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Thats my daughter in the water
April 24, 2011 6:07 PM   Subscribe

I recently found out I have a 13 year old daughter. Now what?

Ok, so, I recently found out that I have a 13 year old daughter. Her mother and I dated for a couple of months way back when and then she moved away to Kentucky and that was that. Except that it wasn't. (I won't go into all of the details about how I found out except to say that paternity is established, I am paying my support payments, and I am glad this is all happening). I live in Texas, my daughter and her mother live in Kentucky. There is no ill will between her mother and I and her mom wants me to have a relationship with my daughter, particularly through these teen years. Problem is, I shouldn't say problem I guess; thing is, my daughter has not been receptive to me thus far. This is all to be understood. I call regularly, but she will not talk to me. I have visited three times in the last six months, and she just will not open up at all. This takes time I am sure. I write her regularly, send her cards or books or cd's gift cards, nothing extravagant, just little things here and there. Weird thing is that since I have come into the picture she has really been acting out, gotten in trouble for shoplifting, getting in trouble at school, the whole teen rebellion type thing I suppose. I am sure she sees me as a threat of sorts because its always been just her and her mom and her mom can be a bit naive about some things (and not to disparage her mom, it can't be easy raising a child alone). For instance, at 13 she is fairly mature, enough so that she has a facebook page saying she is 19 and she looks the part really. Things like that I have pointed out to her mom but her mom thinks it's all innocent fun. My question is I guess, how to proceed establishing a relationship with her while also expressing my concerns about things like her general safety online and things like that? I catch myself in my letters trying to be her friend because it seems like that would be an easier path to getting her to at least talk to me, but of course there are problems inherent with that approach. (n.b. I have a 12 year old son as well that does and always has lived with me, FWIW, so I have a little bit of experience with kids this age, but the situation is so not comparable). Anyway, any and all advice will be awesome and I will be happy to answer any questions y'all may have.
posted by holdkris99 to Human Relations (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
For instance, at 13 she is fairly mature, enough so that she has a facebook page saying she is 19 and she looks the part really.

Dad says no, no matter what the popularity hit he's gonna take.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:19 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


For instance, at 13 she is fairly mature, enough so that she has a facebook page saying she is 19 and she looks the part really.

That has little to do with non-physical maturity. There are a number of teenagers who have FB profiles greatly exaggerating their age, regardless of maturity and often times unbeknownst to any parental unit. Consider it this generation's version of a fake ID.
posted by jmd82 at 6:23 PM on April 24, 2011


Fourteen years ago I knew a 12-year-old masquerading as a 17-year-old online. It's not a sign of anything except that she's allowed to get away with stuff like that.

You are in a tough spot unless you've got some kind of custody agreement to go along with those support payments, because the right thing to do in terms of this girl's behavior is to be a parent, not a buddy.
posted by SMPA at 6:28 PM on April 24, 2011


I'm going to suggest a Deborah Tannen book to you, and it's going to help you get a better handle on what's going on in your daughters (sounds normal to me) home life.

She has a mom. And she's close to mom, but at the same time her brain is going crazy because that's what adolescent brains do.

So, the book is called, "You're going to wear that?" and it's about mothers and daughters in conversation. I suspect that seeing the types of conversations and parental patterns she may have established will give you some insight, but it won't set forth am action plan for fathers who just found out they're fathers.

For that, remember that teenagers need love most when they seem most lovable. Her episodes of shoplifting and recalcitrance may represent a kinds of other baggage, or just normal teenage acting out. But she needs to know that you love her, and she needs positive reinforcement that you know she will grow past this soon. You need to make it clear to her that she is a strong person and that she will make good decisions for her life. Do not tell her that you know what those are - for example, university is not the best choice for some kids (though that's 5 years away, the time will fly).

Also, encourage her to enjoy learning, for the sake of satisfying curiosity.
posted by bilabial at 6:34 PM on April 24, 2011


That should be 'when they seem least lovable.
posted by bilabial at 6:36 PM on April 24, 2011


holdkris99: "For instance, at 13 she is fairly mature, enough so that she has a facebook page saying she is 19 and she looks the part really. Things like that I have pointed out to her mom but her mom thinks it's all innocent fun. My question is I guess, how to proceed establishing a relationship with her while also expressing my concerns about things like her general safety online and things like that? "

Please don't take this the wrong way, but...

She has a parent. You are not that parent. You are her dad, yes, but you need to leave the parenting to her mom, which is exactly where it's been for the last 13 years. If you have concerns, run them by her mother, but don't meddle or they will both resent you for it.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:36 PM on April 24, 2011 [28 favorites]


She has a parent. You are not that parent. You are her dad, yes, but you need to leave the parenting to her mom, which is exactly where it's been for the last 13 years. .

If he just found out about his daughter I don't think this works as a blanket statement. He didn't abandon his parental rights, he just never knew he had any until now. It's true that as a practical matter it may be problematic in the short run but the OP mostly has to decide exactly how involved here he wants to be. Of course if he's not willing to move near his daughter (and given he has a 12 year old son it doesn't sound like he is) you're probably correct.
posted by Justinian at 6:42 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dad says no, no matter what the popularity hit he's gonna take.

He's not really her Dad, though, so the situation is vastly different. He's her biological father, a complete stranger, and up until a few months ago an entirely mythical figure.

The absolute last thing you want to do is come down hard with any sort of rules or whatever right now. You can set boundaries and state your thoughts, etc., but overall, you need to let her mom take the lead and slowly and honestly earn your daughter's regard and, hopefully, affection. I know this is no fault of your own but the bottom line is you can't just show up and be "Dad" overnight - that title's got to be earned. I think you're on exactly the right track with talking to her mom about things you see that are problematic and taking the slow and steady approach with your daughter. Above all, you want your daughter to feel safe and accepted by you if/when she's ready to open up.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:48 PM on April 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


I know you say there's no ill will, but why did the mom choose to keep your daughter's existence a secret for 13+ years? Is it possible that your daughter is resentful because she feels like you neglected or abandoned her (even though you didn't know about her at all)?

Do you know what prompted the mom to finally contact you now?
posted by telegraph at 6:52 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think I made a mistake in my question here because all of the answers are focusing on the Facebook thing. I should have framed the question like this: I recently found out I have a 13 year old daughter that lives in another state. How do I go about establishing a relationship with her because what I have tried so far has not worked?

If you have concerns, run them by her mother, but don't meddle or they will both resent you for it

This is absolutely what I do.

OP mostly has to decide exactly how involved here he wants to be. Of course if he's not willing to move near his daughter (and given he has a 12 year old son it doesn't sound like he is) you're probably correct.


That seems a little unfair. In a perfect world, sure I would like to live close to her, but I have a family here in Texas and a job and everything that goes along with that. I want to be as involved as I possibly can be.

I know you say there's no ill will, but why did the mom choose to keep your daughter's existence a secret for 13+ years? Is it possible that your daughter is resentful because she feels like you neglected or abandoned her (even though you didn't know about her at all)?

Do you know what prompted the mom to finally contact you now?


This was a casual thing that lasted a couple of months thirteen years ago. There is no reason for there to be ill will. Naturally I wish I would have known then but that's neither here nor there. She told me she wanted her daughter to know her father. She also asked for child support which I pay. Her motives aren't really the issue to me. I could just pay my payments every month and be done with it, believe me its crossed my mind, but I never seriously considered it.
posted by holdkris99 at 7:25 PM on April 24, 2011


Maybe you could start by filling in a little history. Could you whip up a photo album for her? What's your relationship with your family like? Are there any kids in your family her age that would welcome her as a cousin?
posted by Sara Anne at 7:28 PM on April 24, 2011


You recently found out about her; it's not clear to me how long she's known about you. Regardless of whether that's equally recent, I think you're right to recognize that your entry into her life is difficult for her. You gave a couple reasons why, and I wonder whether you've considered more.

For instance, she'd probably had her own ideas about what kind of person you'd be, how you two would interact with each other, etc. Knowing the real person that you are is itself a threat; to whatever mental images and narratives she's previously held of who My Father is. Having to re-conceptualize you, and her changing family structure, must feel pretty destabilizing.

Possibly, too, she's lost some trust in her mom if she feels like what she learned secondhand hadn't completely lined up with the man introduced to her. I'm not suggesting that there's been any deception; just that imagination is a powerful force for filling in what communication and memory do not provide with absolute clarity.

It's great that you want to be there for her, and are looking for ways to be a loving parent. I think you're right that developing an appropriate relationship with her is a long-haul path.

