What Do I Do with a Boyfriend Who Lets His Daughter Exclude Me?


I’m 38, single and 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 feel it’s her birthday and she should decide who will attend. He’s planning to discuss with her about how “old times” are not realistic or appropriate any longer.

I don’t know how we 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.


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 around his old family. You envision starting a blended family. But given the resistance of his daughter 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.

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 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?

As a parent, you can’t let the inmates run the asylum, no matter how much you want to be liked. 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.

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  1. 21

    I’m really not getting a lot of these comments. A girl is having a bday(to become a teenager at that) and it’s not suppose to be her special day? It’s not like the OP stated that they never spend time together. For all we know they have dinners and outing together frequently. But the OP wants more. The OP states “we need to share all family events”.


    She doesn’t live with the guy so it’s not like they are asking her to not be at the house where they are having a party. She’s not even engaged. I think her demands that she be included in a young girls bday even if it will ruin the girls day is ridiculous. It’s her day! Not a regular day.

  2. 22

    For the first time, Evan, I do not agree with you.
    As a divorced mom of 2 teenagers, I think the Dad is absolutely right in every respect, whereas the OP  is wrong and selfish. What drives her is “wanting to feel included”,  which is more a matter of self confidence than of empathy, love or caring for the father or child.
    Why does she want to be in a birthday party of a child who does not specifically love her or want her on her special day? Why would she want to make this an artificial awkward “show” which is all intended to “prove” that she has the status of “the girlfriend”?
    Evan, I believe that releationships take TIME. She is with this man 18 months. They are NOT MARRIED yet and if this is her attitude, I am not sure they will be. IF and when they do tie the knot, AND bring another child into this world – this would take at least another 10 months? Perhaps then, as a family, it would be more appropriate to become part of this family. But now, this is just a promise to a family – which might evaporate without the existence of real love, empathy or understanding, especially to little children who cannot have any say about the major things in their lives, so at least let them celebrate their birthday with their choice of guests.

  3. 23

    Proceed with caution.   This has much bigger implications than a 12 year olds birthday party.   When does it become important that she be included in the life of her boyfriend?   When does the 12 year old stop calling the shots?   Where in the world did that child ever get the idea that she is the one that is making the rules for everyone else to follow?   Do they get engaged, and then she is told that she does not matter as much as his daughter until they are married?   Do they get married, and then she is told that she doesn’t matter as much as his daughter until they have a child of their own, and so on?   Unless the  girlfriend is happy playing this game for the rest of her life, i suggest she start dating a man who actually has a spine.   I’m not saying he shouldn’t love his daughter, but love does not mean playing by any whim this kid happens to come up with.   This is why so many women are hesitant to date men with younger children.

  4. 24

    The biggest problem I see here is the scarcity of celebration time. Birthdays come around only once per year, but birthday  parties happen as often as people want them. If parties are important to Sonja, Sonja could throw a sweet little party for the 12-year-old. If she’s not a party-thrower, she could cater one. Or do a birthday-themed outing.

    Does Sonja want something other than celebrating the solar event with the child? Seems that way to me. It makes a lot of sense, when ex-spouse-parents are at odds, to have separate celebrations to mark special events. Maybe it turns out that every outing with the dad is a celebration because those are the only times he gets to have that kind of time not interfered with or overlaid by his ex-spouse. Well, so be it.

    I bet the dad would have been fine if Sonja carved out 3 minutes of his weekend following the birthday party so Sonja could present a sweet gift and note with her heartfelt thoughts. That’s one way to build a relationship with a 12-year-old, instead of expecting a relationship to be handed over like an obligation.

  5. 25

    The only thing tuff here is that this woman has allowed it to go on for so long. Any adult who allows a child  to dictate in such a fashion is teaching that child that dysfunctional relationships are normal. The marriage is over with, time to move on. I did this for my son by finding an old copy of “The Courtship Of Eddy’s Father”. He was just nine. Over time I have taught him that a person may date many people before finding just the right one for a variety of reasons. He’s learning how adults function and that’s a good thing.

    I agree with Stacy2 here as well, but only because a child with a sense of entitlement this great is going to be a pain in the ass–my eldest was because of his mother. My number two and four children were not/are not. My son lives with me full time. As did his sister.

    Frankly, id run from this situation. Very unhealthy and it’s likely. It going to get any better.

  6. 26

    * “likely not going to get any better”

  7. 27

    A kid’s 12th birthday party is not about the adults. Daughter wants both of her parents there more than she wants the boyfriend or girlfriend. If Sonja goes to the party it’s going to cause tension with the mother and then the daughter is going to be feeling that tension and feeling uncomfortable and worried at her own BIRTHDAY party.

    It’s selfish for Sonja to demand that her very first interaction with Ex be at the daughter’s birthday party. That is a terribly inappropriate place and time for this to happen – tense all around and the only thing Sonja wants out of it is recognition and validation of her serious girlfriend status to the father. She didn’t mention anything about how she feels about the daughter, or how important it is to her to celebrate the daughter. Stop trying to make daughter’s birthday about you and let the girl not spend her birthday worrying about the relationships of adults.

