Life & Culture

The community forgets divorced fathers suffer too


Q When I separated after a long marriage, everyone told me how hard it would be as a divorced Jewish dad, but I didn’t believe them. I should have known better! I’ve lost touch with people I’ve been friends with for 20 years. I rarely get invited out for Shabbat meals as it’s always the women who arrange the diaries. Everyone seems to think that children are their mother’s responsibility and only live with her (they don’t — I am a very involved dad). Jewish community social activities seem to focus on couples and families, so I have felt very excluded from communal life, too. All this leads me to withdraw into myself which only increases my isolation. How can I break this cycle?

Feeling isolated following a divorce is a common problem, particularly for men, who tend not to have established social-support networks. With studies showing that loneliness is as bad for our health as obesity is, it is very positive that you want to tackle this now. Don’t be afraid to tell people how you feel. You have nothing to be ashamed of and you’ll probably find many others who feel the same.

As far as losing touch with friends is concerned, this almost certainly isn’t a deliberate snub (unless yours was a very messy divorce, in which friends took sides). People are generally so busy that they forget to call or make arrangements, and before you know it months or years have gone by.

Reading your letter, it seems that you are passively expecting other people to invite you out or to get in touch. If you want things to change now, you need to take the initiative. Why should it always be ‘‘the women who arrange the diaries’’? Break the mould and become your own social secretary. Get back in touch with some of your old friends. I guarantee they’ll be pleased to hear from you.

Invite people round for a dinner party or Shabbat meal. Ask if anyone fancies coming to the theatre or cinema. Are there other divorced fathers in your community? Could you perhaps organise a Friday-night meal for them and all your children, perhaps with the help of your synagogue? You could even start your own support network.
Jewish Care’s Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre runs ‘‘Singular Challenge’’, a weekly support group that gives members the skills and confidence to move on after the separation and divorce.

For information contact or call 0208922 2412.

Q I have two teenage daughters. One (13) is so bright that she breezes through exams with barely any effort and is always top of her class. Her sister, 16, has no interest in school or education and talks down to her younger sister, calling her a bookworm and saying she doesn’t live in the real world where exams count for nothing. My worry is that her constant sniping will damage her younger sister. We have tried to stop this but with no success. What should we do?

A Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to be your elder daughter. You’re 16 and trying to make your way in life, but always in the shadow of your younger sister, who is super bright and effortlessly high-achieving. How do you feel?

The answer, I’m fairly certain, is jealous and resentful. And how do jealous siblings react? They lash out, or bully. Your daughter denigrates education and exam success because they makes her feel like she’s second best, a failure.
Putting her younger sister down makes her feel better about herself. And the more you tell her off and worry she’ll ‘‘damage’’ her sister, the more insecure and worthless she feels.

The solution is not to criticise but to help build her self-esteem. I assume you love both equally, but it might not appear that way to your elder daughter. Whether consciously or not, it seems like you are favouring your younger child — the one who apparently has the same values as you.

Is your 16-year-old bright, too? This isn’t always measured by academic achievement. She might be perfectly able but feel there is no point working hard because she’ll never measure up to her sister.

Or perhaps she isn’t academic and will find another path, which might not be the one you’d choose for her, but one she can be happy in.

What are her interests? Is she sporty? Creative? Good with children? Is she funny or kind? You need to encourage her talents and give her confidence in her own, unique abilities. Not everyone can go to Oxbridge or become a lawyer or a doctor, but she could become extremely successful as, to take one example out of many, a make-up artist.
Show her how much you value and love her. Praise your daughters equally.

Email Hilary with your questions at or write to her at The Jewish Chronicle, 28 St. Albans Lane, London, NW11 7QE We are afraid that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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