Being even her "friend" right now may be unrealistic. My friends are people I know personally, enjoy having in my life, and with whom there is a bond of mutual trust. Even my more casual friendships share those essential qualities. Someone trying to have my friendship against my will (e.g. "she will not talk to me") would earn my suspicion readily. It'd feel like a boundary violation; at minimum, pushy. That is my perspective, obviously; not necessarily hers. But my two cents would be to step even further back in the process.

Forget about being her friend for now. You haven't earned it yet. Be a stranger who is willing to be known. Instead of hoping for her to open up, be open about your life and thoughts. Then be patient in allowing that it's up to her to decide whether she ultimately chooses to share herself with you in return. Trust that eventually you two can figure out friendship.

For the time being, you're going to have to sit on your hands a bit and accept the discomfort of that. Back away from trying to be a co-parent until the three of you have built the relationship foundations for it. Trust that the woman who knows your daughter best in the world, and got her through these first 13 years, will be able to continue being both father and mother while potential for a different father-daughter relationship develops.

I wonder if some resources on step-parenting might be useful for you. Even though it's not what you are, seem like there's overlap of issues here.

It sounds like you've got good instincts and motives. Yay, dad! Good luck to both you and your daughter.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:31 PM on April 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


Could you invite her (possibly with Mom) to come visit? You have a kid who is roughly her age and live in an exotic (e.g. different from her home zip code) locale. It is getting to be summer. How about inviting her to come visit for a week, and send her a ticket to come visit? (Obv with Mom's agreement before you make the offer)
posted by arnicae at 7:32 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


This might sound harsh but.....

Whatever her reasoning, your ex denied you 13 years of your daughter's life from you, I'd be pretty...upset and I'd hazard an uninvited guess that after the shock wears off and the dust settles you will be too. I think you would do well to start seeing a good therapist who can help you navigate not only your feelings, but also be a springboard for some of the more mundane practical things (ie facebook, normal teen stuff, when/how to best voice your concerns, etc)
posted by ian1977 at 7:35 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


How do I go about establishing a relationship with her because what I have tried so far has not worked?

You're coming to this at sort of a sticky time--if you'd found out a few years earlier, you'd be in for an easier go of it, and probably in another five years, it would be reasonably easy, too. But thirteen is a hard age--she's probably transitioning to high school, puberty's all up in her business, and she's starting to feel like she's A Grown Person who doesn't need your opinion, thanks so much.

In my opinion, the best thing you can do to establish a relationship with her is make it clear that you'd like to have one. Send occasional emails, pictures, whatever. Follow her on Facebook, if she'll let you. Visit, if you're able to do so. These things constitute a relationship--maybe not the relationship that you want, but a relationship.

What, exactly, is the relationship that you want with her? Do you want to be friendly and know about her life? Do you want her to spend two weeks of the summer with you, plus every other holiday? The latter one you can, to a certain extent, force--go to court, etc. The former, though, is one that has to develop over time, and she's the one who's going to have to do the developing. All you can do is keep being there, keep being interested, and wait.
posted by MeghanC at 7:41 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


to whatever mental images and narratives she's previously held of who My Father is

In the talks I have had with her mom, she has told me that since she has been old enough to understand she just told her honestly about the nature of our relationship, about her decision to leave Texas when she got pregnant and return home to Kentucky where all of her family was and about her decision to go it alone. There has been no character assassination or anything like that, I am fairly certain. That being said, the mythologizing of myself (in her mind before we met and after) is something that I have thought a lot about and that I think a lot about when I write to her, about whether I am presenting myself accurately or as the person that I think she wants me to be or who she thinks I am. I would like to think that I am true to who I am, but I just am not sure. I mean to say that I always tell the truth about myself to her, it's just choosing what parts to tell that I struggle with. I write her a lot and her mom assures me that she reads them all, so thats a plus.

Someone trying to have my friendship against my will

This is a dead on characterization of how this feels from my end. Doing almost anything makes me feel like I am being to aggressive.

Could you invite her (possibly with Mom) to come visit?

This is something that we tried to do over xmas break, but her mother left it up to her and she said no, which I think is to be expected.

Another bright spot is that she has sent letters back and forth with my son, which he has forbidden me to read and I have respected that wish of theirs. They have both been raised as only children so they have some common ground.
posted by holdkris99 at 7:48 PM on April 24, 2011


ian997, Sure I am upset, but I try not to worry about things like that, in this instance or my life in general, and try to generally look forward. I am glad she decided to find me at all really.
posted by holdkris99 at 7:51 PM on April 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


What, exactly, is the relationship that you want with her?

