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#441: Feeling my way as live-in girlfriend to father of an 11-year-old girl

Hello!

I didn’t find anything in the archives so I hope I’m not asking this when it’s been covered before. My boyfriend and I live together with his 11 y/o daughter, and I’m having some trouble figuring out how to be “dad’s girlfriend.” Quick background: My boyfriend (we’ll call him A) had his daughter (N) when he was 16, married and divorced N’s mom, moved two states away for work and when N’s mom was visited by CPS N was taken away. When A finally got a phone call about now N had been taken he was there as fast as he could be (18 hour drive one way) and has had N in his custody ever since (6 years now?)

One of the things I love most about A is how dedicated of a parent he is. Where the awkward happens is that I’ve only been out of my family’s home for 3 years (2 of which A and I have been dating) and I’m still struggling to figure out how to be the adult figure. A takes care of most discipline and dictates chores, rules, etc for N, and that’s great, but I don’t know what is acceptable as the girlfriend.

I don’t feel comfortable taking a motherly role, because N still has a mom even if she’s states away, and N is still at the age where EVERYTHING ABOUT ABSENT PARENT IS COOL. It breaks my heart, my (very basic) understanding of psychology makes me think that she misses having a mother regardless of all the crappy things mom did. Even after N had a telephone call where mom put the phone to her chest (or simply thought no one could hear over the phone) and said “Why doesn’t she just get over it already?” N talks about how much she loves mom and wishes to go visit.

That ball is totally in A’s court, but I’m stuck wondering what I’m supposed to be. I’ve had step parents myself, both of which took controlling/authoritative roles. I -hated- it. I’ve avoided doing that (out of my own fears of being “evil dad’s girlfriend”) but now I’m stuck in a limbo where when I’m alone with N I don’t know what might be out of line, so I turn into a wet noodle and clam up. It doesn’t help that I’m incredibly introverted and N isn’t so I have a hard time relating.

I just want some outside perspective on what I might do as Dad’s girlfriend. I’ve gone over the subject somewhat with A but he’ll usually give me a “You’re doing fine!” answer and I’m still stumped. Any awkwardeers have experiences to share?

Yours truly
Perplexed Girlfriend

You know what I like best about your question? That when you ask how to be “Dad’s Girlfriend,” it’s clear you don’t mean “how can I deal with the unfortunate fact that the guy I love has this pesky kid,” but “I think Kid and I could maybe be more to each other than we are, and I’d like that, but I want to get it right and I’m not sure what right is from Kid’s perspective.”

Which makes perfect sense to me. When you started dating A, you didn’t know how things were going to go with him, much less with Kid. And even if she was the coolest 9-year-old on the planet who wanted her dad to be happy and understood that having an awesome woman in his life would increase the chances of that, and even if she was prepared to accept that you might be an awesome woman, she’d have been wary, wondering if you were going to be around long enough for it to be worth letting you into her heart, and if you were going to be around how it would change things for her. And you’re an introvert, so not the kind of person who could’ve jumped in and been instant BFFs even if she’d been primed for that, which she probably wasn’t. So try not to feel bad that you’re not closer already.

But it doesn’t sound like N is seething with animosity towards you. And at this point you’ve been with A two years, and you’re all living together. My sense is that under the circumstances, the you-and-Kid-kind-of-holding-one-another-at-arm’s-length dynamic doesn’t feel right anymore. You’re ready for more. You realize that your triangle is missing a side, or at least that one side is weaker than it should be.

I think your instincts are right on about that, not just from your perspective, but from Kid’s (and maybe even A’s).

Years ago, a colleague of mine whose life-partner actively did not want a child (he already had grown ones) was planning to go ahead because her partner had given “permission,” on the terms that he would never be expected to change a diaper or give a bath, pick up the child when it (and clearly the guy thought “it”) was crying, take it to school or a doctor’s appointment, or be the one to adjust his schedule to stay home with it. The child was to be hers only, and he could absolutely ignore it. I’m sure my colleague thought he would fall in love with the child once he/she was born, but I found the fact that a man who had had any exposure at all to kids could even propose such a thing thoroughly chilling. What would it do to a kid to be absolutely invisible to his/her stone-cold parent on a face-to-face basis, every day of his/her life???? (The couple broke up, thank god, before anyone had to find out).

Need I say I like you a whole lot better than that guy? I think it can only be good for Kid to be told that although you’re quiet by nature and had bad step-parent experiences that have made you not want to tromp into her life like an elephant, and you know her relationship with her mother is important to her and you don’t want to edge her mom out or anything, she is such an irresistably awesome kid that the better you get to know her the harder you’re finding it to be just Dad’s Girlfriend. That she feels like family to you, and though no, you can’t swear it’s forever (because that’s dependent on what happens between A and you), you’d like to have a relationship directly with her — to build the third side of the triangle, without worrying too much about what label y’all put on that relationship. (Or if a non-motherly label would make either of you (or her mother) more comfortable, tell her you’d like to treat her like a much-loved niece, if that’s ok with her).

Yes, I know it’s important to be careful with prospective step-kids, given that you and the parent could break up. No, one doesn’t want to rush things. But given that you and A have been together two years and you are all living together, I don’t think now qualifies as rushing.

I think it is far, far better to risk loving each other and having that direct relationship than for her to think your reserve with her is because you don’t like her. Because that carries the message that she’s not all that powerfully lovable. Which is what she’ll think (at least sometimes) if that third side of the triangle is flimsy. Other times she’ll just think there’s something wrong with you. Sometimes she’ll wonder how her father could love someone who is apparently ambivalent to her, and what that says about his true feelings for her. (“Does he think it’s perfectly natural that she’s not that into me, because he wouldn’t be, either, if he wasn’t my dad?”)

Obviously, you’ll need to talk to A about this, but it sounds like he already trusts your instincts with his child. Unless your relationship with him is wobblier than it sounds, I think he’ll be pleased you want to give more of yourself to Kid, especially given your sensitivity to her perspective. I really don’t think you’re in danger of overreaching, given your natural diffidence.

On the contrary, I think you may need to work on the diffidence a bit. You may not be the adult in your household, but you are an adult. The ball is not entirely in A’s court. You get to raise the subject of what you need for the household’s relationships to feel healthy and happy. And you absolutely get to require that Kid treat you with courtesy and respect when it’s just the two of you. That is not a right reserved to parents; by insisting on it you won’t be usurping someone else’s rights or pretending to be someone you’re not. You may want to get some step-parenting books from the library to help you navigate those waters.

