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I’m 38, single with no children. My boyfriend of 18 months has his 12-yr-old daughter’s birthday this weekend. She doesn’t want me to attend. I wasn’t invited last year either (because it was at his ex’s home). I told him last year that if we are to move in together and have more children together, we need to share all family events. He and I need to build that up and teach the kids how to be together.

I asked him to make sure that this year I was invited. I reminded him a month ago, last weekend, and we were planning for me to come – until Tuesday night when his ex threw a wrench into it. (I think she can’t handle me being there. She speaks poorly of me, even though we have never met).

The ex spoke to her daughter, and they agreed the daughter would be happier if her mom’s boyfriend and I weren’t there. They wanted it to feel like “old times.” The party is hosted at my boyfriend’s and both sets of grandparents are coming as well as her friends, so it’s a family affair.

My boyfriend is not happy about his ex’s manipulative behavior but is leaving the decision up to his daughter as he feels it’s her birthday and she should decide who will attend. He’s planning to discuss with her how “old times” are not realistic or appropriate any longer.

I don’t know how we can build a life or even think about future children or living under one roof if I’m not allowed to attend family events.

This sort of back-seat treatment happens a lot. For example, he focuses entirely on the kids when I am there and the kids focus on their dad, which makes it hard for me to develop bonds with them. When we hang out with kids, we barely talk, touch, or sit beside each other. I feel like an outsider all the time, and this birthday event exacerbates it. He’s a great boyfriend otherwise, but this family division makes me feel like I’d be happier alone.

Thanks,
Sonja

Appreciate your question, Sonja. I’ve heard many variations on it before from clients over the phone, but have never tackled it in print, so thank you for the opportunity to shed some light on your situation.

In order to do so, we have to look at both sides of the argument. You know your side. You have a boyfriend who is very loving, except his daughter will always come first. You envision starting a blended family. But given his daughter’s resistance and his capitulation to her needs, it’s hard to feel optimistic.

I’m with you.

From his perspective, his relationship with his daughter (and his ex-wife) is permanent. It’s not that he doesn’t love you; it’s that you didn’t exist to him 18 months ago. His family predated you and, if you push too hard, it will post-date you as well. I’ve seen way too many anxious girlfriends try to force their way into men’s families, and they almost always fail to get what they want: a blended family. So, continue to try to empathize and put yourself in his shoes. He’s a divorced dad. He’s paying alimony. He’s paying child support. It’s his only child. She’s a moody pre-teen. He sees her every other week. He wants to keep up good relations. And if keeping his girlfriend away from his twelve-year-old’s birthday party is enough to keep the peace with his daughter, that’s a sacrifice he’s more than willing to make.

If this guy wants to get married and start a new family with you, he’s going to have to take his balls back from his daughter.

In other words, he’s been practical. He’s been conflict-averse. He’s been taking the slow and steady, “whenever my daughter’s ready” approach to relationship integration.

I’m not defending him or agreeing with him. I’m just trying to explain what he’s probably thinking.

His kid always comes first. That makes sense for six months. Maybe even one year. But if this guy wants to get married and start a new family with you, he’s going to have to take his balls back from his daughter.

It’s much easier said than done, but it’s imperative if you two are going to have a chance.

I’ve written about parents not approving of relationships many times; I’ve never addressed the angle where the child didn’t approve of the parents, but my advice remains the same.

When I became a Dad, I read a book that taught about the dangers of “child-centered” parenting, which is to say “doing whatever the child wants to keep him/her happy.” I take a parent-centered approach: Mom and Dad had a life before you existed; we’re still going to have a life as you grow up.

Instead of giving him a fiery ultimatum, how about you figure out how to support him as he summons up the courage to be the bad cop?

A

As a parent, you can’t let the inmates run the asylum, no matter how much you want to be liked. Loving them does not mean that they will always come first. Your boyfriend has given control of his life to his daughter, who has a completely different set of self-interests than her father. Unless he chooses to take it back, I agree with you: you’d be better off with someone with the guts to stand up to his little girl. But instead of giving him a fiery ultimatum, how about you figure out how to support him as he summons up the courage to be the bad cop? Don’t play the “It’s her vs. me” game. You’ll probably lose that. Let him know that for HIS own happiness, he has to be more assertive in setting boundaries with his daughter.

What was okay early in your relationship is not okay anymore. Good luck.