Smriti Sawhney Joshi is one of the first certified telemental health providers in India. She’s a clinical psychologist with 15+ years of experience in the field of mental health in diverse settings ranging from NGOs to schools to hospitals and attending to corporate clients. She answers a reader’s question here.
My parents got divorced when I was eight. I live my mother, who remarried some years ago. I am now 22. My mom and her partner are happy together, and I have a good relationship with both. However, there are many days when I feel a lack of a real father in my life. My biological father was alcoholic and violent with me and my mother, and so she has never let me stay in touch with him. But I keep feeling that he was misguided and someone needs to help him get out of his spiritual abyss. My mother says it’s a bad idea since he hasn’t changed, and that I will only feel worse about my broken childhood. But I fear that I’ll have issues with my own relationships unless I resolve my past. What do you think?
Dear reader, seeking help takes courage and I appreciate your strength in writing about your concerns and seeking help. The feelings you have for your biological father are absolutely natural. Even though he was violent and cruel with you and your mother, yet the hope for a happy family and your father transforming into a gentler and sober man stays alive. There seems to be a lack of closure in your mind for the relationship that ended between your father and you because of the divorce.
Divorce brings in a massive change into the life of a young child no matter what the age.
Experiencing the bitterness, being a witness to the loss of the bond between parents, having parents disrespect each other, adjusting to living without one of the parents or living with a new parent (as in your case) all create a challenging new family circumstance. In the personal history of the boy or girl, parental divorce is a turning point in their life.
I am sure your mother may have tried very hard to give you a normal happy childhood yet convincing a vulnerable young mind of the permanence of divorce can be an overwhelming task for the child. Some parents who get divorced do make efforts to provide for a joint presence at least for special family occasions like birthdays to help the child adjust emotionally.
But it may have been different and difficult in your case since the divorce happened following cruelty and violence. You may be experiencing guilt of recreating a decent relationship with your stepdad and enjoying the closeness with your mom and also seeing your mom happy with her new partner, and feeling that your biological father may be alone and suffering or missing out on this “family closeness”.
Alcoholism can have a multipronged impact on a family. It damages psychological balance and physical functioning of a person, affects behavior and mental abilities, leads to financial losses, mood disorders and partner or child abuse too.
Alcoholism or ineffective alcohol dependence treatment of any of the spouses may become a serious reason for permanent misunderstandings often leading to a separation.
Your mother divorced your biological father when you were eight, and by then she may have given him chances to improve or offered help with seeking professional help for alcoholism too. It’s often difficult for an alcoholic to quit completely unless the motivation comes from within.
The unpredictability of an alcoholic turning to alcohol again is high and maybe your mother did not wish for you to witness more violence and trauma of seeing your father act cruel and indulge in unhealthy behaviors. That’s one reason she may not want you to revisit and reconnect for the fear of your getting hurt again.
I totally understand this longing for you to resolve what’s left unresolved within you, things you want to tell your biological father and all the help and support you wish to give him hoping for his recovery. As an adult you may choose to meet him and speak with him sharing what you feel yet with an acceptance that he may not have changed and without any expectations from your end.
If left unresolved it may have an impact on your relationships and you are right about this. You may choose to work with a professional therapist to resolve your feelings of guilt as well as for any traumatic memories you may have of your childhood.
You do seem like a very sensitive and thoughtful person and I am sure you will be able to work through these concerns with a professional.
If you have a question for Smriti Joshi, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This piece was first published in the April 2018 issue of eShe magazine. Lead image: Marina Khrapova on Unsplash