  8. 28

    First of the solution to the birthday is to have seperate birthday parties. The mom has one and in ites her biyfriend and the Dad has ine and invites his girlfriend. I do not indestand why you want to have one party if both patents have significant others that are not invited. I am in a situation similar where my boyfriend has a teenage daughter but I have no children. He and I live together and she visits on holidays and in the summer. She was polite at first, even gave me a hug in front her mother when we went to pick her up from the airport. I bought her gifts on her birthday and holidays, but now she is standoffish. She closes the door and stay in her room until her father comes home from work. I usually have to call out to see if she is okay or hungry. So I do not force a relationship. If she wants to form a relationship then I will let her lead. I can not even get personal time with my boyfriend until she goes back home with her mother because she constantly wants his attention. He invites me places with her but now I refuse to go, I tell him spend time with his daughter. It is to the point I do not want to be around her. I just hope when he gets older she stay home with him and all the time and do not hang out with friends. This men have to realize their kids will grow up and have their own lives, and will want to hang out with their friends or significant other rather than their father. One day they will leave the nest and the women that they loved but kids came between them will be long gone.

  9. 29

    I’m in a similar situation.   My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for 2 years and living together now for 5 months.     He has shared custody (one week on, one week off) I know his son and like him very much.   That said we are like a normal couple when he doesn’t have his son.   When he has him, he likes to spend all his time with him, I’m like the serious 3rd wheel that serves no purpose other than cooking, cleaning, laundry and quiet morning sex.   He’s very good about doing things with me when he doesn’t have him.   But I like “us” on the weeks he doesn’t have his son, and really don’t get a lot of enjoyment out of the relationship when he has him.   He’s 14 and doesn’t pick up after himself at all and dad says nothing.   He usually tells me hello when he comes to our house, but will walk out the door without saying bye.   I’m on the verge of just letting him do him and me do me, but I know where that will lead and at 47 years old, I’m really not trying to waste anymore time on the wrong relationship.   And by the way, I have a 26 year old son and 2 year old grand daughter he knows well.   I invite them over to eat and do things with us.   We always have fun.   He has two daughters I’ve barely even met.   One just had a baby last night.   He mentioned she was pregnant, but I had no idea she was that far along.   It’s just weird.   I think two people have to work on somewhat blending families, not live separate lives.   I love him, but I feel rejected and that is not OK.

  10. 30

    The key here is the father who allows the ex-wife to decide for everyone. She obviously is not ready to socialize with the new girlfriend and doesn’t care about her boyfriend enough to include him in her life. She definitely has unsolved feelings for her ex husband and still wants to keep the same dynamic and has the upper hand on how the new girlfriend is integrated. It is a pitty that the daughter is used and she is taught that it is okay to have a mistress… that how the father treats his girlfriend with the mother’s help. She is not a fly by night, she has been supportive and present for 18 months, how long does she need to be an outsider for?   The ex-wife dictates the terms and models this behavior to her daughter. Mothers are great influencers in their children lives and kids model their parents behavior.

    I am concerned that this girl will grow up not knowing what health boundaries are and she will learn to be very manipulative. I am sure there will be some other people at the party that don’t interact with the child on the daily basis as the girlfriend does so it makes it hard for this woman to be excluded.

    If the daughter falls in a pool and can’t swim, than the girlfriend should just watch the child struggle because she is not her mother or blood relative and shouldn’t jump in the water?

    The key is the father who alllows the exwife to manipulate him, the daughter and her own boyfriend.

    It makes me associate this birthday party with an work event where new employees ( dad’s girlfriend and wife’s boyfriend ) may not be invited just because they don’t have enough seniority within the company but a former employee ( ex-wife) is welcomed to attend because she worked there for 10 years before she left the company?

    If a child is allowed to think that is okay not to invite the person that takes care of her dad than she will be one of the people who later on will think that the analogy of the office party is acceptable.

    The girlfriend is not there to ruin the child’s day…. really people?! Why is she seen as a outsider with low esteem, hungry for acceptance, etc? It is the father who needs to grow up and let his exwife know that in his home, the girlfriend is part of the ‘decor’ and obviously this woman is not his mistress and doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.

    I don’t see how this child will be traumatized if this lady attends her birthday party. This event shouldn’t turn into a power struggle and more so parents need to lead by example and include their significant others in the child’s life events. If the girlfriend cannot attend a birthday party I have doubts that she would be invited to graduation, weddings, etc.

    The ex-wife needs to let go of   her ex-husband and focus on her own well being, and teach her children acceptance by modeling it herself.

  11. 31

    From experience with my parents divorce/remarriages, I can speak from that angle. Yes, we kids didn’t like the changes, yet the ADULTS took control of us CHILDREN with rules, boundaries, and consequences if we were disrespectful. My step-siblings and I talked about it decades later and all agreed none of us were emotionally scarred from having that structure.

    Parents with kids born after 1990 are more about coddling vs parenting. Unfortunately, these kids are granted too much power and it leads to them becoming selfish/immature adults with no awareness of their behaviors.

    My ex-fiance and I broke up because he sided with his kids, even when he witnessed them acting out/were in the wrong, and automatically sided with them because they were upset, then yelled at me. His kids couldn’t manipulate me like they could their dad, hence the drama. He refused to listen to my suggestions nor lay the law with his kids and lost me.

    To those parents who read this, if you find that true love who is the biological parent of your kid(s), work with your partner and develop a plan as ADULTS and take control of the situation.

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