As for How To, do ordinary life stuff with her. Gradually be the one who drives her places more often (car rides when it’s just the two of you are great for connecting with kids). Encourage A to have you be the one who takes her on little errands; take her for haircuts or to the doctor; take her shopping for A’s birthday gift or a birthday-party gift or new sports gear when a season starts; if you and she like shopping, just take her shopping, period. Cook/bake. Do her nails. If you/she prefer less girly stuff, do that — just make it about the stuff; no “get to know you” lunches or awkward forced hang-out time around the house where you’re not doing something. And don’t force it; make things casual and occasional offers/invitations like “I’m in the mood for chocolate chip cookies, want to help make some?” and don’t act bummed if she says “nah.”

Basically, just eliminate the idea that you’re doing her a kindness by holding back, and do what comes naturally from there, and you’ll do fine.

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65 comments
  1. M Dubz said:

    Dear Perfect Girlfriend,

    Another piece of advice. Did you have non-kin grown women that you looked up to as a kid? Your parents’ good friend, a local librarian, or the mom of one of your friends? Use those women as role models for your own relationship with N.

    I have several of those women in my life (an aunt, my next door neighbor, and several of my friends’ mothers) and while none of them even comes close to a replacement from my mom, they were all an important influence on my development. They taught me to knit and sew, they exposed me to fun new ways of doing things, and they were a counterbalance against my parents. But they also demanded a high level of respect, and I gave it to them. I’m sure that you can figure out a way to do the same!

  2. As the 72yo new husband of a 43yo mother of a 14yo girl, I appreciate your situation. You can’t be a parent or a girlfriend, but you can be an ally and a neutrally objective reflection for her to view the world in. Yes, do the car rides, insist on respect and give that respect in return. And keep her trust so she knows that you’re not just a conduit to her dad.

    She’s eleven, so everything will be tested: trust, friendship, limits, authority, judgement, and even love. You have the opportunity to become a significant figure in her life, now and in the future. Enjoy! You’ve been given a wonderful gift.

  3. “I think it can only be good for Kid to be told that although you’re quiet by nature and had bad step-parent experiences that have made you not want to tromp into her life like an elephant, and you know her relationship with her mother is important to her and you don’t want to edge her mom out or anything, she is such an irresistably awesome kid that the better you get to know her the harder you’re finding it to be just Dad’s Girlfriend. That she feels like family to you, and though no, you can’t swear it’s forever (because that’s dependent on what happens between A and you), you’d like to have a relationship directly with her — to build the third side of the triangle, without worrying too much about what label y’all put on that relationship.”

    Very much this. At 11, she’s capable of comprehending the difference between “I don’t like you” and “I’m a quiet person”…but only if she’s told.

  4. Speaking as the daughter of a single father, all of the this. Especially the last three paragraphs. My dad had five kids, and we had a rather absurdly traumatic end-of-childhood period that took some getting over, which definitely included the “Absent Parents are so cool” stage, at least for some of us.

    His first girlfriend-turned-fiancee was something of a monster. Emotionally manipulative, vocally abusive once we were all living together, showed blatant favoritism to her own kids, the works. But prior to …all that, she did the stereotypical Get To Know You stuff, which mainly was “Do girly stuff together and teach you poor benighted weird kids how to be normal.” Which sucked, because we were emphatically Not Normal, and when you’re trying to get along with someone who’s obviously more interested in showing their work as a partner than you as a person… it shows.

    You seem like you actually like and care about the girl’s needs as a human, which means you’ve already Not Fallen into that! Which is good. And I’m gonna go ahead and assume you’re not a vicious predator, because, c’mon.

    My dad’s current fiancee is a total sweetheart; spending time together, for us, was “Doing Stuff All Parties Enjoy.” Cooking, talking books and movies, taking hikes with the dogs, and general bantering. My dad’s in much the same way with her kids, who still see their dad on a regular basis. Neither of them ever tried to Step In, but both of them took the time to see their partner’s kids as individuals, with individual needs and likes and dislikes.

    If you see your boyfriend’s daughter as a person of her own, with whom you can have a unique relationship, you’re going the right direction. Kids can be jerks – my little sister went through a rather long phase where she Hated Dad So Much (with some justification – see above paragraph about proximity-to-abusers), and it took her quite some time to warm up to his fiancee now, not least because no matter how sweet Stepmom was, Sister was in the “No One Understands Me, And If You Try, It Is An Assault On My Individuality” stage of adolescence. So it’s quite possible that N will be standoffish for no reason or fault of your own – but most likely, she will get past that, if you make an effort to forge a meaningful relationship.

    tl;dr – you’re doing great. Keep doing that, don’t force it – hanging out together in a casual fashion goes a thousand times farther than any Togetherness Initiative.

  5. Eric said:

    I just wanted to chime in by saying that both sides of this exchange made me a little weepy with aspirational crushiness — I have no real relevant experience, but N seems to have lucked out in having the LW around.

  6. I think it is far, far better to risk loving each other and having that direct relationship than for her to think your reserve with her is because you don’t like her.

    This seems to really be the key: That LW and the daughter have not yet taken the risk of loving one another. As always, whenever you love someone, you risk not being loved in return. So maybe that is why both the LW and the daughter have been holding back. As the adult, I think the LW is in a better position to take the risk and initiate the process.

    • Agreed. I think there’s an unfortunate perception in situations like this that the person dating a parent should not be too loving or lovable, in case the relationship with the parent falls apart and the kid is hurt by the loss of someone they’ve grown to love. And yeah — that’s a good reason for not over-involving the kid with the newcomer at all until the adult relationship is reasonably stable and well-established.

      But that ignores the hurt of being in sustained proximity but carefully, artificially not allowing love to develop. Why not teach the kid that just because a love might turn out not to be forever doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having, instead? Seems like a healthier model for life, anyway.

      • Mostly Lurking said:

        Also, if the parties involves are sensible, there’s no reason why the relationship with the kid should break just because the relationship with the father has drifted apart – there’s no reason why, if both parties are sensible adults, the relationship between LW and daughter can’t survive in ‘aunt’ mode (you get cards for birthdays and Christmas, maybe visit occasionally, and when daughter is older, decide what kind of relationship she keeps.
        This will only work if you like each other… but there’s no reason to assume that a break in the relationship with N’s dad means completely ignoring N henceforth. That, in my eye, would *prove* that you liked her only as her father’s daughter, not for herself.
        (If a relationship breakup goes badly, and you’re not on speaking terms with the dad… ok. But if it’s a reasonably amicable breakup, at least the occasional cards/email seem attainable.)

        • atma said:

          Yes 2, so much!

        • Ali said:

          My mom dated a man for 13 years, from when I was 12. He was effectively my stepdad in a lot of ways, and I really appreciate that while there was an obvious loss of contact immediately following the breakup (and I was living in another state), he never deliberately cut me (or my brother) out of his life. I was able to go to him with problems he could fix, and he always helped me out as much as possible. He was instrumental in getting my brother his current job, which he really loves.

          LW, take the risk in being at least a good friend to N. No matter how your relationship with A goes–and I do sincerely hope it’s sunshine and kittens and rainbows and spontaneous songs where everyone knows the words–she can and should have a relationship with you as well.

