A Dad Seeks Help

9 03 2011

Reading through this blog has given me a lot to think about. I have a 4 year old daughter and am a single father. I have been dating someone for about a year and a half. I would like to give the father’s perspective on these situations. Its not easy for anyone when there is a broken home. I care and love my daughter till the end of the world. I want to make the correct decisions for her to live a happy life. Having a child with someone other than your significant other will put a strain on your relationship… My girlfriend has brought up some of the issues discussed her. How when she see’s my daughter it is just a constant reminder of my past relationship.. She has trouble being around my daughter and understanding what role she has.. So I came here to look for help. It has now come to a point where things may have to end. I have to keep my daughter’s best interest at heart, even if it means sacrificing what I love. I am not sure what to do and hope someone can help us.

I want my girlfriend to have a relationship with my daughter and know its OK that she has a voice. And we can discuss things together(privately) regarding parenting. Her word is a part of our relationship. However it does not mean I will always agree. I know my opinion may be biased but I believe my daughter is well disciplined and my girlfriend agrees with me. Although at times she does think that she needs more discipline at times, and I can see her point. But I have always disciplined her and she is well behaved.. she does have her moments.. as only toddler would. I take these things into consideration. I want our relationship to work.. I love her and need some advice. I really understand that she feels left out or an outsider when my daughter is around. I do my best to help her not feel that way. I do not allow my daughter to disrespect my girlfriend. This may all seemed jumbled together but I cant seem to find a solution here. I am not the type to throw in the towel and not really really try to work things out. But I feel selfish in doing so.. It pains me to think that my daughter will feel like an outsider when I have her every other week (50/50 custody). In a perfect world.. I want this to be our family. Different from the normal definition.. but this world is not perfect and I don’t want to give in. Its funny because even though I am leaving my name anonymous on this blog I still fear to be judged. I feel like my girlfriend doesn’t want to try to become a family with us. I feel like she just wants a relationship with me and to keep a relationship with my daughter almost non-existent. As if my daughter is a roommate. I know in my heart that cannot happen, I cannot allow for it to play out that way. I feel torn.. My only advice to myself is to seek help.. Couple counseling.. Maybe my woes seem selfish and I dont want to become like my father. I want my daughter to know that my home is our home.. and that she is always welcome. I put my daughter before myself and maybe its unrealistic to feel that my girlfriend should do the same. As many of you said its a balance. I need help finding my balance here. I always thought that the step mother or bonus parent should have a close relationship with the child or children. After reading this maybe I am wrong.. I don’t know I am rambling and it takes a lot for me to ask for help. Please be kind but more important please be honest.

WOW! Thanks to this Dad for being brave enough to post this comment on my blog. And another big thank you for showing the other side of the conversation so eloquently. Part of the work I do with stepmothers is to help women open up to all the other perspectives in the family. What is it like for Dad to be in this relationship with me? What is it like for the kids to be going back and forth between homes in which people who are relative strangers live? Sharing with each other how to feels to be in the stepfamily way is a normal and critical part of stepfamily development.

Research tells us that the most successful stepfamilies are those who not only share with each other their feelings but empathize with each other, too. This is challenging, there is no doubt about it. The feelings your girlfriend is having are all normal. I hope that she is out there looking for help, too. If she can understand that finding her role and learning to feel comfortable with your daughter are all normal parts of the adjustment to becoming a stepmother, it can make it easier to deal with them and move on.

You ask me to be honest: OF COURSE you feel like you want to protect your little girl. You’re a father. It’s your biological imperative to feel this way. And bravo to you for being committed to the health and well-being of your child. If only all fathers felt as you do.

It is a hard adjustment for a single women with no children of her own to go from zero to sixty with kids. My biggest advice is for both of you to read up on what stepfamily life is like so you know that the feelings you’re both having are NORMAL. They are part of the development of new stepfamily structures.

