So I need a sanity check...
I have a 13 year old daughter, and her mother and I haven't been together for since she was a toddler. That said, I have regular placement, and I am very active in our daughter's life - I coach her softball teams, I do homework with her, I talk to her about anything and everything, and I work hard to never disrespect her mother, because that's her mom, and I would hope (though it is not the case) that her mother would do the same for me. I'm married now, but my wife and I cannot have children.
Her mom has 2 other children (5 and 6), with her boyfriend (they've been together for sometime). I try my best to respect him, and I bite my tongue frequently to avoid giving my daughter the impression that I dislike or disapprove of her mother's family's actions. When family activities come up, I always try to be open to my daughter participating in her mom's family's activities, b/c that is my daughter's family, and she shouldn't be made to feel guilty about being a part of it. That said, I'm always open for "extra time" with my daughter, b/c spending time with her is a joy, not an obligation.
That said, over the summer, my daughter started coming to me with concerns that Mom only wants her as a "nanny" for the two little kids, and that Mom doesn't want/care about her, and doesn't want to spend time with her. I talked with my daughter about how, as a teenager, it's common to think "that the world is against me" or that "people are out to get me" and that she should think about these situations in that context, and is this really an issue, or is she just having "teenager" feelings about the situation. I also spoke with Mom about our daughter having these feelings, so that she would have and opportunity to be proactive about this, and hopefully make an attempt to ensure that she's connecting appropriately with our daughter.
A few weeks ago, the two of them had a huge fight while my daughter was at my house, on an evening where she was going back to her mother's house. The specifics of the fight we minor, as it devolved into yelling and crying. I attempted to calm things down, but Mom just attacked me, despite my attempts to focus on our daughter's feelings after encouraging our daughter to apologize if she hurt Mom's feelings. The takeaway from this, for me, was that I wanted to get counseling for our daughter, because this wasn't just "teenaged" feelings, but something more, and I felt it important for our daughter to have an unbiased person to talk through her feelings. Of course I told Mom about this, and asked for her input.
We had our first "group" counseling session. In the course of the session, the topic focused on the lifestyle at Mom's house, the hectic schedule there, the dynamics of the relationship between Mom and her boyfriend, and the what our daughter has witnessed between Mom and her boyfriend. The counselor challenged Mom to see if she was willing to make changes in her lifestyle to give our daughter a stable schedule, and to (hopefully) improve the relationship between the two of them. Her response, and I'm quoting this as much as possible, was "It breaks my heart as a mother to say this, but maybe you should spend the weeks with Dad, and just visit me on the weekends." It broke my heart to see my daughter's reaction to this. Of course I will make that work, of course she's always welcome in my home (because it is her home too), but I want my daughter to have a better relationship with her mother than that.
My daughter feels as though Mom isn't proud of her (her words) and, as I look at it, probably not being willing to try to improve their relationship. Ultimately, I'm trying to figure out how to move forward in this reality - I don't want to destroy the relationship between them (and I never have), but I'm trying to think through how this will work for my daughter going forward, and what the best way for me to support her in that.
The best thing you can do for your daughter... provide her with that stable weekly schedule/lifestyle and continue being the supportive, accepting father that you are demonstrating yourself to be.
She's going to have to work through the issues/hurt/etc with her mother and it is best that you stay out of that dynamic. Validate her feelings, but also continue to be the neutral party.
In addition to the group counseling, it would probably be beneficial for her to either have her own individual counselor/therapist or meet with your group counselor for individual sessions and/or with just her mother (if mom is willing).
Oh wow. What a bombshell that must have been. Thank heavens there's ongoing therapy!
I think what you've said here is good, and sane - of course your daughter is always welcome in your house, but you would hope, for her sake, that she'd be able to have a better relationship with her mother. You want your daughter to know that she is welcome for any reason at any time, not grudgingly taken in because her mom is frustrated.