        • Lalala said:

          So much yes. We have family friends (son my age, his parents divorced, my parents remain friends with his mother, father, and ex-stepmother) who, when the father and stepmother divorced, she remained close enough to her stepson that she’s who he’s gone to first with some of his biggest life problems. It might be as much as 20 years since that divorce, in fact, and there’s just no question: they’re family.

    • Erika said:

      I have never been in this position, but my father’s girlfriend has two grown sons, and one of them is the live-in boyfriend of a woman with two daughters, 7 and 9. Dad’s GF has thrown herself whole-heartedly into Grandma Mode and those little girls (whose dads are not the best of people) are blossoming. Part of the time it makes me nervous and a bit sad, because if Son and Son’s Girlfriend break up, then Grandma “loses” those grandchildren–and they “lose” her. But when you see how much love and affection she’s brought into those girls’ lives, and how much it means to them to have someone unreservedly loving in their lives, it’s amazing. Grandma has to take a step back from some things to not step on toes (esp. since the girls have two sets of biological grandparents) but they bake cookies and go to 4-H and have pet bunnies at Grandma’s house and do farm chores and have sleep overs…I’d like to believe that this relationship could survive a breakup of Son and Son’s Girlfriend.

      (Son and Son’s Girlfriend have been together several years and have bought a house together, so I’m hopeful that this relationship will stay strong. Son seems to be acting as a very good father figure to the girls, too.)

  7. PCSDevil said:

    “Do what comes naturally.” I love this advice. I have two little ones, and before the elder was born, I was very apprehensive about my ability to parent, mostly because of weird, unhealthy dynamics during my own childhood. I think I’m doing okay so far, though, mostly because I’ve worked on trusting myself to do what comes naturally–even though I had to work really hard to figure out what it means to be a “natural” parent. If I had to boil it down, there are really two guiding principles that you might be able to adapt to your situation.

    First, my son’s needs are greater than mine. Whatever he needs, he needs it more than I need whatever I need. This was extremely helpful in getting me through the first few months of his life: he needed nourishment more than I needed sleep, for example, so he got fed and I sucked it up. Now that he’s older, this definitely has some nuance to it. If he and I are both hungry, he needs food more than I need food. But if I’m so hungry that my temper is short, I need to eat first because while he needs food, he *also* he needs not to be yelled at by a short-tempered giant. So I scarf something in the kitchen and then make him a sandwich. He needs to be read to, but he needs to be read to by a person who is not frazzled and overwhelmed, so on balance, it might be better for him to watch TV for a little while so his introverted mother can decompress and then enjoy reading to him. My point is that in my interactions with him, I try to keep in mind that his needs are so much greater than mine that my needs can be put aside for a little while (or a long while). I’m a grown-up, so moment-to-moment experiences are not as significant to me. He is still developing, so everything is significant to him. I try to make his moment-to-moment life as good and wholesome as I can.

    Second, he is a person. He is a person with his own body, his own life, his own experiences and memories and opinions and desires and future. I am here to help him have the best life he can. I am a part of his life, but I am not his life. I want him to love me because I want him to have a life with a mother he loves. I want him to enjoy my company because I want him to have a life that includes a mother he can have fun with. I want him to trust me because I want for him a life that includes trustworthy parents. He is a person with his own life, and his life is about him. I’m always thinking about my own childhood memories, and imagining, “If he remembers this moment, what will that memory tell him about his life?” This really helps me keep my perspective about moment-to-moment stuff. If I’m about to lose my temper, I think, “Do I want him to remember me like this?” It helps.

    So first, what does she need? Give her what you can, and find a way to get her as much of the rest as possible. Second, how do you want her to remember you from this time in her life? Make a picture in your head, and then get as close to that picture as you can. If the first picture you come up with is too much for you, scale it back. Get to the basic principle of who you want to be for her, and then live whose principles with whatever resources you’re willing and able to devote. I’m definitely not saying you need to give up your life–that would be a disaster. But maybe start with a list of adjectives. Generous? Supportive? Gentle? Consistent? Once you have two or three adjective, think of how you can best act in ways these words would describe.

    • Excellent advice! You’ve clearly figured things out quite well for yourself.

      Actually, what I think I like best is your way of prioritizing your son’s needs without delegitimizing your own. My kids are older than yours, and I’ve extended this principle to allow myself to be a full-fledged person by telling myself that it’s good for my kids to learn that other people besides them have wants and needs, to teach them empathy and so they can be in healthy relationships with give and take someday, and so my daughter in particular does not think she’s supposed to grow up into some self-erasing version of womanhood (nor my son to hold that up as his ideal of femininity).

      I even forgive myself the occasional crankiness, provided it is not nastily expressed and is promptly acknowledged as not about them and apologized for, because people do get cranky and my kids will need to be able to deal with some of that in themselves and others, within reasonable bounds.

      And when they really do push too far (being people) and I snap at them, well, I figure they may as well learn that there is such a thing as pushing too far, because peers and teachers and lovers and colleagues aren’t all going to be all zen and determined to suck up infuriating behavior no matter what (though yes, I make sure “snapping” is aimed at the behavior, not them as human beings). So they need to learn how to deal with legitimate anger, and to make apologies that show they know what they did wrong and will sincerely try to do better.

    • zweisatz said:

      Your parenting style sounds wonderful.

    • Kaz said:

      This is actually really helpful for me as someone who is kind of struggling with how to aunt. Thank you!

    • Erika said:

      This is outstanding advice. I love your very balanced approach to parenting.

      Note to self: It’s Ok to wait a bit and decompress before I read the book that Daughter is demanding… I would enjoy it more! 🙂

    • This comment is full of awesome. As someone who is not a parent but has Strong Opinions, this is pretty much my feels.

      NB: I am not a judgemental arsehole, I promise. But my mother had two more kids when I was 14 and 16 respectively and I’ve got to watch her fuck them up* much as she did me and now my 13yo little brother lives with my partner and I half the week.

      *Least empathetic but most succinct description.

    • Leonine said:

      “If he remembers this moment, what will that memory tell him about his life?” – not sure exactly why, but this totally just made me tear up a little. Thank you.

  8. part-time jedi said:

    If you think N is old enough (and at 11 years old, I think she probably is) you may just want to sit down with her and have a conversation about all this. Tell her straight-up that you had been holding back because you weren’t sure about how things would go with A, and because you didn’t want to be The Evil Stepmother, but that it looks like you’re going to be part of each other’s lives, and you want to be a good stepmom. Ask her what a good stepmom looks like to her. Ask her what she wants out of a relationship with you. And then tell her what your vision is, and what you need from her, and talk it out from there.

    This has the added benefits of a) being super duper crystal clear, with little room for misinterpretation on either side, and b) is you treating her like an adult. Most pre-teens LOVE it when you actually sit down and talk, and listen, and give them a say negotiating how their own lives will run.