That's the rub isn't it? You are right, I could force the issue in court but don't see that that will do much good, at least not in the short term. That is what my parents think I should do. They think that deep down that's what my daughter wants me to do, and maybe they are right. But that's something that can't be undone, taking her mom to court. So, for now, I am reluctant to do so.
posted by holdkris99 at 7:55 PM on April 24, 2011


My question is I guess, how to proceed establishing a relationship with her

With great honesty, and great respect for her wishes. For god's sakes don't try to parent her right now. Sit down and write her a letter; tell her -- in language that makes clear you do not think of her as a little kid -- how you feel about all of this, and what your wishes and hopes are for the future. Apologise to her for any and all disruption, uncertainty; apologise for not having been there the first thirteen years (you couldn't have been, yes, but apologise anyway). Ask her what she would like you to do.
posted by kmennie at 8:09 PM on April 24, 2011


They think that deep down that's what my daughter wants me to do

That's crazy talk.
posted by grouse at 8:10 PM on April 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


Don't try to be a parent or anything, yet. Just keep doing what you're doing, in good humor and with few expectations. I know it's hard not to feel rejected, but at this age, and at this stage of development in your relationship, she really just needs to see that you're not going to disappear no matter what.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:16 PM on April 24, 2011


OK, well, to answer your question of how to forge a relationship with her, basically I'd say: stop trying to do that. Be consistant, and expect nothing back. Call every week. Write every week. Send cards and whatever for birthdays and Christmas. Let her reject you over and over and over and be cheerful about it.

Keep being consistant despite the fact you're getting nothing back. Eventually, you will get something back. Note: she may be 20 when this happens, but she'll have memories of you being a rock solid, consistant and trustworthy presence to build on.

Sorry this sucks for you, but you're not the one who is 13, which sucks harder.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:17 PM on April 24, 2011 [46 favorites]


I think DarlingBri is spot on with this: Be consistant, and expect nothing back. Call every week. Write every week. Send cards and whatever for birthdays and Christmas. Let her reject you over and over and over and be cheerful about it.

I don't know anything about getting to know a long lost daughter. But I know about being a 13 year old girl. What I wanted from my parents and parental figures at that age was to give me my freedom, to accept me, but to also take a genuine interest in me, care about me, and be there for me when I needed them no matter how badly I had behaved before.

If someone says they'll be there for you, but you're a stranger to them, those are just words. But if you tell her you'll write to her every week, and there's a letter from you like clockwork every week, she will come to think of you as someone dependable who does what they say they are going to do. It's how the seeds of trust are planted, with consistent little things like that.

I also think it's GREAT that she's writing to your son! I think if you let that relationship build and don't interfere with it or try to get through to her that way (other than asking your son to mention that you said hello), she might start opening up.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:25 PM on April 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seconding DarlingBri. If you're consistent and supportive in your communication with her now, you'll be laying the groundwork for a great relationship when she's in her early twenties. I'm not saying you'll definitely have to wait that long for reciprocation, but bear in mind that she's met you right at the beginning of the most tumultuous and rebellious phase of her life. You need to take the long view. The fact that she's reading all your letters and corresponding with your son is a pretty good start, really.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:36 PM on April 24, 2011


Genealogy! Fill out the missing half of her family tree.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:04 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't meet my biological father until I was 15. Until that point I knew very little about him. My mother pretty much all of a sudden asked if I wanted to meet him and his family, and I said yes, mainly out of curiosity. He, however, was a lot more excited about it. I honestly didn't know what to make of him, I thought he was sort of weird, and it didn't help at all that he immediately started off by calling himself "Dad" (I have never called him Dad - I already have a dad, who's been in my life since I can remember). Also he told me some rather critical stories about my mother and my mother's family, which probably held some fair measure of truth, but it didn't matter because he wasn't around all my life, my mother was, and I didn't really want to hear him tell me anything bad about her.

Your situation is different - my father chose to leave, whereas you didn't know about your daughter, but I don't know a teenager is going to emotionally make that distinction clearly. He really wanted to explain himself to me, but he was the grown-up, and I was the kid, and I didn't care, because the end result was - he hadn't been there and nothing was going to change that. You can't pick up as if that connection was always there but simply dropped for a while, because that connection was never established.

