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Torn between shielding my daughter and needing her help
August 22, 2012 12:51 PM   Subscribe

How can I encourage my adult daughter from my first marriage to voice her opinions in my current divorce proceedings (of my second marriage) without it feeling like I'm dragging her into battle?

I am in the middle of a drawn out divorce. It’s drawn out mainly because my wife and I are not agreeing on the best custody arrangement for our kids, so we have to punt it to the court and the “experts”. Please, no judgments about me for not settling and “what am I putting the kids through”. It’s complicated.

My questions has to do with my young adult daughter (we’ll call her Tina) from my first marriage. I love Tina immensely. Although I only had Tina every other weekend (because when you become a dad in your mid twenties, that’s how you think things work) I have spent my life since my first divorce (when Tina was very young) ensuring she felt included in the family I created with my second wife and the two kids I subsequently had. We would do trips, holidays, and other daily things together like meals and movies and games. She loves her young siblings very much.

At the beginning of this divorce, Tina had told me many times what she thought the best custody arrangement for her two younger half siblings should be. But recently I have come to understand that she is stressed out, feeling that she does not want to be pulled into the divorce conflict.

I know it would be incredibly damaging to everyone for Tina to testify in open court. But I also know the experts need to hear her stories. I was hopeful that a judge or a custody evaluator would meet with her in private (they typically do) and hear her observations and opinions.

I know she wants to see a particular parenting arrangement for my younger kids, but I think she’s afraid of hurting her step mom (for however long she’ll be that). It’s different here because it’s not two biological parents, and Tina has really hated the way her step mom parents her younger siblings. And also since it was my wife who initiated the divorce, Tina disapproves of what that will do the kids’ lives, having lived through it.

For the record, I've never asked Tina to spy, badmouth, cut off ties with, or otherwise disparage her step-mom. I've told her that their relationship is their business. I've only ever asked her what her opinions are on the way custody should go based on what she's experienced in our family dynamic.

I don’t want to damage anyone’s relationship. I just want her to tell her story. What do I do?
posted by punocchio to Human Relations (22 answers total)
 
If you really love her, you will let her decide how much to be involved. All by herself.

You are right, the relationship between Tina and her current step mom is at stake. And, potentially, so is her relationship with the younger siblings. So let Tina decide what she wants to do, without sharing your own wishes in any way, and then fully support her decision.

She may well decide she doesn't want to talk to anyone. In which case, you want to fully support that by advocating against including her.

Times like these are the tests of who you love more -- your child or yourself. It is hard, but that's parenting for you.
posted by bearwife at 12:58 PM on August 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


If there will be a custody evaluator, it is probably ok to have ask that person to interview Tina. Otherwise, leave her out of it.
posted by freshwater at 12:59 PM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Frankly, it sounds like you want Tina to speak up because it would be a help to you. You kind of hint that she has special knowledge about her siblings that everyone should hear, but I would think that her ability to be impartial in this matter is pretty compromised. Given what you've written here, I'd leave her out of it, which is what it seems like you know she wants.
posted by OmieWise at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


Tina has really hated the way her step mom parents her younger siblings. And also since it was my wife who initiated the divorce, Tina disapproves of what that will do the kids’ lives, having lived through it.

For the record, I've never asked Tina to spy, badmouth, cut off ties with, or otherwise disparage her step-mom. I've told her that their relationship is their business. I've only ever asked her what her opinions are on the way custody should go based on what she's experienced in our family dynamic.

...I just want her to tell her story.


It sounds like you want her to tell her story because you think that the story would benefit you. Asking her to voice such opinions at the expense of your soon-to-be-ex is functionally indistinguishable from asking her to badmouth your ex, and it may very well damage their relationship.

I don't think you can do what you want to do, here.
posted by jon1270 at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the only good thing you can do here is to tell her you love her, you support any decision she makes and reassure her that whatever she does and however the divorce hearing proceeds it will have no effect at all on the relationship you have with her. There's just no way any attempt to "encourage" her to take a particular role in this process won't feel like you're asking her to take sides and to fight your battles for you. If any of the court-appointed people involved independently approach her and solicit her input, that's all well and good, but you should stay as far from that process as you possibly can.
posted by yoink at 1:09 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would tell her that you know it's awful and stressful, but that she should be as honest as possible for the sake of her younger siblings. HOWEVER, this is only if you think that your ex having custody of your children would be damaging to them. Be serious with yourself here.

