7 Ways to Cope With a Difficult Dad

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I am blessed. I loved my dad and love my husband who is the best dad. So Happy Father’s Day to all the dads!

But I realize that on this day when we honor dads, not evIeryone feels the same. There are dads who abuse, neglect and hurt their children. Other dads are mentally ill and struggle with addictions. So how do you handle this day of honoring dads when your dad is challenging? The normal feelings of guilt, anger and even fear can be overwhelming if not managed.

Here are 7 ways to cope with a difficult dad:

Set boundaries: If abuse was involved and you want a relationship with your dad, the abuse must stop. In order to do this, you will need to establish emotional and maybe physical boundaries. If he begins the abuse, leave the room, hang up the phone and tell him to stop. You are no longer a child and can take charge of the situation. Healthy boundaries are needed on your part to feel safe. For example, if he starts to berate you, tell him to stop or you will leave. If he refuses, tell him you will not do this anymore. When he is calm and can stop the behavior, you will be happy to talk with him again.

Check your feelings. Are you hanging on to hate, bitterness or other destructive feelings. Even though those feelings may be justified, they are hurting you not him. You can choose to forgive him even if your emotions are not telling you to forgive. Forgiveness is not excusing him. Rather it’s giving up your right to offense. Holding on to offense will only make you feel worse. So as a gift to yourself, stop the power of hate and choose to forgive. We are not to repay evil with evil or insults with insults. We have to be better. Often, it is only through the Holy Spirit in us that makes this type of forgiveness possible.

Be realistic. What can you legitimately expect from your dad if he refuses to see how much he has hurt you? Grieving is involved when you realize he is not or may never be the dad you wanted. If the reality is that he is addicted or not safe to be with, then a phone call or card may be all you can do. No one says you have to have a Hallmark moment or holiday with him. Lower your expectations and decide what is realistic to expect.

Ask your Heavenly Father for help. While the emotional pain of having a difficult dad is real, we do have a Heavenly Father who promises to treat us in ways that honor and respect us. You have been adopted into his family and we call him, Abba Father-one who lavishes his love on us. Sometimes, just being in the presence of God our Father, meditating on Him, worshipping Him can bring healing to our soul. He knows what you need. Cry out to Him. Allow Him to pour out His love on you.

Extend mercy: While mercy seems to be lost in current culture, it is a biblical reality. God has mercy on us when we misbehave and asked that we extend that same mercy to others. Put aside your bitterness and extend mercy.

Find one or two positive things. No one is all good or all bad. Are there characteristics of your father that are positive? When you have been hurt, the positives are hard to think about. But try. Focus on one or two positive things and honor him for those. If you struggle to buy a card this Father’s Day, find one that is blank and write the one or two things that are positive on the card.

Pray for him. It helps to think about our parents in terms of their history. What was their life like before they fathered you? Was he the recipient of abuse or trauma? Did he deal with loss and disappointment? If you can expand your view of your dad, it gives you more context for his behavior. You are not trying to justify what he did, just understand it better.Then, it is easier to pray for him. Even so, prayer is powerful and God can bring people in his life to help bring change. Pray for him to get help.

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