    • I completely agree, with the exception of using the word stepmom. That could seem kind of presumptuous if there have been no marriage discussions, and “clarifying the relationship between LW and Kid” should not be the thing that pushes LW and A into marriage if their relationship has not gotten there on its own merits.

      Better to stick with identifying common ground, in the form of “I like you, and I’m sure we’d both like to be not awkward in our own home, so whaddaya say we give some thought to what kind of relationship we want to have?” without saying stepmom.

      • part-time jedi said:

        You’re right, the word stepmom does imply a level of relationship with A that may not actually be there. Thanks for the correction!

      • Britt said:

        Agreed with this. Saying stepmom is going to make promises about the relationship that aren’t there yet. I also think there’s an advantage in not making it about LW’s relationship with A at all. I had a step-mom at the same age as the kid in question who I remember clearly feeling like only made an effort to like me because of my father, and it was shitty. It made me feel like a pawn or like I wasn’t interesting or lovable enough in my own right. The more you can present it as “now that we’ve met and gotten to know you a little, I’d like to get to know you more” and the less “because of your father I’m making an effort to get to know you”, the better. You definitely sound like you’re coming at this from the right angle, though, LW!

      • hrovitnir said:

        I concur! But yeah, I think a discussion is a great idea. I also think that the OP’s doing great – you *are* an adult, and so long as the kid’s treating you respectfully and will listen to instructions you give where appropriate, I don’t think you need a force a particular model of relationship here.

        Ramble about the label “step-parent” to come – note, marriage is not a legal necessity in NZ like the US (there are civil unions but also defacto partnerships that give you rights as a couple) so marriage itself is a moot point to me.

        I think an *actual* step-parent occupies a very specific place in a child’s life. There from a young enough age that the idea of a 3rd or 4th parent isn’t just improbable (anywhere from 10-13 in my opinion, that dynamic is just not going to happen) but also with a natural and unforced close relationship that is absolutely not a given.

        My father died when I was 11 months old. He is my father. My other father raised me, with my mother, from before I have memories. He is also my father – he is not my step-father.

        Equally, when my mother and father-who-raised-me split up when I was 13, the man my mother got into a relationship with who I hated was not my step-father. He was my mother’s partner. But neither was the woman that my father got into a relationship with, who I loved. She was my father’s partner.

        My siblings have known my partner since they were 4 and 2. He has always been there. He has always been a calm, caring part of their lives (in contrast with their parents). My brother now lives with us half the week. He can’t stand his father and has a love-hate relationship with our mother. He comes to me or my partner when he is scared or sad. My partner will still never be his step-father. He is his sister’s partner. He occupies a space more expected of a parent – support, emotional and practical but he’s not his parent.

        This is a pet topic of mine. I fucking despise the idea children have no right to define their own relationships. That because you are in a relationship with someone your kid has to see them as a parent. Oh hell no. Kids have to treat adults they live with with respect, but parenting is more than that.

        • I sort of think it can be useful to learn even fairly shallowly about the ways other cultures construct family. Where you don’t just have two parents and their kids, but aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, all of which may or may not be related to you and who have different roles – I remember particularly reading something by an Aborigine woman explaining all the different aunties and uncles and grandparents they have in her tribe and how biological parents actually don’t do much of the child raising in comparison to Western/European cultures. It’s sort of reassuring to know that there’s basically infinite ways to construct a family to meet everyone’s needs.

          (And of course, in Reo, whaea means both mother and aunt!)

          • This makes far more sense to me. Though that of course is also usually linked to rigid gender roles and family expectations, which also makes me sad.

            But I’d definitely love to see more of a shift toward less nuclear and more family family in western countries. And/or just more chilled about how people construct their families.

  9. duaecat said:

    One thing to keep in mind with a continued relationship, that will likely come up. You met her at 9, and you are in the position to be a friend and ally. Which means if you’re strengthening your relationship, there very likely will be issues that come up where she wants you on her side, against your boyfriend. Partially because different people have different opinions, and partially because she’ll be testing you. So try to think it through and be prepared?

    Say, N has decided she wants to buy a lime green tank top. A puts his foot down that lime green tank tops are FAR too mature for his widdle baby girl. N comes to you “Can’t you talk to dad? Come on, make him see reason! It’s just a tank top!” So try to work out a plan before you’re put on the spot? And part of that plan may be to take him aside and go “She is 11, not 3, her friends and many younger kids are wearing lime green. If you still don’t think she’s ready to handle such a bold color I will support you, but I think she may be ready. Will you think it over?”

    She might also start coming to you for emotional validation. “Dad told me if I wanted to play NewSong over and over and over again I had to keep the volume down or wear headphones and that’s SO HORRIBLE and he’s SO MEAN and I’m SO ANGRY.” And you get to walk the tightrope of Validating Her Feelings, while avoiding demonizing him and egging her on in her anger.

    My own father’s dating a lady who met me as an adult, and it’s so refreshing that for the first time in my life, I have an ally when dad starts acting like I’m a child. And our relationship has really improved for it.

  10. AB said:

    I really think the honesty tactic is just perfect- tell her WHY you struggle to relate a bit, that you don’t want to mess up… My daughter is 11 and despite sometimes seeming so innocent and naive, they are so damn smart! They know if you’re lying or holding back but they often don’t know why, and that is when feelings get hurt. Honesty tells her not only the whole story, but that you respect her enough to share it with her and care about her enough to put yourself out there.

    Cheers to you, you are doing a bloody good job!

  11. KM said:

    Aww to this letter. It sounds like LW is looking for a role between ‘stranger’ and ‘parent’, maybe more like an auntie? On a practical note it seemed like the LW wasn’t sure if she should discipline the kid when she’s doing something a bit naughtly, and what I’ve done in this situation is to say to the kid: “Hmm, I’m not sure your Dad would like that” or “Do you think your Dad would be OK with that?”

    • atma said:

      Also, she’s a younger person in your home where you are one of the grown-ups. If you are able to show her basic respect, she is able to return it. I don’t get the sense form this letter that this would be the case, but IF she uses her position as your boyfriend’s daughter to bully you, you have the right to stand your ground. You can ask her to put the milk back in the fridge without encroaching on parent-territory or being subjected to “You are not my mother!”-tantrums

      • Marianne said:

        Another tactic for the “put the milk back in the fridge” type stuff, and the one my mom used on me when I graduated from stereotypically-slobby-teenager to unacceptably-slobby-young-adult, is to make it a request from one housemate to another rather than a command from an adult authority figure. “Nope, I’m not your mother, but we are sharing the same house and I’d ask the exact same thing if we were roommates in college.”

