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DK Simoneau often receives questions on how to handle situations.  She addresses readers questions about shared custody, parenting, and split family living situations.  To submit a question, please use the form below.

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September 17, 2014
It's Terribly Complicated

Hi. I have one child and she 7 yr old. I have a complicated situation. My daughter's father is not her biological father (NonBio) yet he's been her daddy since day one. (Her biological father did not and still wants nothing to do with her) I became pregnant during a 3 month break up but we got back together and he stepped up to take responsibility as her father. He has not been a consistent father or a good partner. We have a tumultuous and toxic on and off relationship. We haven't lived together in 6 yrs yet I have stayed around so I didn't have to see my child hurt. I did everything I could to keep my childs relationship with her Daddy. Too often he selfishly let's her down and uses her as a tool to pull on my heart strings. Each time I ultimately concede and get back to keep us together. Recently I realized that I am depleted and depriving myself and I cannot keep doing this just for the sake of her seeing him at his leisure. In the past weeks I've been seeing a man who has awakened me. He is a single father himself of 2 girls. We have know each other because of our children. Typically I wouldn't bring a man around but I have and have been hanging out as fun play dates. Lately my daughter misses her daddy but since I am seeing someone else so he refuses to see her. My daughter is heartbroken and is misbehaving, and sort of lashing out on my new manfriend. I feel so confused about letting her dad walk away and continuing this relationship. Historically I would give in to his threats of walking away from her but I really have no desire too. I feel like if she is important to him nothing should get in the way. Yet I feel like I'm being selfish and responsible for this. I'm afraid I have broken her spirit and she will blame and resent me. Please help. ~catch22

Dear catch22:

I'm going to start with some advice you have heard probably many times if you've ever flown on a commercial airline. I call it the oxygen mask advice. They always tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping your small children. The reason being, if you don't help yourself, you will run out of oxygen and then cannot assist your child. I tell this to people who are in these situations a lot. If you look back, you can see that maybe by not taking care of yourself first, you probably have caused your daughter a little bit of prolonged pain in what ultimately will shake out however it is going to regardless of what you do.
So I suggest that you cannot go back and look at what is done. I suggest you start from right where you are now. I am not suggesting you have no regard to how your daughter feels, but I am suggesting that you begin taking care of yourself first. And staying in a toxic relationship is not good for YOU, and ultimately not your daughter. Her Dad is going to do whatever he is going to do, and you cannot control it. And in time (it may be many years) your daughter will see him for what he is. (And maybe, just maybe he will surprise you and once he realizes you are gone and he can't manipulate you by using your daughter any more, he will actually step up and be a good Dad, who knows?) Ask yourself if your daughter were grown up, would you want her to be in this kind of toxic situation? And then each time you waiver, remember your answer to that. You are setting an example here. Your example is to take care of yourself first. That doesn't mean you need to bad talk him. That doesn't mean you need to stop her from having a relationship with him. It just means you need to take care of yourself and set an example of what that means. Explain to your daughter that her Dad will always be her Dad, and that he does the best job he knows how to do at being a Dad, but that he isn't a good partner for you. Don't make her feel bad for loving her Dad. Just keep explaining that it doesn't work for you.
And as far as the new relationship goes- if the new guy is right, he will weather the storms and the barbs. He will be steady and understand that your daughter is in a tough place. And if he is steady and kind, eventually she will begin to trust that he is steady and kind. She is used to someone who isn't steady and kind, and she is just testing him.
Hope that helps some.
DK



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