In a new relationship, she has a daughter who is not comfortable with the divorce ...
February 23, 2011 2:45 PM   Subscribe

In a new relationship, she has a daughter who is not comfortable with the divorce ...

I've been seeing this woman for about a month and a half. The relationship is going well, looking at long term. She has a 13-year old daughter who has not adjusted too well to her parents divorce (4 years ago). I haven't met her daughter yet, we've been sneaking around a little, but are getting ready to go public. How do I best handle the relationship with her daughter?
posted by allelopath to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you guys are sneaking around, won't she be mad that her mom didn't tell her about you? She's going to be mad either way, so being nice and honest and really good to her mom would be the best route.
posted by anniecat at 2:48 PM on February 23, 2011

Be nice but don't try too hard.
posted by InkaLomax at 2:51 PM on February 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Be nice and be there for her, but let her take the lead in all things, followed by her mom.
posted by amethysts at 2:52 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is actually really common in divorce situations involving kids. I would approach from a friendly perspective, and not bother trying to ever be the one to discipline her. I'd be friendly and open, but second not trying too hard to spoil or otherwise "buy" affection from daughter. It would also be wise not to let the new lady spend much time complaining to the ex.

Also, these things should be red flags for you in a relationship: 1) bad-mouths or constantly talks about the ex, 2) does these things in front of her child, 3) is still fighting in court with her ex after four years. If these things are happening, bail.
posted by Hylas at 3:05 PM on February 23, 2011

I think her daughter should be made aware of the relationship before she's dropped into the middle of it. Her mom should present it as "this is a thing that is happening", not really open to discussion, but then give her daughter some time to get her head around it before moving on to the step of actually meeting you. It's good that she's started out by keeping this private from her daughter--kids don't need to know more than they need to know. Now that you are getting more serious it's a good time for her to let her daughter know she's seeing someone; the right time for you and the daughter to meet face to face will reveal itself.

I never minded when my divorced parents dated, but it was pretty annoying when my dad would just show up married to someone all of a sudden, and it wasn't that great when my mom would want to hash out details of potential boyfriends that might never really materialize as serious relationships, either.

I basically think of talking about dating with one's children in the same way I think of it with one's parents: they don't even need to know the very casual stuff is happening, they don't need to know any intimate details of less casual goings-on, and they really don't need to meet the person unless there's reason to believe the relationship has long-term potential.
posted by padraigin at 3:26 PM on February 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I would recommend not starting any sort of relationship with the daughter at this time. Her mother should be honest and tell her that you're dating. If she wants to meet you, meet her. If she doesn't want to meet you, let that be her decision. But until you believe that this relationship will be permanent (not just "looking at long term" after dating for six weeks, but honestly discussing marriage and a shared future), I don't think you should be a part of the daughter's life. She's had a lot of turmoil and upheaval in her short life, and she's obviously not feeling settled and secure about it. Hanging out with mom's boyfriend of less than two months will not contribute to the feeling of safety and security that she needs as she moves through adolescence. I realize that not everyone shares my view, but I believe that dating is about the parents, and that it should not be allowed to disrupt the lives of the children, especially those who are already emotionally vulnerable.
posted by decathecting at 3:28 PM on February 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Treat her like an adult.
posted by auto-correct at 3:37 PM on February 23, 2011

I agree with decathecting.
posted by uans at 4:46 PM on February 23, 2011

I met the children of the divorced man I am currently dating at the same stage in the relationship where he met my parents. He told them, much the way padraigin described, that we were a thing and that we had the long-term on our minds. He also explained that there was no pressure for them to meet me, that I would never be considered a replacement for their mother, and that he was concerned about them having the same experience he had, as a child of divorced parents. He didn't want them to get attached to me only to have us break up. They asked to meet me anyway. We'd been seeing each other seriously for about three months at the time.

Since then, we've done things together. I try not to curry favor--we just spend time together if they want, whenever they want. We don't do super special things, just nice things to hang out doing. So far, this seems to be working out great.

One thing I might suggest is to have your girlfriend tell you about her daughter's interests and general personality. All you've said about this girl is that she's unhappy about the divorce. She's a person beyond that too, and that's the person you will be getting to know once you get there. If you don't have a lot of experience talking with or spending time with young teenage girls, talk to someone you know who does, whether it's a teacher or someone with a kid sister.
posted by skyl1n3 at 4:51 PM on February 23, 2011

As someone who went through this as a child and had it go about as disastrously as it could go, I think I can impart some tips. When I was 13, my mom suddenly got a boyfriend and married him after 6 weeks of dating him.

So don't do that. It was traumatic in the extreme for me as a kid to only have met someone once or twice and then bam, he was living in our house and I was supposed to (according to my mother) look upon him as a second parent. It's important that her kids get to know you very well before you even consider marrying her or moving in with her, especially if she's the custodial parent.