I don't know what all is going on with your daughter's mom right now, or what her household is like. It's possible that she's logistically overwhelmed, and having trouble figuring out how to cope. It's possible that her statement that it might be better for your daughter to live with you is pragmatic - that it's based on consideration of the strains and stresses of her household, and of the mom's feelings about her ability to make changes in household schedules and operations at this time. It might have been intended as a suggestion that this option should maybe be explored, and not as an emotional rejection (although emotional rejection is also possible, and I can't imagine the teenager who wouldn't take it that way).
What does your daughter want? Would she be interested in living with you for a couple months and checking back in about living situations at the end of that time? Could her mom possibly be led to acknowledge some things that might help contextualize her statement, so that it stings less for her daughter? Households with little kids in them are going to be chaotic, and adolescence is a time when mothers and daughters predictably get on each other's nerves. At that age, fathers sometimes find themselves running interference, but the guy in her mom's house isn't your daughter's dad, and may not be able to work your daughter's corner the way that you would. So maybe this is a good time for DD to spend more time at your house, give her and her mom a little space from each other, and let your daughter have the benefit of somewhat calmer surroundings.
The one thing I would try for is an understanding that your DD will not flit back and forth between houses like a bad check. If she stays with her mom, there should be a commitment period where they try and make changes to make things better. If she moves in with you, there should be the same length commitment period with the understanding that she won't be moving back with her mom during that time. And unless there's some kind of major event in that time period that makes change a really good idea, you should all commit to where your daughter is living for, say, the next semester. (I'm making a distinction between living and visiting here. I would hope that, no matter where she lives, she'd be able to visit either household frequently.) (Also, this is a big decision, and taking a few weeks to think it over is good. Maybe Christmas break would be a good transition point if she moves, or a good time to start making changes at her mom's house if she doesn't.) And family therapy should continue no matter where she lives, because, as you say, you would hope she'd have a better relationship with her mom then what they're having now.
I'm so sorry, softballdad, to hear your daughter is going through this.
As the other posters have mentioned, continued counseling for the family and individual counseling for your daughter may be beneficial. Also, letting her know she is always welcome in "your" home, can provide her with a secure and loving foundation in the midst of these challenges with her mom.
I'm not sure if you are familiar with Tammy Bennett-Daughtry and her work around co-parenting? Her website is http://coparentinginternational.com/. She has some pretty good resources that you may find helpful.
Praying for you and your family!
I think you have gotten some great advice already.
One thing I would add, if your DD comes and lives with you- to have a private counseling session with the mother and get a commitment from her about how she will nurture the relationship. Maybe a contract with outlined behaviors like "I will call every other day, I will go to her softball games, etc"
The goal (for everyone) should be to nurture the relationships, and I am afraid her mother is looking towards cooling the relationship.
This is a hard situation, but I think you are doing a great job. Your daughter will get thru this, she can see your love through your actions.
I have no experience in single parenting but can I just say one thing - make sure your daughter knows how happy you would be to have her live with you - that she is not an unwanted nuisance. Because being rejected by your mother in front of others at 13 is going to hurt a long long time. Especially after she confided in you that she feels as the nanny, that she is unwanted. Logic is not big at 13, and even though she might agree with you logically that her mom is stressed, she will still hurt from it a lot. I'm so sorry!
Mama to my little Lily (09/2010), and a sweet baby boy (12/2012)
It sounds to me like your ex made a VERY mature suggestion there- recognizing her own limits and realizing that she may not be the best person to provide stability for your daughter right now. I'm not sure if announcing it in front of your daughter was the best approach, but that's over and done with now. Ideally, the suggestion would have been made with just you and the counselor in the room, and your daughter NOT present, then suggested to her after working out the best way to approach it. It was presented in a way that makes your daughter feel rejected, although honestly she was already feeling rejected before any of this started.
When I first read the title of this post, I thought that your daughter wanted to live with you, sort of in a "running away from home" kind of reaction, and that her mom was opposed to the idea. What's actually happening is a lot better.
All you really CAN do is provide her with the stability she needs, stay in counseling with her and her mom, and be flexible about changing the schedule again if necessary. Make sure she knows she's loved and wanted, even if the adjustment to full-time parenting isn't perfectly smooth.
Ruth, single mommy to 3 quasi-adults
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