It took years for me to get used to him. Years. He was always available, though. He wrote me letters for a while. I don't think I wrote him back. I did visit now and then, more often as I grew older. It was always awkward. It's still kind of awkward, I don't quite know how to relate to him. But once I had kids and I saw how interested and involved he was with them, I was finally able to accept him fully into my life, because he had a clear role in it - as a grandfather. I could see he was genuine, and had been genuine and genuinely trying to relate to me all that time, and I was familiar enough with him by that point. And having kids myself helped me process and have more understanding (and I suppose forgiveness) about my own parents, who they are, why they made the decisions they did.

I guess my advice would be - just be there. Being a teenager is a difficult time and processing something like this is not easy even in the best times. Be available, keep reaching out even if she doesn't reach back. Don't try to be a dad, but establish that you're a part of her life if she wants you to be. I think it's a great sign she's talking to your son. I related to and was excited about having instant siblings from the get-go; even as I was wary of my father, I kept coming back because I did feel connected to my half-siblings. And my stepmother was so nice and understanding to me, it made things less awkward in dealing with my father. It has always been a lot easier for me to process him through the people related to him who are related to me, if that makes sense - it's less fraught. I think he does the same with me, through my husband and kids.
posted by flex at 9:30 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oog. I've been the daughter in a situation like this, and man, it sucks. She's very likely expecting you to be the one on a white horse to sweep her out of the situation with her mom. Is there somebody her mom is involved with, currently? She may also be concerned that there may be a custody battle- it's still possible, even at 13.

For the most part, I have to agree with DarlingBri- take it at face value. Don't treat her like the child you raised, but also don't treat her like your buddies down at the bar. She may need some time to warm up, to not see you as the hyped up ur-Daddy and some time to have screaming crying jags because HOLYSHITTHISISABIGDEAL. (words that came out of my mouth at 19 when I met my dad for the first time, trufax)

The only thing that makes me quibble is the facebook page where she claims to be 19. I would show that to her mother, and treat it as if it was a friend's child, not your own child. Yes, she is biologically your child, but coming down on her regarding that hard and fast is the way to sour it for a looong time. Let your daughter and her mother- the one she most likely sees as an authority figure- hash that one out. My father tried to get me to not wear makeup in a FB picture taken when I was 19, and all hell broke loose on that one- mostly because I was an adult. My mother had my back on that one, too.

Give her some time to hang out with just you before she meets her half-brother and your current partner, if any. Let her spend some time with just you and/or you and her mom. Let things go- she's still somewhat of a child, and I'm sure she's got a cache of nasty teen-hormone things to say that will piss you off, make you want to cry and never want to speak to her again. Let 'em go. Be there for her, even if it hurts in the moment. She will more than likely come around and be grateful for whatever relationship you do have- even if it's not textbook Father/Daughter. (I personally would shoot for less textbook, myself. My father and I act like friends who've just met, that happen to be biologically related. It works for us, and god help the person who tries to get between us or gives us shit about it. He and I are of the same mold, and equally terrifying. Doubly so when we're backing each other up.)

If you have any questions, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Hwin at 10:25 PM on April 24, 2011


I would also be curious as to why the mother came to you now, after 13 years. As someone upthread said, older or younger would have been easier, thirteen is an incredibly difficult age - at this point, it's probable you won't ever be 'Dad' to her. She's got so many changes going on in her life already, and all of a sudden there's someone she doesn't know, claiming a bond with her. Please be gentle. If you want to pursue a relationship with her, maybe start from the purely biological stuff? Show her a family tree, tell her about any diseases in the family history (always important to know), show her where she got her curly hair or blue eyes or (insert trait here). After some 'Biodad time', you can continue from there.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:22 AM on April 25, 2011


Gordafarin: "I would also be curious as to why the mother came to you now, after 13 years.

I am too. As it directly relates to your question, knowing this might give you further information about *how* to be part of her life at the moment, because what her mother expects/hopes for is not going to be what your daughter does. I could make a bunch of guesses, but that's irrelevant here. Only the facts will help you. (I'm assuming that her mother contacted you? I'm sorry if I missed the information as to how you found out about your daughter.)

tell her about any diseases in the family history (always important to know),

Oh, God, no -- please don't do that. Inform her mother if there are medical concerns, which her mother can give to her GP for her charting, etc., but do not come at a 13-year-old girl who already resents you with the possibility of hereditary diseases that your already-intrusive existence may bring.

show her where she got her curly hair or blue eyes or (insert trait here).

