DEAR AMY: I am 44 years old. My common-law husband is 40. I have a 22-year-old son who lives with us, and my husband has an 11-year-old daughter whose custody he shares 50/50 with her mother. Our relationship is excellent, and we’re all adjusting to our new family situation, but I’m having some trouble with how my husband treats me when his daughter is with us. I feel the difference in attention in a very abrupt and hurtful way. I completely understand and encourage that his attention be focused on his daughter when she’s with us. And we have discussed how it all makes me feel. He has been doing his best to make changes during those times. How do I make receding into the background easier? I tend to feel rejected and (admittedly) like a spoiled child who doesn’t want to share. We are working on becoming a family and I need to get comfortable with the new dynamic. Any advice?
DEAR SORT-OF: Start by seeing this from the girl’s point of view. Adolescent girls are at a special and challenging time of life. And a child who has to transition from home to home and share her parents with others is going to feel especially vulnerable. She may express her anxiety through being clingy with her father when she is with him, and he should gently coax her toward you, too.
You need to check your childish reactions, so that there is only one adolescent girl in the house.
Blending is a process which will take many months. It will be full of tiny victories and many setbacks. You all will do best if you develop a routine so that his daughter has a predictable and stable life when she is with you.
You should start her stays with a family dinner. She should then be able to choose an activity to do with her father — going out for ice cream or to a movie. You and your guy should also plan shared activities (bowling is a fun, silly way to play together).
I’d also like to recommend my friend Megan Shull’s wonderful book, “Bounce” (2016, Katherine Tegan Books). In it, a 12-year-old girl “bounces” into many different family situations, learning along the way that she is secure, safe and loved. Reading and enjoying this together could help you to bond.
DEAR AMY: My son (who lives on the opposite coast) has been married for many years to a woman I would like to know better. He is very good about keeping in touch, visiting when he can, sends photos of the grands, etc., but she never attempts to contact me or to see me when she is in this part of the country. I like what little I know of her, and she is gracious but distant when I see her. I have asked my son if her coolness is due to my having done something for which I need to apologize, and he assures me it is not. I was very close to my own mother-in-law, which probably accounts for my wistfulness. Is there an appropriate and non-threatening way I can tell my dear daughter-in-law that I would like to be more engaged?
84 and Holding
DEAR HOLDING: One way to try to get to know your daughter-in-law better would be for you to be in touch, and in a non-demanding way, simply indicate your wishes. You might start by sending her a letter along with some photos of your son when he was a child. Tell her, “I regret that I don’t know you better, but I treasure and appreciate your relationship with my son and your wonderful children. I always love hearing how you and the kids are doing. I came across these photos of ‘Dan’ when he was a child and thought you and the kids would enjoy them.”
Understand that your daughter-in-law might simply be a reserved person. This coolness could very well be the way she moves through the world.
Keep your contact warm, and your expectations reasonable.
DEAR AMY: Thank you for your compassion for the 8-year-old boy described by his frustrated grandfather, “Pappa,” who dreaded this year’s family vacation with his grandson. I cringed when I read it, because I think I was a lot like that kid — insecure, anxious, and acting-out. I’m glad my family managed to be patient with me.
No Longer a Brat
DEAR NO LONGER: Many of us taxed our family’s patience as children. And many a grandparent helped to save the day.