Will your relationship work out? It depends on how well the two of you can communicate. It depends on how well you can work through conflict. It depends on how committed you are to becoming partners. It’s natural for you to feel protective of your daughter. And it’s also crucial that you allow your girlfriend to feel a sense of partnership with you.

I could go on and on but I’ve written many things that can help you and your girlfriend. For more free information you can browse the free articles on this site or listen to my Stepmom Circles Podcast. My book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom has tons of information that’s suitable for all stepmothers or check out coaching with me if you want more in-depth and personalized help. Good luck!


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9 responses

10 03 2011
Cheri

I agree with Jackie. Good for you for reaching out for help. That shows that both your girlfriend and your daughter are very important to you. There are great resources out there for Stepparents that I wish I had known about before I became a Stepmom. Jackie’s book which is listed above is a very good, positive book. Jackie’s emails/blog have really helped me out also. I have 2 Stepdaughters – 19 and 15. They were 11 and 7 when I came in to their lives. I have no biological children. About two years after I married my husband we started counseling. Some of our sessions were together and some were separate. Counseling has been a wonderful thing for us. From the help we have received we have realized that our feelings are normal. It’s helped my husband be a better father and husband. It’s help me understand the kids and how they are feeling along with my husband’s feeling of being caught in the middle. Not to mention working through the baggage from our past relationships. Now my husband and I are doing great and we are very committed to this relationship. I am close to 1 daughter and not as close to the other daughter. I think my husband and I came in to this relationship hoping for the happy little family. It didn’t turn out that way but that doesn’t mean we aren’t happy. It’s just different than what we had pictured but that’s ok. Any relationship is hard work. Add kids to the equation and it’s harder yet. For us the hard work has been worth it. If you are with the right person you will probably feel that way too.

10 03 2011
Angelique

I don’t typically ever comment on these blogs but I had to say BRAVO! You are two steps ahead of the game because you are actually seeking clarity and a solution. I have been with my boyfriend for 4 years the kids were 5 and 8 when I entered the picture and we have had a VERY tough road. I have heard him tell me at times that he didn’t feel I really wanted a relationship with the children and he couldn’t be any further from the truth. It took me a few years to find my place in our family and I so often felt like an outsider in their little “pact” I felt uncomfortable like the kids didn’t want me around so I would avoid them at times or try too hard at other times. This blog has helped tremendously and I am much more comfortable in my role now. Hopefully you can encourage her to get involved with others in her situation so that she is able to express her feelings and understand her feelings are “normal” and this situation is “normal” or as “normal” as it can be….. I have also struggled with looking at the kids and being reminded of his relationship with the ex which brings up negative feelings, Oprah said recently that “forgiveness was letting go of the hope that the past could of been different” that has really helped me move past that and be able to accept everything for what it is.

Best of luck to you!

10 03 2011
La Madrastra

Let be me among those who give big kudos to this father! Balancing your relationship and your children is a bear, I know. It sounds like both you and your girlfriend want to move in the same direction, and that’s wonderful.

12 03 2011
Molly Michaels

Hi, I went from being single with no kids to a custodial step mom of two kids. If your girlfriend is willing, I suggest she spend some alone time with your daughter so they can establish a relationship outside of you. I took my SD’s jealousy personal in the beginning. Once we began spending time together, I realize she liked (now loves) me, and her jealousy was not about me. It was more about her relationship with her father. Once I stopped taking it personally, I was able to help her with her jealousy by empathizing with her and then offering her a new perspective (and repeat). I now love these kids as if they were my own, and it’s only been 2 years.

I suggest you read the book ‘how to talk so kids will listen, and how to listen so kids will talk’. It will help you and your girlfriend communicate with your daugther, and each other.

22 03 2011
Jessica

Now my jealousy kicks in. I have wanted SO desperately bad to be able to do this with my boyfriend’s children but anytime I go anywhere with them their mother grounds them for agreeing to go with me, which obviously makes them not want to go. I have tried to do everything I can and I just can’t gain any ground. She is a mean and hateful woman and she has turned her children (who once claimed to really like me) completely against me. I am to the point of wanting to hide in my bedroom when they are here or schedule my work shifts when they are here, just so I don’t have to be confronted with it. Ok…Totally just realized I rambled…I am SO sorry. I am happy that you and your step children have such a great relationship…I can only wish mine gets there some day.❤

23 03 2011
Minnie

Hello Dad Seeking Help,

Hats off to you for seeking the help of the supporting people who write on this website. I’ve found people’s stories to be amazingly helpful and comforting as we all try to muddle through the challening journey of step families.

I can sympathize/empathize with you and your girlfriend. I can feel the pain in your writing, and I can assure you that there are many other people out there who identify with this and feel the same way. You’re a good man to seek help. It’s obvious you love everyone in your circle greatly, including your g-friend. It’s wise to invest in your future by seeking help now.

My story is different than your’s in that the ‘children’ in my case are adults. They are his kids. But, there are similarities in our stories. One similarity is that your girlfriend, like me, is a GIRLFRIEND. I don’t know if this label ever makes her feel uneasy, or insecure in the relationship, or if it keeps her from completely wanting to give 100% of herself to the entire situation, or if it could possibly add to any apprehension or jealousy on her part. No matter what anyone says, the fact remains that in the eye of the law and our society, she’s not a wife. And in your words, you were talking about her putting your daughter ahead of herself, for example.

For me, this girlfriend label is something that I think about. Even though I’ve been with my boyfriend for many years, even though we live together and call eachother “partner”, even though the families see us as being together forever, even though I love him deeply and want to be with always and he is the same way with me, I sometimes find myself stepping back when things really get rough with his family and I say to myself “wait a second here! I’m not even this man’s wife!” I can invest 100% of my heart, soul, time, finances and life into merging into his complicated family situation (2 ex wives and a grown daughter from each), but at the end of the day I have no protection, no say legally. I know this may sound very morbid, so please forgive me, but if he died today, his ex and kids would get everything, down to the planning of his funeral. I know that no one likes to think of these things, but it’s reality.
Sometimes, as the g-friend, I just feel like I need to keep my perspective, and that is perhaps what she is trying to do to.
Of course I’ve told my Boyfriend my feelings about all this, and he always agrees with me, and he says he wants me to be worry free, but when it gets down to him actually taking ACTION to change the alimony situation, nothing happens. The payments to the ex keep flying out the window year after year so she can be comfortable and career-free, while we are working professionals, balancing demanding corporate jobs, and budgeting tighly at the same time.

When I bring these issues up, it’s not about LOVE to me. I love this man to the ends of the earth. God knows I would NEVER have put up with all his baggage if I didn’t love him. Perhaps this is more about fear and the fear of investing absolutely EVERYTHING, while the label is still “girlfriend”.

Perhaps she is feeling some of this. There are other things that go into relationships in which the girlfriend is long term (and amplify it by 1000 if the g-friend comes to the table with no kids of her own). The g-friend is the one who helps the man through his divorce, through his financial ruin. The g-friend is the one who builds him up in the years after his divorce and helps him get his self esteem back. The g-friend is the one who changes her life competely to fit into his, and she is expected to be loving and kind and “easygoing” through all the transitions. The g-friend quickly learns that their plans as a couple revolve completely around his home that won’t sell, his kids, his ex, his alimony, his child support payments, his his his. It’s a lot for a g-friend to swallow, and in many cases we do so willingly because we love the man SO much.

The other thing that goes into it is that we g-friends seek approval by the families to a large degree. At least I do. Of course we want the kids to love us, as well as the extended family. Of course we want everyone to look at us and say “we love her! Thank God he met her!” Of course we want holidays to be happy and for everyone to just get along. Life is easier when you’re loved. BUT, things don’t always work this way. Exes tarnish your reputation. Exes turn kids against you. People inevitably look at you and say “how long is this one going to last?”
Things happen and OUR dream (the same dream as your’s- the ‘new family dream’) can be crushed.

