Where did the time go? But it’s also been my great pleasure and joy and a blessing to watch them grow into young adults – a pleasure and a joy I wholeheartedly wish for you.

How to get there? Keep trying. Maybe it’s a phase. I don’t think I’m the first person to observe that the parenting of teens can be a fraught.

I also know many people who, having gone through a stage of adolescent rebellion, did not even begin to come around to reappreciating their parents until they were well into their 30s. I hope and pray you won’t have to wait that long. Maybe – and I hate being the guy saying this – you’ll have to wait even longer.

Either way, what else is there to do but be patient? I don’t want to make everything about COVID-19, but I will say that among the many things I believe this pernicious pandemic has taught us is the virtue of patience.

Everything is more difficult these days. Therefore patience has become even more critical – certainly, it strikes me as being crucial to your dilemma.

As to the question of whether your ex and her family are poisoning your kids against you, I would stay away from that altogether. It might seem like unconventional advice, but really what, in practical terms, would be accomplished by addressing that issue, if it indeed exists? “What’s the upside, what’s the downside?” as my wife is wont to say.

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It’s better, far better, to take the high road. Be kind and solicitous toward your kids, and as pleasant as you can possibly muster with your ex and her family. My fervent hope and prayer for you is that it will eventually come around.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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