Also, it would be wise to acknowledge to your daughter that you had her spend time, as a child, around someone whom you now feel to be an inferior parent. That is probably a lot of what's smarting here--you think your wife is a bad parent now that it's her younger siblings who are at stake, but when it was her? You took a small amount of custody and married someone who you now think is a shit parent.

There is no way she's not going to be hurt and upset by this because of the comparisons with her situation. I'm sorry.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:26 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


She's your daughter. She doesn't owe this to you, is probably sorting out some pretty complicated feelings about this divorce, and doesn't want to get involved in something that is very much not about her.

Presumably, if your other kids are old enough to know what is going on, they will have an opportunity to speak to the judge/evaluator/other authorities as part of the custody process. Find out from your lawyer what form that process will take and ask how Tina could participate in a similar way if she chooses to do so. If so, treat Tina like a grown-up and let her know what's going on, tell her under what terms she could participate (i.e. she'd have to testify in open court vs. in chambers with lawyers present vs. privately with a neutral custody evaluator, etc...) and what confidentiality she can expect. Tell her you love her no matter what happens, emphasize you want to do what's best for her and her half-siblings, that you're sorry you're putting her anywhere near this shitty situation, etc...

Then, if it seems appropriate, give her a business card or email address or whatnot to contact the lawyer/court/evaluator/whoever if she wants to share anything as part of the process like her half-siblings will. She's an adult and can make an appointment or write a letter if she wants. I'd just be clear that you're just giving her the choice to say anything she wants to say as part of the process because she's a part of the family too and everyone in the family has a voice. Give her the contact info, tell her anything she does is up to her and that you won't be involved or bring it up again unless she asks. Then give her a hug and leave it alone.

The only situation when I think it would be appropriate to push at all is if Tina is, in fact, a witness to outright dangerous and/or abusive acts which turn this into a clear-cut safety situation, rather than disagreement in parenting styles.
posted by zachlipton at 1:52 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Leave her out of it. She's an adult and should make her own decisions. If she feels compelled to testify, she will testify. Any pressure you bring on her now, any amount of convincing you try to do with her, will only hurt your relationship with her in the long run.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:52 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you've made it clear to Tina what you want, and she's not comfortable doing it. You can't push this and also tell her that her relationship with her stepmom is her business.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:53 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


On preview, exactly what zachlipton said.
posted by mrs. taters at 1:55 PM on August 22, 2012


...her step mom (for however long she’ll be that)...

I think this is an important factor - Tina may totally side with you, but still respect and want to have a relationship with her step mother. If she testifies in court against your current wife, there's a good chance that will destroy their relationship forever. Unlike her biological kids, your older daughter might be cut out entirely. The kind thing is to let her know you value her opinion as much as you can without pressuring her, but let her make her own decision.
posted by fermezporte at 1:55 PM on August 22, 2012


Assuming no abuse, your best bet to getting her to enter the fray (as it were) would likely be to sit her down, briefly explain that you understand how this has stressed her out and that she really doesn't want to be involved, and that even though you think her involvement would be welcome and appreciated, you respect her position and won't push the point further...and that you won't mention it again, unless she reaches out to you to ask you questions or to become involved.

In short, acknowledge that she's an adult and has to make up her own mind, that you've possibly (even if you didn't!) put pressure on her, and that you're backing off. Then follow through on that backing-off, and let her figure it out for herself.
posted by davejay at 3:09 PM on August 22, 2012


But I also know the experts need to hear her stories

It sounds like there's missing information here that we really need in order to answer this question. Can you give us some sense of what she would be saying? Why do they need to hear her stories? You'd be asking a lot of her. That doesn't mean it automatically out of the question, but it does mean that it matters what the benefit is going to be, and for whom.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:18 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know she wants to see a particular parenting arrangement for my younger kids,

Outside of abuse, a grown child's preference for a custody arrangement for her half-siblings that favors her bio-parent over her step-parent is going to be pretty much a given, and not likely to have any influence whatsoever on a judge. Leave her out of it.
posted by headnsouth at 3:25 PM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


You do not sound like a bad person. It's great that you are asking this question.

If there was a legitimate safety concerns surrounding these custody issues, that would throw your question into a different light. Since you did not explicitly state serious safety concerns in your question, I'm removing that possibility from my reasoning. Furthermore, I'm sure if your daughter had witnessed anything truly dangerous, she would not feel conflicted about standing up for her younger siblings. Agreed? Am I on the right track??