So, what is my ultimate advice here? Be loving and kind and compassionate toward your g-friend. Above all else, REASSURE her that you are in it with her for the long haul, if you really are. SHOW her ways that prove your long term commitment to her and your relationship. Talking and communication is important, but PLEASE don’t tell her you’ll do things and then not do them. That creates more anxiety than never committing to something in the first place. Just knowing, feeling, and seeing proof that someone (you) are committed to your g-friend may help. I’m not saying to run out and marry her if you’re not in a good place to do so yet, I’m just saying to have compassion for her as she goes through all these transitions with you.
She might not have things her way all the time, but she’ll be more able to live through the ups and downs if she knows of your commitment to her.

24 03 2011
Ros

Hello Brave Father,

Firstly I agree with Minnie that starting to call her your “Partner” my help her feel more soldified in the relationship. Her role is very ambiguous at this stage and she probably feels very insecure and unsure of how to handle the situation. Even the most confident of women can turn to jelly if they see their partner, who they adore, having a super-close and loving relationship with their biological child, who in essence detracts from her couple-time with you. That might sound selfish from your perspective, but she got into this relationship for you alone, and spending time with you is her priority. Stepkids force us to share our partners, which leads to jealousy and resentment. This needs to be handled delicately but honestly.

Secondly it is vital that if you want this relationship to last, you have to, on occasions, put your relationship with her first, as it will be the foundation of your household if things move forward. Yes your daughter will need priority at times, but she also needs to be exposed to a happy and healthy relationship, where each partner’s feelings are as important as the others’, to give your daughter a model for the future. It will also show her that you are a team, which will minimize the risk that she will try and play you off against each other when she gets older. I have found it also helps the kids understand why mummy and daddy aren’t together any more if you demonstrate that you and your partner have common interests that you didn’t share with your ex. There should even be some that the two of you don’t share with your daughter. Your partner needs some things to be kept private, for example my stepkids aren’t allowed in our room unless we are both awake. The kids sometimes wander up and down the hall, in between playing or having breakfast, to see if we are awake, so we pretend to be asleep until we are ready to get up. We both get some time together in the morning, the kids know that not everything revolves around them, and I don’t end the day tired and cranky at them for waking me up! It is very difficult to have an adult relationship if the stepchildren are involved in every moment of your time together.

Like you partner, I am also a childless unmarried stepmum, and I can tell you from experience it can be very difficult bonding with stepkids. Even though I have spent many years as a trusted pseudo-godmother to 3 kids who adore me and who I adore, babysitting and supporting their mum through 2 breakups, have personally experienced as a child the impact of a difficult and tumultuous stepfamily situation and have never had any problems bonding with kids, even ones I didn’t really know… nothing can EVER prepare you for the feelings that arise when faced with being a co-parent. Jealousy, resentment, anger, impatience, awkwardness, these are all normal and more common than you would think. Add to that the “wicked stepmother” myth that plagues society and you have a recipe for extreme anxiety. I went into this thinking that as long as I don’t become a wicked mean disciplinarian that the kids would hate, I’d be fine and we’d all live happily ever after. I was a nice, fun person! I’ve spent heaps of time with kids! I know what I’m getting into… right? Wrong! My stepkids are only here every 2nd weekend and one evening a week, and after almost 3 years I STILL have a hard time with it.

I would highly advise you tone down your expectations regarding the cosy little family. It is too much to expect that your partner will ever love your daughter the way you do. She can’t, because she’s not her mother! If you remove the expectation that she will be or should be a maternal figure, and tell her that as well, it removes some of the pressure and your partner should feel much more at ease. Yes she may very well one day tell you that she loves your daughter as if she were her own, but if that happens you are all very lucky and do not expect that it WILL happen.

