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Ask Ellie: Dad needs to help daughter cope with mom's absence

When divorce upends a child’s life, the remaining parent at home must seek counselling help before moving in someone new

Dear Ellie: My “boyfriend” of three years has a 14-year-old daughter who’s taken over the household. Eight months prior, his then-wife had moved to another city, leaving them both.

He describes his ex as “a controller” who insisted on doing everything her way and never put their relationship first.

Since I’ve been here, she only talks to her daughter by text and phone, though she officially has joint custody.

I moved in with the father and daughter after five months of falling in love. But I’d barely met his child before then.

She behaves like a mini head-of-household. She seats herself at the head of the table, opposite her father, whether it’s a kitchen breakfast or when we have dinner company.

She’ll bake cookies then bring them to the table even when I’ve made a special dessert, and she always says, “This is my mother’s special recipe.”

I know that sounds so sad and I should have empathy for her, but she’s hard to take.

She dominates the conversation whenever she’s with us, and her father lets her. She’s on her phone a lot and I believe she calls her mother and speaks badly of me.

Recently, when I was watching a TV documentary, I’d expressed interest about, she grabbed the remote, switched channels, then continued to maintain control.

Her father never chastises her. He told me to watch it in our bedroom.

That incident and many others leave me wondering how long I can stay here in “their” house, that both may never fully share with me.

What am I doing wrong with this wily girl? I’m sure that, to stay together, we’ll all need some professional help. But I’m positive that both father and child will never attend.

Upstaged and Upset by His Child

Your situation is impossible, because the child will “win” if she’s truly being coached by her mother to make you miserable, so you’ll leave.

Consider a different viewpoint: The girl’s situation is sadder than yours. Her mother seemingly “abandoned” her (you mention no visits/weekend sleepovers nor trips together). Instead, she’s apparently turned the child’s attention onto displacing you.

Worse, your “partner” isn’t helping you and his daughter to adjust to each other. He’s a weak father of a child who’s hurting deeply inside.

It’s now his job to help the girl by encouraging mother-daughter visits, even driving her to the mother’s city.

He must treat you as his relationship partner, and address his child’s need for therapy and support regarding this huge change in her life.

You’re doing nothing “wrong,” but can do what’s better if you still want to stay.

See a therapist on your own, then try harder to find empathy for an adolescent whose life’s been turned upside down, and is desperately trying to “fix” it to suit her.

Reader’s Commentary regarding the widower whose girlfriend sees many photos of his late-wife still in his home (March 15):

“I, too, lost my wife to cancer in 2018, after we’d been together for 32 years.

“I too keep our wedding photo in my bedroom.

“I also have a girlfriend now and asked if the photo bothered her. She said “No.” If she’d said “Yes,” I would’ve put the photo away for the night only.

“I’m glad she’s understanding and sees that I still care for my late wife. I think that if we were to marry or live together, I may rethink the picture on the dresser.”

Reader’s Commentary: “My husband of eight years kept complaining about our bed. He said it was “too hard,” and he had to sleep in the spare bedroom. I told him to get us a new mattress. He kept saying he was too busy at work.

“I suggested that we go together on a weekend, but he said he wasn’t going to miss a golf game for a mattress.

“This continued for six weeks — him coming home late, then sleeping in the other room — when I suddenly “got it.” I went to his office, met his new female office manager, and said he should pack his clothes and leave the next day.

“I’d already removed the second mattress, hidden the couch pillows, and later locked my bedroom door.

“No counselling, no discussion. I know that those sometimes work. But I decided that a husband who openly lies and cheats on me just wasn’t worth the trouble.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

When divorce upends a child’s life, the remaining parent at home must seek counselling help before moving in someone new.

Send relationship questions to [email protected].