Teen Daughters Won't Visit After Remarriage

Filed under: Opinions

Dear AdviceMama,

My husband and I (second marriage for both) have two teenage children that live with us, and we each have a daughter that lives with their other parent. The teenaged girls that don't live with us have not visited or communicated much since our marriage several months ago. The parents they live with discourage contact with us. Our lawyer has advised us to just keep the faith and when the girls want to, they will visit. It has been heartbreaking, as we were both very close to our girls and we miss them so much. I feel that we have no rights at all to see them. Is it right to just wait? We know it is much better for kids to have both parents. What should we do?

Missing Our Girls

Dear Missing,

Typically a court will dictate that noncustodial parents have reasonable access to their children since it is usually in the child's best interest, but it sounds like neither of you have any provision in your custody arrangement for this, so I will answer your question with the understanding that the decision to visit you is entirely up to your daughters.

I'm so glad that you're listening to your instincts about whether to just wait for your daughters to initiate contact with you. Many parents feel hurt when their kids pull away and end up sadly allowing the sting from a child's rejection to create a wider gap between visits (and hearts). But I can't count the number of teenagers I've had in my office who were estranged from a noncustodial parent, and yet secretly longed to feel close again.

As difficult as it might be to reconnect when your girls have distanced themselves, I encourage you to do more than just wait for them to make the next move. Since your daughters pulled away around the time of your wedding, I'm guessing they're unhappy about your remarriage. Have you given them a chance to express themselves in a way that lets them feel heard and understood? Have they had a chance to safely and openly cry about this new loss in their lives, without you explaining all the reasons the remarriage is a good thing?

You and your husband may have found happiness, but many children suffer a deep sense of grief when a parent remarries. The new union marks the official end of any hope that children might have had that their parents would reconcile, and some kids "punish" their parents by pulling away emotionally and physically. Call your daughters (or send a special card in the mail) and tell them you'd love to take them to dinner. (Do this one-on-one rather than both you and your husband together with each girl.) Ask them to tell you what's hurting, and LISTEN without interrupting or trying to explain away their upset. Keep reaching for your daughters, gently but lovingly. When they sense that it's safe to tell you about their hurts, your persistence should pay off. Good luck!

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.