  12. Katamari said:

    OK LW, I know this is going to sound corny but – Be Yourself. Let go of the desire to say and do everything right, because at the end of the day, you really can’t MAKE someone like you. 11-year olds don’t think things through and make a logical decision about whether you’re alright. They just like you or they don’t. I was a stepchild and I loved my stepmum and hated my stepdad, just because of the vibe they each gave out – even though they were both very nice people and both did similar things for me (helped me with homework etc.). But my feelings were my feelings and they never changed. There’s very little about that that you can actually control, and she’s probably already made up her mind about you (this can be a good or a bad thing depending on how she feels about you now!). Also, don’t worry about being an introvert, that might be exactly what she needs. The reason I got on so well with my stepmom was because I was extraverted and she was introverted, so she gave me my space and there weren’t any personality clashes. Win-win!

    A word about step-parent dynamics.
    1) DON’T MESS with the stuff about the mum. Children are very sensitive to how the ‘absent’ parent is being treated or talked about. If you put down or disrespect mum in front of her, she’ll only side with the mother more to ‘even things out’. Who knows, she might even be talking up the mum in front of you to test the waters, and see what you’ll say. Make sure that the mum, for all her faults, is being acknowledged and her role as The Mother is respected. If you do this, chances are the daughter will eventually feel safe enough to voice her doubts about the “mum is perfect” fantasy, but she needs the space to do that when she’s ready.
    2) Kid’s relationship with dad comes before your relationship with dad. Sorry, but they were there first. If the daughter feels like you or your relationship with dad is getting in the way of her relationship with him, you’ve got trouble. Make sure they’ve got their special daddy-daughter bonding time (and sometimes that will mean alone time, without you), and you’ll be right. Some step-parents get threatened by this because they feel excluded, but hopefully you’re not insecure enough to let that get to you.

    I really hope things work out for all of you. 🙂

    • J. Preposterice said:

      “Some step-parents get threatened by this because they feel excluded” — one thing that I’d suggest to step-parents who feel threatened by this is that even in stereotypical two-biological-parents-and-their-mutual-offspring households, each parent needs one-on-one time with their children.

      It’s not really “they were there first”, it’s “healthy parent-child relationships involve one-on-one time”. Heck, don’t all close relationships? Partners, siblings, friends?

    • Lydia said:

      Definitely seconding this advice! My father (the parent I was not living with) had a horrible, horrible gf/wife for all of my teens. She was toxic and she *hated* the fact that he had kids, behaving like a child and manipulating my dad. My father was (and is) oblivious to this (even though he is ultimately responsible for pushing her onto me and my sister).

      She also egged my father on in mistreating my mother (financial stuff), reflecting his venting right back to him, and forming her own opinions without having met my mother. Obviously, this is a different situation, but please don’t do that.

      Also, giving father and child enough time to bond one-on-one is really important. Especially if the father is in a We Are Such A Happy Family Let’s Spend All Of Our Time Together phase. I could image N would be very grateful if you actually encouraged them to spent time just the two of them.

      I do think it is important to aknowledge that N’s reasonable needs will always come before your reasonable needs for your partner. That is just the way it is if someone has a child – they are responsible and it will be more important than any other person in their life (hopefully, anyway). But that shouldn’t keep you away from being an auntie/godmother type of person to this child.

  13. Yan said:

    BTDT with a relationship that didn’t work out, but it sounds like the LW is in a much better position than I was to make it last.

    I’ll quibble with only one bit of advice from above — there aren’t really good stepparenting books that provide useful advice of this level. Try online. I met some people in a stepparenting (let’s me be real — stepmom chat room. If there were stepdads on there, they didn’t speak out, and I never saw a separate board for them. The pressures are different). This all means that first, you have to admit that you’re in a step-parenting role, LW, which you are. Even if you don’t post, read. Most of the people posting are in more complicated, sometimes horrific, situations, but some of them (many) are just experiencing frustrations with the step — step removed from “normal” parenting, in which you have to navigate the role as though it’s re-inventing the wheel. Step-parents are not a new, late 20th century invention! Why is it so complicated?

    It’s complicated because family is complicated, and the pressures put on any modern family seem even more so. It helps to know you’re not the only one confused or trying to figure it out.

    You do need to find your inner adult and validate her. It’s there. There needs to be a tiny but important step of difference in your relationship with N that your partner supports — you are an adult in the household, and while you’ll never be the primary person in charge of N, occasionally you will need to have authority with her.

    Good luck, LW. Sounds like you’re on the right path.

  14. Marvel said:

    I want to add one thing to this, and I haven’t read the comments yet so sorry if this has already been stated by someone else:

    Make sure you ask the kid, every step of the way, if it’s okay for you to be more involved in her life. Don’t just ask A about the relevant activities you might like to do with her, ask the KID. There is nothing worse than feeling like your parent has given another adult permission to do or feel something regarding you that you are not ready for. So, if you want to drive her to school, ask her: “Hey, I was thinking I’d drive you to school tomorrow. Is that okay?” And–this is the key step–if she says she’d rather not for whatever reason, LISTEN. Take it at face value and don’t try to talk her out of it. Ask again later or try something else.

    In the end, it’s her decision whether she wants to have a relationship with you or not, and getting to say yes or no to those kinds of questions as she likes is her right. You can try but, as per the above advice, you can’t force it.

    • JenniferP said:

      This seems like very, very smart advice.

  15. redgirl said:

    I’ve been with my husband since his daughters were very young. Now they are in their 20s (!!!) and they are amazing young women and I have a good relationship with them. But I did have to learn a few lessons the hard way. Here is my advice to anyone starting out as a stepparent:

    1. In terms of discipline, when you are alone with her it’s your responsibility to protect her safety and well-being, and you can’t always wait for her dad to come home in order to do that (“No, you can’t use the curling iron in the bathtub!”) You also have the right to protect your comfort and privacy in your own home. You can set limits like, “My bedside drawer is off-limits and you can’t go through it” or “I’m doing taxes right now so I need you to turn off the TV until I’m done.” If a misbehavior warrants further discipline (like grounding or taking away privileges), then wait until dad comes home, discuss it with him, and let him present the consequences to her.

    2. Present a united front to the child. Unless he’s being genuinely abusive (which I’m assuming is not ever the case), don’t interfere with or argue with his discipline in front of her. If he grounds her for a week, don’t let her go out behind his back when you’re alone with her. If you have a problem with his decisions, bring it up to him in private. Even among two biological parents I think it’s important not to undermine each other in front of the kids.

    3. Never, ever badmouth the other parent to the child. Children love their parents, even when those parents do awful things. And it’s important as a stepparent to respect that love, even if you don’t respect the other parent. She doesn’t need to learn the truth about her mother from you.