This I agree with. If you have photos of relations (any siblings *you* might have, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins) who share physical traits with her, you might send some of those along with "This is your cousin Susie -- she's my brother John's daughter. As you can see, she and John both have your eyes/hair/etc."

The brain of a 13-year-old is a playground in a minefield. Be patient. As others have said, you might have to be patient for years, because 13-18... I wish, for her, that this had come about earlier in her life.
posted by tzikeh at 4:04 AM on April 25, 2011


Is there somebody her mom is involved with, currently?

Her mom has a long term boyfriend who does not live with them but I know that my daughter does not care for,this according to her mom.

As far as why her mother waited until now, I suspect that it has to do with the long term boyfriend pressing the issue for monetary reasons, though she has not said that outright. It's weird because he has refused to meet me the three times I have been to Kentucky to visit but I have overheard phone conversations where he was clearly asking her how much money I gave her or something to that effect.
posted by holdkris99 at 6:28 AM on April 25, 2011


As far as why her mother waited until now, I suspect that it has to do with the long term boyfriend pressing the issue for monetary reasons, though she has not said that outright. It's weird because he has refused to meet me the three times I have been to Kentucky to visit but I have overheard phone conversations where he was clearly asking her how much money I gave her or something to that effect.

Big waving red flag. I think it is excellent that you have stepped up immediately with financial support; I would be very thorough in setting up the right legal/financial channels to make sure that support is in fact going to your daughter. Take no one's word for anything. You don't really know these folks. Protect your kid, and someday she will thank you for it.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:47 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm the mother of a teen girl. A lot of what everyone is saying (especially DarlingBri's excellent answer) applies to everyday parenting too. At this stage of life, teenagers are giant suck-holes of me-me-me, even if they don't have a long-lost dad suddenly making his appearance. And that's to be expected. So please keep trying, even if you get the cold shoulder now and it feels like too much effort for no return.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:02 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can kinda relate to this from the other side.
My father knew about me, and we'd contact him, but he didn't take any interest in me til I was a teenager, and it's steeply increased as an adult. I found (find!) it quite strange.
It's like, I already have a family network, if he wanted to be part of it, he had the opportunity when I was a kid, and more likely to accept someone as family purely via proximity. As a very reserved man, after all this time he still seems like a semi-stranger to me.
Ah, so this isn't sounding much like your situation at all, obviously, but I can give you a little what-not-to-do, and there were several things that have made me feel closer to that side of the family, at a recent family funeral (I won't get into the politics of me even being there, *cough*), it was mostly hearing family stories about my grandfather, and seeing photos of my father and other family members as kids.
I didn't have *any* of that.
I'd rather awkwardly asked if I could have a family tree when I was about 14, and my grandmother wrote it out with names only, but no one ever told me how my grandparents met, about the giant eel my dad and his friend tried to catch - nothing personal, y'know?

When my father talked to me, it was all about the weather (lots, and lots of weather), briefly what his family were up to, and then asking about my life or, telling me what he thought of my school reports (very awkward).

Sidetracking, anyway my suggestion is:
Borrow family photo albums, and scan or copy pictures of your family from when you were a kid, and start sending albums, or emailing pictures, and *tell stories*. All the stories your own kids know. Who are the people in the pictures? Your family? Tell the silly childhood stories about how your sister cleaned the bathroom with toothpaste when she was 3.
Do you have baby pictures of your daughter? Get them. And show her pictures of your family at similar ages, especially if you have any that look similar. It was something of a shock to look at family pictures at the funeral, and realise I was the spitting image of my uncles & aunties on that side and father as a toddler. It was weird to realise that they must have all known that (/end issues).

Show her she has been included in your family, without being pressured to include herself.
Friends of my father were regularly shocked when I did visit as a teenager to find out he had a daughter (several congratulated him on having a baby when he said his daughter was visiting - and were upset to find he'd never mentioned me, a teenager!). Let her know she is *known about*, not a secret. Put pictures of her in your house, and possibly take pictures of your house that let her know she's there - visibly included in your life, in even just a marginal way.
Find out similarities between her and other family members (they both play guitar?), and offer to act as go between - that shows you're not trying to well, force a relationship, but offer her the opportunity to be part of something bigger - your family.

