Dear Abandoned Daughter

Katie Durkin

I read a letter posted online from a distraught mom writing to her daughter after a bad divorce. Her husband had recently left them and her letter was an attempt to explain that daddy didn’t leave because of her. Mom fought the urge to get angry, and instead reassured her daughter that she loved her enough for both of them.

I don’t have a daughter, which is fine, because I have no idea how to braid hair or speak softly.

But, based on evidence I see around me, including but not limited to the interest in reality television shows, I do think some moms dealing with this issue sometimes fail to truly help their little girls get past it.

Not all divorced dads are horrible. Sometimes, they and former wives live happier lives separately. An amicable split, with daddy still involved in every aspect of his child’s upbringing, is preferable to a toxic home life.

Rather, I’m talking about dads like mine, dudes who decided halfway through the parenting gig that they’d rather be smoking crack in Georgia than hanging with the family, explaining puberty and paying for braces. So they take off and periodically send emails and belated birthday cards.

When that happens, by all means talk about it with your daughter. Tell her that:

Yes, you love her, and always will, but more important than that, you believe in her.

And you trust her.

She doesn’t have to be defined by this, but if she’s smart, she will be.

Because she can learn from this and grow stronger.

She will make mistakes. And that’s fine, as long as they’re not captured on video.

She now knows exactly what kind of man she does NOT want for a partner and what kind of dad she does NOT want for her kids.

Many abandoned daughters pick men just like their dads, so discuss patterns, red flags, alcoholism, addiction, whatever applies, and perhaps both of you can now make a concerted effort to avoid bad choices.

She will arm herself with awareness, character, and a discerning wit.

She will never be allowed to use this as an excuse.

She will bring honor to those who know her and prove that women in her family just keep getting better.

She is now wiser than most women twice her age. This knowledge isn’t free, but it is priceless.

She will never allow a man, or anyone else, to determine her self-worth, because what she thinks of herself is most important.

She has the ability and good sense to fight the cliché.

It’s fun to prove everyone wrong.

Someone, somewhere has been through worse and made it back to teach the rest of us. She can do the same.

Disappointment doesn’t have to destroy.

Now she totally gets Barbra Streisand songs.

There is an entire support system available – for both of you.

Creating art, writing a book, telling funny stories, poetry, song, or dance are all valid ways to respond to heartbreak.

She will watch you respond that way, and see that it’s better than unprotected sex and blackouts.

You’re both going to start exercising together and eating right.*

During high school and college parties, every once in a while she should go alcohol-free and play drinking games with Sprite. Just to prove she can.

His bad choices have nothing to do with anyone but him. He has his own issues to work out, so let’s stop right now the idea that the world revolves around her.

She has a good head on her shoulders. She should use it.

Victims aren’t impressive. Survivors are.

Eventually she’ll forgive her father and be thankful for what he’s given her: wisdom.

Because she’d be way less interesting if she was like everyone else.

These words will help her. I know, because this is what my mom told me.

Yes, even the Barbra Streisand part.

* My mom probably said something more like, “Let’s go to church” but I choose to remember it this way.

Katie Durkin is a mother of twins, a syndicated columnist, a blogger, a political organizer, and a runner. She's also exhausted.