56

Four years ago, I divorced my ex after 26 years of marriage. He was extremely manipulative and abusive. He kept track of every mile I put on our vehicles and had to explain if I was ten minutes longer at the grocery store than he thought I should be. He also cheated on me for most of our marriage. He often told me that if I left him that he would turn the kids against me. For the last four years, he has tried to do that with no success. He is a terrible person and I still have to share custody of our 16 year old daughter with him.

I have since married a wonderful man who treats me and my daughter like gold. He loves my daughter like his own. He supports her with her financial needs (dates, sports activities, insurance etc.) He has not missed a single volleyball, basketball game, or track meet that she has played. He has never raised his voice to her.

My daughter is very happy and has never caused me or my husband any trouble. She is a great athlete and an honor student, and I often hear from teachers, coaches, moms of her friends what a good girl she is. I'm very close to her, and we have a great relationship.

What I am struggling with is my daughter will not allow herself to get very close to my husband, and he gets his feelings hurt, which I can understand. She is polite and respectful of him, and sometimes tells him thanks. When me and my husband are in the same room, she will walk by and tell me thanks or good bye without acknowledging him. He is a teacher at her school, and all of her friends talk to him and get a long great with him, but she barely acknowledges him at school.

When my daughter goes a few weeks without having to spend a lot of time with her dad, then her relationship with my husband is great. I know that my ex is still manipulating her, and cannot stand the thought of her having another man be a father figure to her, even though he doesn't support her or behave like a father in any way.

I am at a loss as to how to make it easier for my husband. He does all the father stuff, and my ex gets to be the one who dances with her at prom, and all those father/daughter activities.

One one hand, I think we are lucky that things are as good as they are. I have friends who are in a similar situation, and there is a lot of drama between the kids and step-parent. Is my husband expecting too much? How do I make him feel better about the sacrifices he is making for my daughter? My two adult married kids love him and are so happy that I married him.

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    I'm curious to know if you ever had family therapy around the divorce? Has she ever been in individual therapy? A lifelong victim of manipulation doesn't often see it for what it is. Does she understand her father? Was her father better with her than with you? – anongoodnurse Oct 9 '17 at 14:51
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    Me and my daughter had therapy. Yes she understands her father, and sees him for what he is. She is counting down the days when she has her freedom and can see him if or when she wants. He was extremely controlling and manipulative to me and my daughters, and favored my son. I think my husband sees the manipulation and wants to be the father my daughter never had. I am glad to be married to such a kind and generous man. With his own kids, his wife didn't want much to do with the kids, so he did everything, and is carrying over to our family. – Susan B. Oct 9 '17 at 17:06
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    You can't insist that someone who is almost an adult themselves have a relationship if they don't want to. I feel that he should accept "polite and respectful" as actually a pretty good outcome under the circumstances and wait out the two years until contact can be cut completely with the ex. – pjc50 Oct 10 '17 at 8:49
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    At the end of the day he IS her father so I would not expect her to just drop him like a bad habit. I hope you are not feeding her any bad information about her father (your ex) otherwise you are being just as bad. – JonH Oct 10 '17 at 11:52
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    Based on your comments it is pretty clear that you still hold quite a bit of animosity for your ex-spouse. You need to make sure that you hide that from your daughter... it's the hardest but most important thing you do as a divorced parent. Even if he is a complete SOB, he is still her father and she loves him.. and pointing out his faults only serves to injure her. It is sad that he tries to manipulate her against you... but kids are smart - unless there is physical abuse involved, trust your daughter to recognize his behavior for what it is. – DanK Oct 10 '17 at 17:05

12 Answers 12

56

Kids love their parents. This is true the vast majority of the time, even when the parent is abusive and manipulative to an extraordinary degree. Therefore it is extremely difficult to form a close relationship with a child if you are trying to replace their parent. or if you make the biological parent wrong, or otherwise say bad things about them or about their parenting. I don't know for sure that any of these things are happening, but it certainly sounds like your husband is trying to be her father because he (and you) perceives that to be something she is lacking. Of course her own dad is going to be the one to dance with her at her prom etc - he's her dad. He's been her dad for 16 years, and even though he hasn't been part of your life in any significant way for the last 4, he has been part of hers. Your other kids are grown - they likely no longer have a truly parent-child relationship with you, and therefore do not feel any pressure to see your husband as a parent either; they just see him as a great guy.

This said, there is no reason whatsoever that your husband can't have a great relationship with your daughter. As long as he is clear with her that he doesn't want to replace her dad, and as long as he doesn't say anything bad about her dad. He can say something like, "I know your dad is very special to you, and I would never want to interfere with that. He's your dad, and he'll always be your dad. But you are also incredibly special and important to me, and while I don't want to try to be your dad, I am hoping that you'll let me be part of your life, because I do love and care about you as if you were my own child."

He would also have to work to build that relationship outside regular family and school time - I think sometimes step-parents make the mistake of thinking that because they've built a close relationship with the parent of a child, that automatically spills over into having a close relationship with the child. Going to her sports events doesn't really count, because there's no real quality time in that - there's no chance for him to learn about who she is (as a rapidly maturing almost adult person), and no chance for her to learn who he is - outside his "roles" in her life as your husband and her teacher. I'm not sure what kind of venue would strike all of you as appropriate, but if he really wants to be close to her, they have to spend some one-on-one time in an environment that's conducive to conversation. And ideally it should be something she wants to do, like taking a road trip somewhere or something like that - not a sit down "let's talk" situation.

Anyway, if I've misread the situation, please feel free to correct me :) but I hope that helps.

  • 2
    Your comments are helpful. I also think he tries too hard. I agree that if he wants to be a better friend to her, then he needs to do something fun with her that she enjoys, just like anyone would who was trying to build a friendship with someone. Blending our family has been surprisingly smooth, with little conflict, so I struggle when he gets down like this. I know he has a big heart and is generous and would like to be her father. It is difficult to see how my X treats her, and her come home upset, so I think he wants even more to replace him. Thank you so much :) – Susan B. Oct 9 '17 at 16:51
  • @SusanB. Good! I'm glad it was helpful :) – MAA Oct 9 '17 at 17:00
  • "Kids love their parents. This is true the vast majority of the time, even when the parent is abusive and manipulative to an extraordinary degree." - I think this quote requires some evidence. Personally, when growing up I knew quite a few teenagers who didn't love their parents and this didn't involve abuse. – icc97 Oct 11 '17 at 14:51
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    @icc97 sure :) show me the kid who won't defend their parent when ANOTHER kid starts trash-talking them. – MAA Oct 11 '17 at 15:43
  • In other words, act more as an additional good friend In other words, a possible "I can never replace your other dad, but I'd like to be your friend" focus, to reduce the potential guilts/barriers/etc. The word "dad" can be so heavily psychological, having seen (step|half|adoptive)-siblings go through struggles. This might not be what is happening here, but trying to cover all bases. – MarkR Oct 12 '17 at 5:02
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I have some experience in this area. About 10 years ago I married my wife, whose children were teenagers at the time. A lot of the tension from her divorce was dissolved rather quickly, and there is a lot of trust in our family now. So when we first got married we made the decision together to do a couple of things.

First, I made it a point that I was going to support her children in honoring their father as much as possible. He was their Dad and nothing could take that away. Regardless of any mistakes he may have made or any ill feelings my wife may have had towards him, as I saw it, he was still deserving of having his children think highly of him. So we made the decision that not only were we going to avoid drama, we were going to proactively encourage their relationships to grow.

As for me, I thought this was actually a pretty easy decision to make. I wasn't their "new Dad", and I never tried to be. And honestly, there were (and still are) certain things that their Dad is the best person to offer his support. They need him in ways that no one other than a father can fulfill, and I can respect that. I would encourage your husband to just be secure in his step-father role. This is one of those things in life where you win by surrendering.

Secondly, we decided to just forgive him of any hurt in the past. This was more for my wife, and I was supportive of her in this. This meant no criticism and no trash talk. We had a new marriage with a bright future ahead, and it was best to just let go of any past issues that could be destructive.

Combining these efforts really changed the dynamic of our family. Her kids trusted our intentions. Their father had no reason to feel desperate or defensive because of us. There was an atmosphere of peace and stability in a broken and blended family.

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    +1 for "I would encourage your husband to just be secure in his step-father role. This is one of those things in life where you win by surrendering." - It's spot on. – Denis de Bernardy Oct 11 '17 at 18:32
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    Great answer; also, when people try too hard at something, it comes off as desperate. Loving distance is a much better approach in OP's situation. SF should be loving, but also distant without trying too hard. He's the SF, not the Father like you wrote. – Guest Oct 12 '17 at 13:18
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    +1 for the answer and +100 for the way you managed the situation. – Eric Duminil Oct 12 '17 at 14:16
  • +1 Just wonderful way to handle the tricky situation. – Jeril Nadar Oct 13 '17 at 17:25
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Perhaps he is trying too hard? What does he mean by “getting close”? It is normal at her age to be a bit off from the man of the house. I don’t know her age but I would guess she’s a teenager.

The new man pops up at home replacing what she thought was the best man around and above all of this he is the cool teacher at school.

My two cents is that your husband is trying too hard. He never misses a sports event? He is a bit too much on here case. He should let her loose and she will (with time) get to know and appreciate the person he is.

5

I sort of think a lot of these answers puts to much emphasis on the "bio-father," and it is quite possible it has nothing to do with him. From your comments it doesn't sound like she has a good relationship with him, and sees him in a somewhat similar light you see him.

Lets flip the situation, say we are in some alternate universe where after parents divorce the kids go out and find a new parent, where they have great "parent-child" chemistry, and finally they decide on a new father, bring him home and you are expected to be married to him. Sure he is a great guy, always nice to you, treats you like you are his "real wife": goes to important events, says he loves you, take you out on dates, does the dishes and all that and more. So you respect your daughters decision, and since he is so nice you are also nice to him, but at the end of the day you don't feel the same, or "wifely", he feels about you, even after 4 years. Now the husband feels bad that you don't love him the same way he loves you, but at the end of the day he can't really do much about it. Maybe he will feel bad forever that you don't love him, or eventually you do love him, or he learns to accept he was chosen by the daughter, not you. Your daughter feels bad for him, and you, but at the end of the day she can't make your relationship magically better.

This is the way I am thinking about it as someone whose parents got divorced, one multiple times, and remarried(all who where nice supportive people to me, and my sibling had better "chemistry" two of the three, and neither of us liked the other one). At the end of the day they are just someone you brought in, who could be the best person in the world, but maybe they just don't "click" and there isn't really a way to force them to click, no matter how much your husband loves your daughter. Maybe in the future they will have a relationship your husband wants, but I do think it is unreasonable for your husband to expect so much. I am not sure the best way to make him feel better... maybe the above alternate universe I presented will get him to understand that he is expecting a lot, and maybe he can be content with what he has.

  • 1
    Wow. Excellent shift in the point of view. – SomeShinyObject Oct 11 '17 at 23:43
3

Speaking from theory, the situation is described as one where at the present time the three adults (mother, biological father, stepfather) have some control over what the girl does, but nobody has control over what the girl feels or will feel in the future when she is an adult and will have a large degree over her relationships with her parental figures.

Nobody has much control over what they feel. They more or less automatically feel what a person with their individual personalty naturally feels under their specific circumstances.

And people have a degree of influence but not control of the emotions of other people. There are ways to increase the probability that another person will feel what you desire them to feel but they are not foolproof. There is no guarantee that an attempt to influence someone else's emotions will succeed. And the methods of influencing other people's emotions that have the highest probability of success are methods to make them feel negative emotions like fear, anger, and hate.

I personally don't like it when other people try to make me feel a certain way. It makes me stubborn and reluctant to feel the way they want me to feel.