And forget the parent thing. Be nice and friendly to the child, but don't ever ever get involved in disciplinary matters between mom and kid. Even if your partner wants you to. Support her in private, but to the kid you need to be Switzerland as far as disciplinary stuff goes. In my opinion, and some would disagree with me about this, this should even be the case should you marry or move in with the child's mother. You are not their father and never will be unless that child chooses to see you as such (and given her age that's unlikely). Any attempt to force it on them by becoming a sudden co-parent will likely make them dislike you forever.

As others have said, be nice and friendly, but don't try too hard. Kids see through that stuff. Don't try to buy affection with expensive gifts or anything. But on the other hand, if you are seriously dating with a long term view, spending some time with the mom and her child together is necessary. So occasional outings that don't put too much pressure on anyone would be recommended.
posted by katyggls at 5:57 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

read and understand the words of decathecting. you are not this girl's problem until you are a lot more permanent than you are now. and then, let her set the pace.
posted by freshwater at 7:23 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sounds a lot like my situation - my mom met my stepdad when I was about 13, and my parents divorced when I was 8. I'll be honest, I hated my stepdad at first, but I would have hated anyone my mom brought home. I was a horribly moody teenager, sullen and withdrawn one minute, full of biting sarcasm the next. I believe I called him fat more than once. I was that bad.

My advice:
1. Don't take it personally. She's a teenager, and Mom might have dated jerks before you, so she may be protective.
2. Don't monopolize mom. Invite daughter along sometimes, and encourage mom to spend time alone with daughter.
3. Don't ever, ever badmouth dad, no matter how much of a jerk he was to mom.
4. Show an interest in her life, but don't be insincere.
5. Listen, listen, listen. This is one of the best qualities of my stepdad.
6. Remember that she won't always be a teenager. I started to get along fantastically with my stepdad when I was about 20, and we're still close.
7. Don't overthink it. :)
posted by desjardins at 10:00 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in your same place, except a 15 year old son. Here's what I've learned so far:

1)Maintain your own place, it's needed for your own sanity and to provide a place to retreat for both of you. Not sure what the custody arrangement is, but my girlfriend is always glad to be able to get out of her place for a few days when the son is with the dad.

2)Run as fast as you can away from the relationship if her mom is a guilty parent over the divorce and refuses to sets limits. Your asking for trouble and a lifetime of being hated.

3)Go in with your head up about the truth of raising a teenager. A teenager is difficult even with a healthy marriage, with dating - it can cause the relationship to crumble if you let me. Point 1 helps ALOT.

4)Stay out of parenting - the daughter will not respect you more then likely, and it's not your place. As other said, be friendly but develop a thick skin and don't take it personal. More then likely, your going to become a whipping post for all the crap that is going on with the teens life.

5)Realize when the teen needs counseling; again, you can't force it but suggest it to the mom. Things I would absolutely 100% recommend getting them into therapy about is if they are not over the divorce, anger management issues (could be mom moved on with her life before dad, daughter may end up feeling she is left as part of the "old" family), and grief counseling.

6)The daughter's success or failure is not based on you; you can help them along if they are willing to accept it but she's at an age where her decisions are starting to have consequences. Drugs, booze, teenager stuff - you can only become involved if you've established that with the teen. As just a boyfriend, good luck.

7)Teens world revolves around them; and they don't (or can't) understand the need for an adult relationship. Mom and her were prob. fine before you came into the picture, she may end showing resentment towards you because now the daughter needs to share.

8)Overall, remember your dating the mom - not the teenager. Teenagers are very rough to raise due to the emotional abuse they can inflict without realizing it (part of the independence phase); but always remember your dating the mom, not the teen. The teen doesn't need to like it or understand it, but they don't get to chose who mom has a relationship with.

9)Dont' move too fast, no moving in, no PDA, especially no sex while they are home (maybe late at night). This may be over the line for them.

10)Remember that if it wasn't you, then it would be someone else. Mom is going to go through the challenges of raising a teenager with or without you; the only question is, are you strong enough to emotionally support her? And trust me, it sucks seeing your girl cry because her teen did something utterly stupid.

Overall, there are a few ways this could go but I would recommend not living together until the teen is out of the house and your dating the mom, not the teen. There are plenty of websites out there for single parents, and I would recommend posting on one to get some single mom and dad perspectives. Plus, they do help to keep your sanity with advice. My personal favorite is single parent voices:

Raising a teen is a challenge, and you will be tested; it is going to be far from peaches and cream. But there are plenty of success stories and plenty of failures - only the mom and you can determine how it's going to turn out.
posted by lpcxa0 at 7:05 AM on February 24, 2011

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