Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

 

Relationships - June 2012

It could be you ....

 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


 

New partner integration woes

My new partner moved in a year ago and a few months later my daughter moved out to go back and live with her mum, my former wife. My wife and I divorced 6 years ago and she went to live with her boyfriend. They’d been having a 3year affair. It was all pretty awful at the time but I’m feeling steadier now and so pleased that I have found someone I trust again.

But my 18 yr old daughter is angry that I could bring another person into the house. She stayed with me when my wife moved out. When we divorced I sold the family home and bought my present house, where she has settled down after being very upset about her mum. She spent a long time not talking to, or about, her mum, but is now back with her and angry with me. My ex tells me that our daughter is now engaged and I hate the thought of being so cut off that I might not get invited to her wedding.

I don’t understand, she seemed to get on so well with my partner and even went on holiday with us. It isn’t as though we are young enough to think of having children together, I have my daughter and she has two adult children as well. They seem to have taken the change well and I get on with them when they come to visit.
Why is my daughter doing this? What can I do?

 

Maggi's reply

Powerful things happen to teenage daughters when their parents split up. The conflicting feelings they have towards their parents can trouble them enormously. On one hand there is Mum, often the one who is dealing with the day to day care and guidance of the children but who is beginning to be seen as the one who so often seems to disagree with what a twelve or thirteen year old girl wants to do or wear. On the other is Dad, who is more willing to say yes to pleas for a new phone or permission to stay out late at a friend’s house on a school night and offer to come and pick her up afterwards. Dad is the first man in a girl’s life and she forms a very strong bond with him. When she sees him being hurt, she will defend him.

It is likely that when your wife left the family home your daughter felt – amongst other worries and fears - angry with her and concerned for you. It is also not unusual for a daughter in such a situation to decide her dad needs her to care for him. This is an early beginning of her adult behaviours. She will have lots of other reasons too, but there is a strong drive to stay with the parent the child feels most empathy for at that time.

As you have recently found out, empathy can change. For some years she had you to herself, then your girlfriend moved in and changed what she saw as a very cosy and complete home. Apart from the obvious shift in dynamics, your attention was split between her and your girlfriend. It was another major adjustment in home life. For a while she tried to make space for three to be under the same roof, enjoying the holidays you provided etc, but now she is 18, not 12. Her world has already expanded. She sees you being affectionate to another woman, not her. And the extra element in that affection, the sexual attraction, is possibly a little uncomfortable for her to see.

It is hard for teenagers to get through this half-way point, where they are neither fully adult nor fully child. In her eyes you are Dad and she loves you. When she sees you with your partner it reminds her of the part of you that excludes her and although she will want that attention from her boyfriend, she will not want to see it between you and your partner. It underlines she is not the only person in your life – and you even get on well with the other children. She will suffer feelings of jealousy and rejection, even if unfounded. When she goes to mum’s house, where the relationship has been established for some years, the affection between mum and her partner might be less charged and the general atmosphere more settled. This is easier for her to deal with.

She was angry with her mum when she was 12, now she is 18 and angry with you. Both these times she experienced a shift in her own development. Both parents have been moved around in her view the world. She is gradually leaving the child’s view of parents behind and is adjusting to seeing you both as people, with all the strengths and flaws of everyone else - two people who happen to be her parents. This does not mean she will stop loving you. It means she will understand more about herself, her parents and human nature.

Well, that is an outline of the process of her decision making, what can you do to make things less uncomfortable?

You and she have been very close for most of her life and she will not have forgotten that. She is closing the door on a particular stage of life in order to get on with another. As we grow older we learn how to keep doors open when we find other areas to explore – or at least keep the doors in good working order. Adult children have to leave us. If they have been very close, the parting can be very hard to expedite. A bit of anger and a third party can come in handy. But I suspect she will always want to be connected to dad, once she has found her individual balance. It sounds as though that is well within her sights now and, although her engagement wasn’t shared with you, it is important that you offer her your congratulations and encouragement. This is painful for you I know. It will be another feeling of rejection for you, but I hope you can see it through parent’s eyes with this explanation.

Although you and your ex-wife are not on easy terms, you are still parents of the same daughter and therefore need to work together sometimes in this role. Talk to her about the next stage, offer help with whatever your daughter will need. If talking is too hard then write to her, but try to talk, it is the better way, years after divorce. Talk to your daughter alone, take her out to dinner as you used to. Be supportive of her decision to be with mum. Ask her what she needs and what you can do to support her during her wedding plans. It is the parental fate in life to be forgiving and accepting, but you needn’t hide that you are missing her and that you love and care for her as much as ever. If things are going well, you might risk asking what has made her so angry, explaining that you wouldn’t want to trigger that again unknowingly. If she tells you, be prepared to listen, possibly hear some difficult things – about yourself, or even your partner. No matter how wrong you feel them to be, stay calm and tell her you are sorry she feels that way. Do not apologise for things you have not done but be ready to compromise on things that can be changed.

Above all, thank her for her honesty, for giving her time to being with you and tell her how much that means to you. Be charming and affectionate, she will know that part of you and be reassured.

 


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


back to the Relationship Counselling Index

 


Bookmark This Share on Facebook Receive more like this

 
Back to Laterlife Today

Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site

Bookmark


Advertise on laterlife.com



LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti