I am the father of two children - an eight year old daughter and a four year old son. I have been very close to them, in that they both play,share and trust me. Both also have special activities that they engage in with me specifically. As a rule both children are are also respectful and caring, both towards others and towards their parents.
In the last couple of months, though, my daughter, while continuing to play and talk with me, has started suddenly inserting comments into conversations that seem clearly intended to hurt me. She always does it with a big smile like she's joking, and she clearly knows she is crossing a line, but she does it anyway. Some examples include:
- "When you're unhappy, I feel happy"
- "You're leaving [for out of town] in half an hour? Why don't you go now?"
- "My brother might miss you, but I'm not going to miss you"
- "Mama is nicer than you anyway"
I emphasise that this is combined with other loving and normal behaviour - this is only about 5% of the interactions.
The obvious connection here is to the fact that I am in a somewhat complicated marital situation at the moment. My wife (w/ the kids) lives in a different city from me, and I visit almost every weekend. My wife was emotionally abusive for the last several years (see for instance this question or this one) and in November last year I took a separate place to stay for the days I come to their city. Since then however my wife's behaviour has improved, and while she still is egoistic and distant, she is no longer openly contemptuous and does not engage in threats or abusive language etc. I think chances are higher than not that our marriage will survive. I now spend more time in their residence then in mine when in their city, and my wife has started joining the kids in coming to my residence as well. My daughter was initially very frightened by the possibility of us breaking up, but doesn't raise that now. But it is in fact as things were improving between us that this behaviour has now started.
How should I respond to this? I tackled the first statement ("I am happy" etc.) by saying I didn't think that was true, and I really hoped it wasn't true. When she interrupted me repeatedly with "BORING" while I was talking, I told her this was disrespectful conduct, and she has largely stopped that.
What else should I do? On my next visit I think I may take her aside when this kind of thing happens, tell her that if she is angry with me or scared about us she needs to tell me, and that trying to hurt me is not acceptable and doesn't work in a family either.