Practicalities also need to be discussed. Who is responsible for what? eg. making her food, discipline techniques, helping her with tasks or homework, making sure she brushes her teeth and goes to bed on time. Ultimately, these things are your responsibility, you are her dad, but there will be times, even if you don’t live together, that your partner will at some point be put in the position to make decisions about stuff like that. She needs to know what you expect from her and you need to know what she is comfortable doing. The first time my stepdaughter acted out in front of me, dad was out of the room. She tested me and she found out where the line was… right where her dad left it. She has battled with me a few times since then and I have remained consistent with her dad’s approach, so she doesn’t do it anymore.

Nowadays I regard myself as dad’s support crew/cool aunty/fun teacher. The kids have accepted me as family and love doing things with me, but this doesn’t mean I feel the same way. I call myself a stepmum because it’s the easiest way to explain it but most of the time the term makes me uncomfortable. I don’t feel any real maternal feelings towards them and my partner doesn’t expect me to.

My partner has been very diplomatic about my feelings towards the kids. I sometimes question the way he parents them and how they behave but thankfully now he doesn’t take offense. In the beginning he took it as a black mark against him, like by criticizing them was criticizing him as well. He is now able to step back and see my point of view, which has made everything easier and he says made him a better parent. Also we are totally in love still, after 3.5 years together, and we know we are meant for each other. If you both feel the same way about your relationship, then you will be ok and will have the strength to get through the rough times.

I highly recommend that you read a new book called “Stepmonster” by Wednesday Martin which explains in real terms how to untangle some of the emotions you and your girlfriend are feeling. There are heaps of support sites out there and I would encourage your partner to join one immediately. It helps immensely to vent your feelings and frustrations to people who understand and get real advice from people who have been there. Here is the link to my favourite one.

http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/html/search.html

Good luck to you both!
Peace🙂

28 04 2011
L. Michele

I too am a girlfriend of a divorced dad. He has three beautiful daughters! The youngest is 6 (close to yours) and she and I have an unbelievably close relationship. I feel I have been able to do this simply by love. Love and prayer, praying for more love. I love their father and truly love all three of his girls. I know I will never replace their mother (or ever try) but I am going to be in their dad’s life and that means loving them as if they are my own. So I don’t quite agree with the following comment left by another.

**”I would highly advise you tone down your expectations regarding the cosy little family. It is too much to expect that your partner will ever love your daughter the way you do.”**

I can relate to the comment, but love is a choice. My boyfriend told me when we first started dating that his kids came first. That was a hard pill for me to swallow (I don’t have kids of my own) but I knew I would have to take second place until I found my role in all their lives. Maybe because I was able to do that, he doesn’t treat me like I am second and really values my opinion. But, “cosy” little family-not gonna happen for a while. Take it one day at a time.

Bottom line is that your girlfriend has got to step up and be part of the family. She is part of the team and when your daughter is around it needs to be about the three of you, not anyone singled out. When it’s just you and the girlfriend alone, give her some good quality time so she doesn’t feel left out with your daughter is there.

Good luck!! And I am so glad that your daughter is your world!!!!

21 08 2011
StepmomToo

A Dad Seeks Help,
I was noticing on your blog that you mentioned your girlfriend has a hard time being with your daughter and how she thinks your daughter is a constant reminder of your relationship with your ex, if that is REALLY the case, then sorry, then she’s not the woman for you. Personally, I wouldn’t want to try to make that happen…she’ll resent you later for it, trust me. Imagine, if she has a hard time being with your little girl right now, who’s a toddler, imagine when she’s a teenager and REALLY begins to act up; she’s not going to be able to STAND HER, period. (I know these feelings because that’s exactly how I feel about my stepson).
I know your daughter is your world as my son is to me, so my advice would be maybe find yourself another girlfriend or maybe try being on your own for a while, that might help clear things up for you. Believe me, there’s plenty of other fish in the water, but you only have one daughter and I know you want the best for her.
Best regards.

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