I got some odd presents from my grandparents, and a couple from my father when he remembered, them guessing at what I'd like. I think I'd have prefered possibly sillier little things, or anything with history - books they'd read as kids themselves, or a story book, just anything that spoke to who they were.

Just building familiarity, basically.

Good luck, and I have to say, "I write her regularly, send her cards or books or cd's gift cards, nothing extravagant, just little things here and there." You sound fantastic already. That's really cool. Thank you for trying, and keep doing it.
Writing is a really neat thing to do because it's physical proof of attention, that you can keep, and look back at over time.
Congratulations, it's a girl - & a Dad.
:)
posted by Elysum at 7:22 AM on April 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


DarlingBri's advice is (as usual) spot on. Being a teenager sucks, and I imagine that parenting a teen isn't any better. Unfortunately, you didn't get to enjoy any of the fun childhood stuff, you are just getting all the negativity thrown at you now.
posted by radioamy at 7:25 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I should have framed the question like this: I recently found out I have a 13 year old daughter that lives in another state. How do I go about establishing a relationship with her because what I have tried so far has not worked?"

Regardless of your good intentions, good instincts, and refreshing sense of responsibility, you're still essentially a stranger of the worst kind: a stranger who has (perceived) authority over her. Thirteen is a really weird age, as above posters have stated.

I agree with the above posters' suggestion that you continue to be a constant presence, because one day she will remember your presence once she's grown out of this teenage phase. But what I didn't see suggested is that you try to level with her:

"I only recently found out about you. I'm trying hard to do the right thing for both of us, and it's hard to balance my duty as an adult who cares about you with my duty to let you be independent and your mother raise you as she sees fit."

You need to ask her how involved she wants you in her life, but let her know that there is a minimum. For instance, you can inform her that you'll continue to call on the off chance she wants to talk, and shoot her an email once a month or so. But tell her that you'd rather call at a time she chooses rather than just calling out of the blue when it's inconvenient for her. Give her a little bit more control over the contact. The visits are probably too much at this time. She has her own life and your popping up shakes her little world more than she can handle at 13.

Don't bother with snail-mail letters, though cards for birthdays are fine. Stop sending her CDs, books, and trinkets, at that age she probably thinks you're trying to buy her affection.

Keep being consistent. Focus on what she's willing to give you. Don't ask for things she can't give you (e.g. love, affection, attention, connection). Let her know you're trying your best.
posted by juniperesque at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2011


I just want to say how incredibly stoic you are accepting your daughter’s repeated rejection and still not giving up. I would find the whole situation so hurtful. I just hope she will realize soon enough what a supportive presence you can be in her life and open up to you. Best of luck!
posted by Dragonness at 9:07 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way, I really love your headline.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:14 PM on April 25, 2011


It occurs to me that your daughter may be acting out because she feels abandoned or deceived by both parents. I mean at 13, if her peers heard the story of her mother, not knowing that it was her mother, they'd probably refer to the mom as a slut. I don't think most 13 year olds are ready to see their parents as fully formed adults who make mistakes so her mom, the only authority figure in her life, has sort of fallen from grace in her eyes and then in you come, an absent authority figure, and... I don't know it's no wonder she seems mature (because she's most definitely had to figure out a lot on her own) but at teh same time is acting out in childish fashion. Have you talked to the mom about having your daughter go to therapy? I think that might help the relationship between you and your daughter the most. She's got to be really really confused about the whole ordeal.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2011


Don't bother with snail-mail letters, though cards for birthdays are fine. Stop sending her CDs, books, and trinkets, at that age she probably thinks you're trying to buy her affection.

Wow, I couldn't disagree more with this. Sending her trinkets is a sweet way of letting her know you care without being overwhelming. I say you keep doing this.
posted by thatone at 2:10 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


My parents got divorced when I was younger and while I had a 10+-year stage in which I was really awkward with my dad, I never doubted that he was a part of my life and interested in me. I would try to establish that baseline of interest and presence with your daughter, and then let her come to you (or not) as she chooses. Don't take it personally if she is stand-offish or rude. It's not about you or about what you are getting from the relationship; it is about your commitment, determined and upheld by you only.