    4. As others have said, be yourself. You don’t have to fit into some role that you think others expect of you. You have to be a responsible adult, keeping her safe when she’s in your care, but beyond that you have the opportunity to craft a relationship with this girl on the terms you two decide! If you aren’t a crafty person, don’t feel obligated to make scrapbooks with her because you think you should. But find something that you love with all your heart (a cheesy movie? Ice skating? baking your secret cookie recipe?) and share it with her. Learn from her (my stepdaughter introduced me to some awesome music). Let your goofy side show (I’ve had the best times dancing ridiculously down the street singing loudly with my stepdaughters). And yes, share with her that you’re introverted and quiet. Be honest about who you are and take the time to learn who she really is, too. Enjoying her may be the best gift you can ever give her.

    5. Remember that you will never be this girl’s mother. But children have room to love and be loved by many more than just two adults. You *are* a caretaker and a role model. Don’t worry much about whether you’re being too “motherly.” As long as you don’t expect to replace her mother in her heart, she doesn’t have a quota for how much love, guidance and nurturing she can receive.

  16. Pelusa said:

    Yes, this is such good advice from CA and all the commenters.
    I don’t have much to add, but I just want to say just your willingness to really get involved and have your own relationship with her is awesome.
    Growing up my mom was sick a lot of the time and we had a lot of nannies that, while they didn’t live with us, cared for us a lot of the time, sometimes for years. We had very close relationships with them and when they left I think it was always hard for us, but honestly I don’t really remember whether it was so it can’t have been that traumatizing. On the other hand, when my mom passed away when I was 12 and we went to live with my dad and my stepmom, her almost complete lack of interest in having a relationship with me was hurtful and traumatizing. She treated me like a roommate most of the time (I actually remember one time when I literally said to her at about 14 or 15, “I am a child. I am not your roommate.” She actually thanked me for reminding her. She needed to be reminded). She had never wanted kids (my dad didn’t have much of a relationship with us when they got together) and she made it clear that she didn’t have much of an interest in me. I remember once she tried to tell me I couldn’t go out and I had to do my homework a few years into living with her and at that point I was already sure she had no authority over me since she had shown no interest in my life and I wouldn’t listen to her. We ended up having an okay relationship and some mutual respect, but it was really hurtful at the time and definitely something I talk about in therapy now. So my opinion is that it is definitely worth the risk of showing her you care and want a relationship with her even if you may not be in her life forever.
    I especially like CA’s suggestion that you spend some time with her. I know as an introvert I always feel really awkward “performing” in front of other people with kids and feeling like as a woman I have to show that I’m good with kids, but one on one I find it much easier to spend time with them and play and move at their pace, play and listen to them. As a sensitive introvert you are especially well-equipped to do this! I imagine this pressure is especially strong with your boyfriend watching, so try spending some time with her without it!

  17. Twitchy said:

    Both my parents remarried when I was a kid, and most of this advice sounds pretty good to me. I disagree completely with the advice about car rides, though. When a kid’s in a car, they’re trapped. There’s no safe way to leave, and it can feel really threatening if an adult’s trying to Relationship then.

    I think my mom handled me and her boyfriend pretty well. After they’d been together for a while, and we’d had a chance to get used to each other, she asked for a home-made spice rack for her birthday, and suggested we make it together. So I got to go to her boyfriend’s favorite hardware store, and he taught me how to use his drill press, which I thought was pretty cool. It gave us a reason to be in each other’s company, and an activity to focus on instead of awkwardly trying to make conversation.

    Do you have any hobbies or skills your boyfriend’s kid might think are cool? If you don’t, is there anything new you want to try that she could try with you?

    It might also help if the idea comes from him, just because he’s the bridge between you two right now.

    • I saw the car ride advice as being offered in a “don’t attempt to have Big Serious conversations” context. Car rides in general, when treated as casual transportation from point A to point B, offer opportunities for low-key, low-pressure conversations.

      “Wanna go see The Hobbit this weekend?”

      “I’m trying to decide what to do for dinner tonight, and I can’t decide between chicken and spaghetti. Is there one you’d rather have?”

      “I was planning to go to the library after I drop you off; anything I can pick up for you?”

      And you can always fall back on the classic of music negotiation, where you

      • Ack! Clicked “post” mid-sentence!

        Music negotiation can sometimes be fun — you take turns suggesting stuff, and each person gets X number of vetoes, so you can suggest ridiculous things as your first choice to get the other person to use a veto, and they can call your bluff and you end up listening to “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” (It can also turn acrimonious if you criticize each other’s choices — “Nope, gonna veto that one!” being much preferable to “Ick, how can you like that?”)

      • Yeah, that’s how I meant it: don’t try to have intense, purposeful Getting to Know You sessions, as if getting to know Kid is something you put on a to do list with the goal of checking it off. Not in the house, not in a car, not in a boat… Just be together and talk about ordinary stuff.

    • Mostly Lurking said:

      I like the idea of ‘I’d love it if we did something for your Dad’s birthday together’ (and if she says no, then that’s a no. But maybe there’s something she’d love to do/learn and can’t without an adult.)

    • Lydia said:

      Another sugggestion: Building a complicated Lego crane together. Remember having fun doing that with one of my mum’s bf. Achieving something as a team is great for bonding!

  18. I agree with Marvel (above). Let her make actual decisions. Let her “no” and “yes” be enough in themselves – don’t push for a reason why if it seems she’s uncomfortable. For instance, she may be okay with you taking her to school, but not okay with the doctor. And the reasons for her not wanting you involved in the doctor visit may be quite personal. So, you can ask “why” from time to time, of course! Just don’t push.

    Stay in a united front with A. This was really important to me when I was doing the stepmom thing. Even if he says you’re doing fine, check with him every time you’re going to start some new phase of the relationship. Going to be doing more driving? Check in with him. Want to start a family activity one night a week? Check in with him. 2 reasons for this: 1). It will help keep your romantic relationship healthy. Even if he seems mildly confused (as my then-husband did) as to why you are checking in with him, you and he both know that you’re not stepping on any toes. 2). You’re all on the same page. No surprises means you and A can back each other up on tough issues, and that you can’t be played off against each other.

    Know your own boundaries. This goes along with taking care of yourself as a person. It might be establishing one night a week as a “you” night, and hiding out in the bathtub and your bedroom all evening. It might be clearly defining that you personally will not answer calls from N’s mother. (Communication with the other parent can be tricky. For me, staying out of it as much as humanly possible -even if I did the exchanges- made my life much, much easier.

    Other than those bits of advice, from the tone of your letter I feel like you are doing a great job already! And that you will only do better in the future. You seem like you are giving this a lot of thought and are seeing clearly what you want and what your family needs. Congrats and best of luck!

    • Meredith said:

      I agree that having an Actual Parent attend N’s doctor’s visits with her is probably the best for a host of reasons (and up to N to decide!), but it occurs to me that as far as Body Stuff 11-Year-Olds Deal With goes, N might appreciate having another woman in the house. I mean, it would be great if N always felt safe and unembarrassed about talking to her dad about puberty things (and sexuality things, too) and I don’t think LW should involve herself in any conversations that LW herself isn’t comfortable with. I just know I was mortified to ask my dad to buy me pads/tampons when I was 11-12 years old ever and almost certainly would have asked pretty much any other lady before I asked him about it. YMMV, of course.

      • Absolutely!! I agree that N may welcome a female presence/advice, especially on body/gender issues! Was just trying to come up with an example for what I was saying, but you are very right here. N might appreciate LW in the Body Stuff department, and LW might want to be aware of that. Thanks!

  19. Elodie Rose said:

    I’m loving this advice. So spot on.
    I got a really lovely step dad when we were teenagers, and that poor man was in the worst possible position, because shortly after he came onto the scene and before he moved in, our biological father passed away very suddenly. That man deserves a medal for his step parenting!
    I think he got it so right because he was very gentle, didn’t try and rush into anything and stayed away from the discipline and rule setting.

    I think the best thing he did was become someone we could rely on in his own niche way. He found area where our mother lacked and stepped up. Where our (formerly single mother with a full time job) wasn’t much of a gourmet, Stepdad cooked new dishes, caught his own fish and cooked it for all of us, tempted us with creme brulees and showed us how to flame the sugar on the top.
    He became our go-to for car problems and would volunteer to change the oil in mine when he was doing his own, offered to run mine up for a wheel alignment while I was away for the weekend. Sometimes I’d come out and find he’d cleaned it that morning without mentioning it. They were small gestures, but because he didn’t ever make a show of it, we slowly decided he was a decent guy. And eventually he became a go-to for certain things for us.

    The captain is right, find some common ground and go from there. What were you good at in school? Offer to help her with that homework or assignment. Does she love reading?recommend some stuff she might like, or ask her about that series she’s reading. If you do a wicked braid, do her hair for a party sometime. If you can, think of things you have to offer that her dad maybe isn’t so good for and become a support person in those areas. Cool live-in aunt who is really good at explaining algebra and doesn’t roll her eyes when she talks about the Saddle Club is a good place to aim for.

    Really important: let her know that you won’t disappear or draw back if she throws a tantrum or hurts your feelings. Just like a real parent, show her that your feelings towards her don’t change if she acts like a brat, that the next day you still care about her and aren’t sulking about it. She will realise that you’re someone she can trust, and it will show her she can open up to you about more serious things and she won’t regret it. Which will be super important when she’s a bit older, because you may find that if you have a decent relationship, she may turn to you that her than her dad for relationship, sex, friends etc advice and it can’t be a bad thing for her to have you (and your awkward army affiliation) on her side through that

  20. Leonine said:

    Chipping in as another person who was lucky enough to grow up with a great relationship with my stepmom. My dad started a serious relationship with someone when I was about 13, which lasted until he died about five years ago. (They weren’t married, but I consider her my stepmom and that’s the word I use when I describe her to other people). I’m now 30 and although we live in different countries and my dad is no longer around, we have kept in touch and always make a point of seeing each other when I go home. I want to second some of the points made above as things that really worked, in what I realise now must have been a pretty daunting situation for her (I was the most stereotypically stroppy, angstful 13-year-old on the planet and it would have been very easy for it all to go horribly wrong): the most important, I think, was that we had an individual relationship as human beings that had nothing to do with me being my dad’s daughter. She thought I was a smart, funny, interesting human being and treated me as such. And she never took on a full-on parenting/ disciplinarian role, so there was never the sense that she was trying to ‘replace’ my mom – although the situation was bit different to the LW’s as I lived with my mom and was very close to her, and only saw my dad and stepmom on weekends. I guess the point is that if there was serious-parenting stuff that needed to happen, she knew she could leave it up to my parents, so I never felt the need to push back against her.

    The other thing was that it was clear to me that she and my dad had a very strong relationship, so although I did see her as an ally in some ways and knew I could trust her, I was also aware that trying to play her and my dad off against each other wouldn’t work. So I really second the advice above about presenting a united front.

    The most awkward moments we had were the ones where my dad made a big deal of how we should have ‘getting-to-know-you’ time that involved a specific and planned activity – like ‘you’re both into art so I’m going to leave the house for two hours so you can draw together, won’t that be fun??’. Stepmom’s reaction was spot-on: as soon as my dad left the house, she said ‘Well that sounds like a totally awkward plan, doesn’t it?’ and instead we spent the afternoon quietly drinking tea and reading magazines. I think that was the exact moment that I decided I was ok with her being in the family 🙂

  21. OneTwoThree said:

    Mother of teens here, and one thing to keep in mind is that *all kids* have moments where they’re mean, or nasty, or in a bad mood and that sometimes they are just being eleven, or twelve, or whatever, and they’re not doing that *at you* They are doing it because they are in the midst of teenagerism. It doesn’t matter what your bond to them is, they’re mad at EVERYONE under the sun and you’re just the nearest target sometimes.

    The teen years are very very hard until the teens figure out for themselves the best way to interact with other people. When those bad days happen, and they will happen, sometimes it is really not you at all, it is them dealing with stuff that has nothing to do with you. Sometimes asking what is wrong helps, but sometimes it just gets doors slammed in your face. I would definitely seek out other parents/adult in the life of teens if for no other reason you can hear that it’s not just you this is happening to – you are totally not alone.

    It’s scary, how strong emotions/learning life/hormone changes impact a kid’s life. You can almost see them caught up in this whirlwind in front of you. If you can stay stable and calm through that, it helps a lot. It sounds very much like you’re trying to do that, and honestly, having at least one calm stable person available on a regular basis for conversation is way more than a lot of teens have – go you!

    • duaecat said:

      I saw a cracked article that the opening gist was “Teenage years means these people’s bodies are going through tons of changes and they’re shooting up two inches overnight and weight redistributing and hair growing and all these other crazy visible changes, and we expect their brains to be continuing on the slow steady plod to Maturity? “

  22. I think there’s been a lot of fantastic advice! I want to talk a bit about authority.

    You have two different sources of authority in this situation, and they come with different kinds of responsibilities.

    1: You are an adult, even if you don’t really feel like one all the time (pro tip: lots of adults don’t feel adult all the time. Lots of us fake it til we make it.) In this role, you have knowledge about how the world works; you have access to things like cars, money, and take-out pizza parlors; you know where hospitals are and how to call 911. When you apply that to the child in your proximity, that confers responsibilities like keeping the child alive and fed, more or less, which is pretty easy for an 11 year old. Use of any of your magic adult powers is generally negotiable. You also have the responsibility to acknowledge yourself as a Grown Up to the child, and maintain that boundary, even as you negotiate going out for pizza or whatever.

    Example: “No, I won’t drive you to the mall today, I’m reading a book. Maybe tomorrow.”