And some people might say it is more important whether someone deserves to be respected, liked, and loved by another person than it is to actually be respected, liked, and loved by that other person. Even though people desire to be respected, liked, and loved by other people, it may be more important to be deserving of respect and love than to receive it. So some people would say that it is better - though not more pleasant - to deserve love and unjustly be hated, than it is to deserve hate and unjustly be loved.

Here is a personal story. My sister adopted a dog who had been abused by men and feared men. Whenever I visited, the dog growled at me and I pretty much ignored her instead of trying to get her to like me. My sister and the dog moved in with us, and I just accepted that the dog didn't like me and didn't try to change her feelings. Years later I was taking the dog for a walk and I realized she now liked me and accepted me as a family member, and the change had been so gradual I never noticed it happening.

I hope this can be a little help.

2

There could be several things going on here that, combined, can make for an awkward situation.

First up your daughter. She has been hurt emotionally by her father. That hurt may be perpetuated with the continuing manipulation by her father. This could well and truly leave her in a state where she is wary of "father figures" and is remaining distant from her stepfather as a means of protecting herself as from further emotional turmoil. In doing this she is stunting the potential growth of the relationship. This could be a conscious decision she has made or is something she is doing subconsciously.

As the child of a teacher who would occasionally sub at my school, I understand the school situation. I would put as much distance at school as possible between me and my mother. This is OK, for both of them. He won't be seen as favouring his stepdaughter and she won't be seen as trying to use her stepfather to gain any advantage at school. It seems pretty normal to me.

Now on to your husband. He seems to be overcompensating for the family he never had with his previous wife. By trying too hard he may be exacerbating the insecurities that I've mentioned with regards to your daughter. He needs to take a step back and not try and force the relationship. By all means, keep up the support that he has been giving. That will reinforce the family bonds. Affection is something that needs time to develop.

It seems like your daughter likes your new husband, give her time to let the affection develop. 16 year olds have a lot of emotional turmoil going on, you're adding an evolving family situation on top of this. It is a lot for her to handle. Again time is all that is required.

Even though I've advised getting your husband to step back, do encourage some one-on-one time for them. Try and find an activity they can enjoy together, that way the focus can be on the activity and the relationship can grow from there. I encourage being open about the purpose of the activity as a means of getting closer otherwise your daughter might perceive it as yet someone else trying to manipulate her.

2

My advise is to give it time, it has only been 4 years or so. And to make non-issue of things as much as possible.

I am in a similar position to your husband. My step-daughter, still very much loves her dad, who is kind of horrible. He pulls all kinds of shenanigans that in the end does nothing but hurt her. Over time she has grown closer to me, much closer. She drifts away at times, but comes back and depends on me for fatherly things. Your husband needs to look for the small wins, and be content with those.

He should seek to make non-issue of things. The non-acknowledgment is an example of something that should be a non-issue. He could crack a joke about it, ignore it, or ask for a hug or whatever. Saying something like: "It would make my day, if you say thank you" would probably go a long way into improving their relationship.

One example, in our life, was that the daughter was feeling very much abandoned as my wife took my name when we wed. She was now the only person in our household with her last name. So I started referring to us as the "Gonzales family". We are all pretty darn white, so referring to us with a Hispanic last name is just silly. In the end, we chuckled about it but it communicated to her that we all belonged to each other last name not withstanding.

While you feel profound love for this man, she was not courted by him. On some level any love or affection she shows him is betraying her dad. Your husband needs to allow her to love her dad above all, and be thankful for any kindness or love she shows him. His consistency will win out over time. Be patient.

1

I agree with the posters here. Your husband will get his chance when your daughter has her own children. That's the next opportunity a child loves their parents. And as he steps back he'll start seeing a good response from your daughter. Good luck

  • I call this "Parenting for karma." Behave the way you believe is best for the child, and down the line, when they are further removed from the emotion of the moment, they will see (and hopefully acknowledge) the value of your support. – magerber Oct 10 '17 at 18:18
1

I am in a somewhat similar situation: my wife's abusive & manipulative ex-husband has intentionally created a giant wedge between her and her kids, and (to the point of your question) between me and her kids.