Don't do things that seem false to you; I think now it might have been nice if my dad had pushed a little more, but he was not that kind of person. We wound up working things out when I got a little older, and things are fine now; and, of course, all the time we spent together during the awkward stage helped me by letting me know that I was loved.

Your approach to this sounds balanced; it seems like you already have a handle on basics like "Meet every responsibility possible" and "Don't talk down about your ex." I think it is positive that your son and daughter are corresponding. How is he handling this?

Finally, Darlingbri is right in everything she says.
posted by ramenopres at 2:28 PM on April 25, 2011


Long lost daughter here:

I found my dad when I was 21. With it came a torrent of emotion- rage, fear, mourning, elation, murderous thoughts, excitement, guilt, occasional indifference (because you can't be emo all the time), greed, delight, hell, even awkward incest like thoughts thanks to a weird trick of biology.

What my dad did right was to allow me to define my relationship with him and make it clear that was my right. What he did wrong was mostly an inability to be sensitive to the awkward needs of an adult child. For the most part the challenge for me was the sudden surge of maturity demanding thoughts that required me to think of my parents (both of them) as fallible, which was a piece of adulthood I must have been ready for, since I handled it okay, but still awkward to digest.

Do continue the steady trail of the little things. It may feel like pouring emotional warmth into a black hole, but you're not hurting anyone by being present. You're not in a a position to parent her, and she's in a pretty awkward position herself. As a worst case insight into how the situation might look, imagine your mother's partner deciding to use her father as a source of revenue, albeit to support you, but nonetheless distasteful. Keep in mind that you generally have to spend a few years with an ungrateful screaming lump if you parent from infancy, so if she seems disconnected now, given the number of years you've actually been a father in function as well as theory, so it's no surprise it'll take her time to warm up. You don't need to pander and spoil her, but be an okay older male relative she can trust not to judge her unfairly.

A lot of people say "don't talk bad about your ex!" but I'll be a counter voice- my parents knocked themselves out trying to be nice about the other. The reality is that my mother's pissed and my dad's confused and once I got to know my dad a bit better it helped to get clear communication. Don't poison the well and try to make your child feel your feelings, but neither should you expect sunshine and roses will always work if a parent is being a genuine ass -and- the kid wants to talk about it.

Your daughter does have a thirteen year relationship with a father, only he's a mystery that mostly exists in her head, and its how she came to peace with you not being there. This phantom father could be anyone from a baby eating ogre to a fairy tale king come to rescue his princess. For example her internal narrative might have decided that you're the deadbeat that affirms the solidarity of her "me and mom against the world!" fantasy. Even if your ex never mentioned you or described you in the most glowing terms, thirteen years without an introduction or an explanation is kinda peculiar. Remember that dealing with the real you means opening herself up to replacing fantasy father with an actual human.

Having done my share, masquerading as an older person often indicates she's trying to dabble in older person stuff. Facebook is more worrisome if she's attached her face and is trying to sexually interface with adults in person (or getting drunk, or whatever). However you don't have the backing to parent directly, so your job is basically to be a safe harbour. Basically its your job to try to make sure that if things blow up with her mother and she needs to spend a summer with you, there's a spare bedroom and a father who lets her rebel in the useless ways (hair dye, questionable music) and is less tolerant of substance abuse and petty theft.

Probably most of her behaviour problems are about people who are directly in her life. Even her rejection of you may be a round about rebellion against her mother and the mother's boyfriend.

Lastly, as people said, giving her pieces of yourself matter once you've seen she's not starving and is housed and clothed. She doesn't need the latest pop CD as much as getting exposed to pieces of you and things you liked, so there's nothing wrong with sending her identity based gifts too, like music and books you were fond of. Furthermore, if she does connect with you there may be some regression on her part- she might look 19, but as a 13 year old that means that she's as liable to lapse back into kiddy style behaviour, especially if she decides you are daddy as well as the awkward male relative that's suddenly been foisted on her. My grandparents (also newly introduced) took the brunt of the immature bits of me and dealt with them pretty well- My surreal feeling trip through Disney World with them might be snark bait, but it was a perfect little sample of youth. I wanted to wear stupid mouse ears and have an adult point out that "There was Goofy!" as much as I talk about how odd and silly it was.
posted by Phalene at 5:04 PM on April 25, 2011


Thanks for the help. As usual, AskMeFi does not disappoint.
posted by holdkris99 at 7:10 PM on April 26, 2011


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