I'm only guessing here, but it sounds like your oldest daughter is nervous because she feels (true or not) that whatever she witnessed is perhaps being blown out of proportion. Is it possible she is feeling nervous because she suspects she will pressured to embellish or outright lie during the custody proceedings?

Your question is carefully crafted and there is lots of equivocating going on in there. I think you already know that what you want to do is unethical, plus likely emotionally damaging for your whole family.

If this is a safety issue, run everything by your lawyer and do whatever you need to keep all of your children safe. Obviously!

Since you did not directly indicate there are safety concerns, it is highly likely you need to back off. I know divorces can be drama vortexes, and you seem caught up in a giant vortex of drama right now. Trying to erroneously pull outsiders into the conflict is a hallmark of the drama vortex, btw. Drama can be pretty insidious, I know. It's tempting to escalate the drama, when really, the wiser move is to diffuse.


I'm suggesting that instead of turning to your adult daughter for help, you should look within yourself first and seek a session or two with a well qualified family therapist.

It is fair and useful to seek professional guidence from an objective 3rd party.

There is zero shame in privately talking out your views and goals with a trained professional who isn't profiting from your situation directly, or otherwise emotionally invested in the outcome.



Something about the way you couched this question makes me think you might not be getting the best advice possible, and I really think you should hit the "refresh" button on your perspective with the help of a qualified professional.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 3:26 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming it's not an abuse thing, because your question really doesn't sound like it is -- more like there is an outcome that you want, that Tina would support, and her testimony might ensure. That is really not a fair thing to place on your child. Further, I cannot imagine a case in which the testimony of this sole person, whose opinion would be considered somewhat compromised, would really make or break things one way or the other. Of course, I don't know your situation.

The most you should do is acknowledge her positions and ask if she would be willing to make a statement -- and give her options, not just "testify in open court."

But to be honest, I think you should not do this. She doesn't want to be pulled into YOUR divorce. Please leave her out of it.
posted by sm1tten at 4:00 PM on August 22, 2012


Dude. Divorced person here, who obtained that divorce when my child was small: for fuck's sake, DO NOT DO THIS! You do not involve your kids in your divorce any more than you absolutely, positively have to. She does not have to testify. Therefore, unless she begs you to be allowed to do so, you do NOT ask her, period. To do otherwise would be monstrously selfish and a mockery of a healthy parent/child dynamic.
posted by julthumbscrew at 4:23 PM on August 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


My questions has to do with my young adult daughter (we’ll call her Tina) from my first marriage. I love Tina immensely. Although I only had Tina every other weekend (because when you become a dad in your mid twenties, that’s how you think things work) I have spent my life since my first divorce (when Tina was very young) ensuring she felt included in the family I created with my second wife and the two kids I subsequently had.

You've made her feel important, which is quite a feat with a child from a first marriage, and more so with the custody you had. Don't throw that out the window now. Make no mistake, that's exactly what you'll be doing if it looks like you are using her as a means to an end with your other children.
posted by BibiRose at 4:28 PM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


also since it was my wife who initiated the divorce, Tina disapproves of what that will do the kids’ lives, having lived through it.

that honestly sounds like a pretty immature opinion (which totally makes sense at her age!) and might be coloring her feelings here. she could very easily feel differently in a year, or might feel responsible if one of the siblings doesn't adjust well to the arrangement she pushed in favor of. this is too big a burden unless there's abuse involved. you are certainly too close to the situation to ask her to do it.
posted by nadawi at 9:01 PM on August 22, 2012


You can't ask her to 180 like this. First you ask her to accept your wife as her stepmother and view her as a family member; now you ask her to turn on the stepmother than you brought into her life, and testify as to her unfitness as a parent?

Unless there is something you're not telling us -- some abuse that manifested only recently -- then you really cannot pressure Tina to get involved at all.

I know you want an ally and I know you are scared of what's going to happen in this divorce, but I'd focus on showing your best self to the judge and evaluators, rather than trying to get Tina to testify, which probably won't help you anyway, and will probably alienate her from you and the kids in the aftermath.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:55 PM on August 22, 2012


My advice? Don't involve your and your spouse's kid, adult or otherwise, into your divorce proceedings. It wasn't their marriage and it is not their place, and testifying against a parent will threaten whatever relationship they have with that parent.

Be the adult and make your own case before the court.
posted by zippy at 3:26 AM on August 23, 2012


To close the loop on this, if anyone's interested, I sat down with Tina and told her this would be coming, and she should feel free to speak her mind if she wants to, but if she didn't, I would totally understand. She seemed relieved.
posted by punocchio at 3:47 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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