DEAR AMY: I have a daughter who is a high school freshman. When she was two, her father divorced me. I was devastated because I loved him, never wanted a divorce and didn’t want our daughter to have to face this pain. Before the divorce was final, he started dating a colleague of mine whom I had to see every day. His actions were humiliating and hurtful. After two years of working full time, raising a toddler alone and going to graduate school on weekends, I accepted a teaching position several hours away, partly in order to escape his orbit, but I stayed within a few hours of his home so that my daughter could see him regularly. For 12 years she has seen him every other weekend, half of each summer and on every other major holiday. I established a good career, have a nice home and we have a good life in this community. My ex-husband eventually remarried and had two more children. I remarried a few months ago. My daughter is close to all of her family members. I believe my ex has generally been a good father to her. However, he has been vocally critical of my move and how it has “taken her away” from him. He says things to her like, “I’d love to come to your game, but I just can’t make it. It’s too bad your mom moved you so far away.” Now, my daughter has started to parrot many of his comments. I’ve not responded to her criticisms because I don’t want to soil her view of her dad. But I’m getting really tired of being made to be the bad guy. Should I tell her the truth about the circumstances of the divorce, his behavior and why I moved away?
The “Bad Guy”
DEAR “BAD GUY”: You are contemplating conveying to your daughter what a jerk her father was/is. But what purpose would this serve? Being the bearer of this intimacy would surely backfire.
The wisest thing to do is to speak with your ex about this. Tell him that these statements hurt his daughter’s feelings and make her feel bad about her situation. He is trying to explain his absences by blaming you for a choice put in motion by his own long-ago actions, but all the same — you did choose to move away. So own that choice.
You should calmly say to your daughter, “I’m so sorry this is hard for you. I don’t think it is quite fair for your dad to blame me because he can’t come to some of your games, but he’s trying to tell you that he wants to be here, though he can’t always be here.”
Understand that adolescents will generally act out toward the custodial parent. Also understand that your daughter is adjusting to the presence of a new parent in your household, and she is likely transferring some of her anxiety about this onto a situation which seems to have worked well for many years.
The time to disclose details of how your marriage ended is when your daughter asks, explicitly, what happened. And even then you should be circumspect, careful and kind.
DEAR AMY: My sister is with a much older man. He is not all the way done with his divorce. He has children, and I feel like she is doing the wrong thing. I want to tell her what I think, but I’m scared that she will get mad at me and ignore my input. Any advice as to what I should do?
DEAR CONFUSED: If your sister is in the throes of a new relationship, you can absolutely count on her ignoring and getting angry over your negative reaction.
But that’s not why you should keep your opinion to yourself. If your sister is an adult, then she will make her own choices and bear the consequences.
If she explicitly asks you what you think, you should tell her, but otherwise you should tell her you are hoping for the best.
DEAR AMY: Responding to the letter from “Baby Blues,” who was upset by her friend’s pregnancy, during my struggle with infertility, my brother called to tell me his wife was probably pregnant. As this was the third pregnancy I had heard about in three days, I burst into tears. My brother told me that I can’t cry every time somebody gets what I want!
Eventually a Mom
DEAR EVENTUALLY: That is brilliant. Thank you.