I think the remedy is two-fold: time and healing.

(1) TIME: Your divorce was four years ago which is forever in the life of a teenager. But it seems likely that you and your kids are deeply traumatized by 10-ish years of abuse. It could take many more years for your daughter to truly trust your husband and develop independence from her father. I encourage your husband to PLAY THE LONG GAME. Perhaps through high school there will continue to be some uncomfortable distance. But if the two of you stay strong for each other and supportive of your daughter, then in her twenties (or maybe thirties or forties or fifties!) it is entirely possible and even likely that she and your husband will eventually cultivate a very close relationship. Yes, this is a long time! But remember that abuse is a multi-generational disorder, so it may help your husband to know that he investing not merely in a great relationship with your daughter, but in her children or grandchildren.

However...

(2) HEALING: The mere passage of time does not magically cures all ills. I believe it may be extremely helpful for your daughter (you and your son too?) to engage in some form of intentional healing and recovery work -- perhaps more therapy, 12-step fellowships such as CODA or others that focus on self-destructive behavior that might arise (I hope not, but it's a definite possibility), participation in a religious community, etc. There are many paths to healing and each individual must select the path that works. The point is that "select" is an action verb, your daughter must do the work. It takes patient, deep, difficult work to unravel the impact of a childhood of buried emotions and abuse.

0

I have been in a similar situation as a step dad, although mine might be a bit different, since the biological father kind of vanished, so there was a void to fill.

Nevertheless, I think the key point is that you cannot force affection. As others have mentioned, kids almost always have a strong tie to their biological parents. And if she is 16 now, she was 12 when you divorced. A divorce is almost always very difficult for children. And the age of 12 is almost always a difficult time for children. So to me the whole situation is not very surprising.

I have no easy solution for your husband, but I think that he must accept that he is not her father, and will never be. He can offer to substitute certain aspects of fatherhood, and most likely some of the offers will be taken. If your daughter is very mature (unlikely at 16) she might show some gratitude. From my own experience with my parents, gratitude towards what my parents have done for me only came much later, when I had (step) children of my own. So I would not expect much to get in return.

To get close so someone takes both parties to be interested. Your daughter had no choice regarding your husband. So he must adjust to her pace, and accept that it even might never happen.

0

The issue seems replacement, with your daughter.
So, practical advise: your husband should insert the phrase "I'm not your father, you already have one" as much as possible into the conversation.
This went a long way in my situation.

Also, it's possible your husband creeps your daughter out, in some instinctive way, which she has no real control over. He is a teacher, after all, and she might feel differently about this than her friends, since he married HER mother and not her friends' mothers.
I was the teen daughther in this situation and I felt threatened that my father was gonna be replaced with my mothers BF. As soon as I realized that wasn't the case, we got along just fine. But we had a fairly peaceful situation compared to you.
Your husband should try to send the message that he is NOT replacing anyone.

-1

Disclaimers:

  1. I'm neither a parent nor I was in a similar situation.
  2. I read the answers after writing. Some answers have already told similar things, especially MAA's answer.

I think your husband can make some clever moves to get closer to her. Instead of replacing the place of her father, he can do this by trying to become a friend. There are two problems with trying to become the 'new' father:

  1. Your daughter's father idea is flawed because of your ex husband. And deep down she may have bad feelings/ideas about fathers.
  2. There already is a father, so that space is kind-of filled.

Let me try to be more pragmatic and define clever moves: He can try to have conversations with her without your presence. Maybe about adolescence, maybe about life, maybe about her dates or sports activities. He can even took her side instead of yours in some arguments to form an alliance. In this way he can be her 'old aged friend' instead of her 'new father'. If this works, even he may help her understand her father. I find these kind of alliances or 'old aged friends' valuable.

A final example:
I remember this scene (explicit language - NSFW) from the movie Demolition where the main guy (a widower who haven't loved her ex-wife) tries to connect with his new partner's (who is a divorced mother) son. I especially find it very clever how he turned the conversation upside down and how he makes the first contact with the son:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIiSHees8rU

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