    2: You have authority sourced in the child’s father. You’re kind of deputized, as an adult representative of him. This is the stuff you really want to be explicit about for all of you, so you all understand the rules. Can you enforce bedtime? Can you take away the computer? I’ve never been in a stepparent or stepchild situation, but whenever I’ve been the Aunt or babysitter or something, I go with “Those are the rules” and refer the kid to the source of the authority. I never get to overrule the parent. The longer you stay with them, the more of this kind of authority you will probably get, unless you actively try to avoid it.

    Example: “No, I won’t drive you to the mall today. You haven’t finished your homework. You know the rules.”

    Boundaries related to your adulthood, your own authority, are things you really need to define for yourself. You can and should communicate about them with your partner and his daughter, but ultimately that’s about what you need. The rest, you figure out with your partner first, probably, and then talk with the daughter about how well that works.

    The most important thing, I think, is consistency! Consistency in setting your own boundaries, consistency in your partner’s rules for the house, consistency in how they are developed and enforced, consistency in love and emotional support no matter what else is going on.

    • rebekah said:

      I think that kind of authoritarianism is exactly what the LW as a woman who grew up with authoritarianism is trying to avoid. While it’s not her job to be a personal chauffeur it’s also not her job to dictate behavior to the kid.

      • The point is more that she’s *not* the one making the rules.

        I think it’s important for LW to understand the difference between her *own* boundaries, which LW mentioned working on developing and enforcing and feeling grownup about, and boundaries she’s enforcing for the child’s father.

        I mean, she can phrase it any way she wants, but if the rule is no going to the mall before the homework is done, she’s got to uphold that rule for the kid even if she’s about to drive to the mall herself. LW can, and should, talk with both of them about her place in such things, so that the kid knows that LW is not *supposed* to bend the rules for her.

        I’m trying to think of how LW can have space figure out her own adultness (which is important and hard and I’ve spent like fifteen years feeling bad at!) with having to handle boundaries with a child who’s awesome, but also about to be a teenager, and who is going to be pushing on those boundaries.

        I think I personally would need that kind of framework in place in my head before I could comfortably take a more active role in a child’s life. Then, once that’s in place, I can use all my other ideas to connect and problem solve. I’d want laughter, I’d want to diffuse tension, I’d want good food. I’d want color and joy and silliness. It’s just that security and consistency make those things possible, and nobody else was really talking about a framework for LW to think about that.

      • It is inconceivable that the LW can be an adult in Kid’s sphere — who presumably is sometimes the only adult home with Kid — and never have to set boundaries herself or enforce rules/expectations. “No, that would require me to drop everything, and it’s not a reasonable request;” “no, we both know that’s against your dad’s rules for you;” “no, that’s not safe,” “no, you’re acting like a brat and I’m not going to reward that type of behavior.” It makes perfect sense to think out the kinds of situations that might arise ahead of time — and I agree with Carbonated Wit that the expectation should not be that LW can only enforce standards expressly articulated by the dad ahead of time.

        It’s kind of like statutes vs case law: statutes define the rules, but enforcement involves judgment calls, and the LW shouldn’t be hamstrung by “Daddy said I could go the mall” if it turns out her friend’s big sister with a brand-new driver’s license is driving, not the mom everyone had assumed… Or whatever. They do need to talk that kind of stuff out ahead of time: e.g., LW always has absolute authority if it’s a safety issue and Dad is not available to be checked in with.

        • rebekah said:

          and I guess I just have a different philosophy. I am of the opinion that you enforce rules on children UNTIL they reach teenagehood, and then you slowly transition to treating them like adults. If there is homework to be done and she instead decides to go to the mall at 15 then guess what? It’s her who will suffer the consequences and then AFTER she makes a bad choice her FATHER NOT THE LW gets to bring about some discipline. When you make all the decisions for someone instead of allowing them to make their own they 1) never learn how to think for themselves and are going to end up hanging themselves with all the rope that you suddenly threw at them after attaching them to a leash for 18 years. and 2) end up resenting you for it because you never let them be responsible.

          • neverjaunty said:

            Not really understanding your point here. Whether the rule is or isn’t overprotective in your personal opinion, LW should not be undermining the girl’s dad. If LW thinks a rule is silly or wrong, she can privately talk to her partner about it, but “oh, your dad is so strict, I’ll take you to the mall this one time” is a BAD IDEA.

          • You do remember we’re talking about an 11-year-old, right?

  23. Virginia said:

    LW, I think you sound as if you’re being really smart and loving about the whole situation. Lots of good advice on here, which I won’t rehash.

    But I will say this: I have been where you are, except with 3 kids. Even 10 years later, it remains a sometimes not-easy road, but we are working it out, and I so value the presence of those young people in my life. They are so fun, and funny, and trying to be good to them has made me a better person.

    One thing that has really worked out is that my husband has always been cool with the idea that I get to be “the fun one.” Sure, there have been times when I have had to be the disciplinarian (e.g., The Great Everything Got Taken Away Tragedy of aught-four), but mostly I get to be a sympathetic ear and instigator of craft projects. It’s a good dynamic for us.

    I wish you fun times and happiness with Kid.

    • Lydia said:

      Another general tid-bit of advice on being the Fun One: Make sure you are doing fun stuff with her because you like to and you like her, not because you are trying to bribe her. Children can tell the difference and *hate* attempts at bribing them into not disturbing Dad and New Girlfriend’s happiness.

      • Virginia said:

        YES.

        And I try to err on the side of the fun thing they want to do. Thus, I have learned that I do NOT like cake balls, but I have had some insanely cool manicures.

  24. Bunny said:

    A wee bit (way!) late to the party, but was somewhere without internets for a few days and this is one recent letter I think I can comment a little on.

    To build a good relationship with your boyfriend’s daughter, the absolute best thing you can do is find some things the two of you have in common. If you can only find one, that’s cool, but if you have two or three mutual interests, all the better! When my mum met my Da when I was 14, it was our mutual love of science, fascination with conspiracy theories and ability to wax lyrical for several hours about Why The Pyramids that allowed us to bond. Oh, and he reads tarot, and taught me how to do it, too.

    If you like to cook, cooking is a fantastic way to bond. There’s so much coordination, so much working together and learning to trust each other involved in preparing a decorated cake or a batch of jam or a dinner. From testing sauces and experimenting with seasoning, to the hilarious fun of a failed cooking experiment (don’t ask about the 3-hour session in the kitchen with my mum last week, that ended up with a bowl of “pasta” so dense the dog wouldn’t eat it and us unable to eat the chip butties we ended up with because our stomachs hurt from laughing). It’s also great if you’re shy or find it hard to strike up conversation, because 90% of the talking is instructing and discussing the food, and as you get better at it more and more of the work takes place with neither of you needing to say anything.

    If in doubt, find out what the young lass is into and try to build some interest of your own.

  25. Klara said:

    Awesome post.

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