ASK LINDA, PSYCHOTHERAPIST, SINGLE MOM:
I share custody of my 11-year-old daughter with my ex-wife. I recently introduced my daughter to my girlfriend, who is going to be moving in with me in about a month. Now my daughter refuses to see me. What should I do?
First of all, how long has this been going on? It is very important not to allow this to become ingrained. Your daughter is allowed to be angry, upset or have any emotions that she may have about your girlfriend. She is allowed to constructively express her emotions to you. She is allowed to discuss them and she is allowed to have choices around spending time with the two of you. She is even allowed to stop talking to you. What she is not allowed to do is to control or dictate to you who or who you do not bring into your life in a serious relationship.
So, just as you would do if you were living together full-time and she was angry with you, maintain your routines. See her when you normally see her. Do homework with her. Have dinner with her. Talk with her. Play games with her. Try to do these things even if she’s freezing you out. Remember those two-year-old tantrums? Your 11-year-old is regressing to that state. So, same advice: Stay calm and be there for her. Sooner or later life will normalize.
It is important to make sure that when you introduce a potential partner into your daughter’s life that she is both given a chance to get used to her and that she is kept safe. It’s not a good idea to have secrets or to have a surprise meeting between your child and a new partner. Make sure that you take it slowly. Over time, start talking about your partner as a new friend. Perhaps even introduce her as a friend before you introduce her as your romantic partner.
If you just introduced your daughter and girlfriend, and your girlfriend’s moving in soon, it sounds like you may have skipped some of these steps. Is there a way you can slow down the process a little bit? It may not seem sudden to you, since you’ve had time to get to know your girlfriend before making this big decision. But for your daughter, it’s all brand new.
Parenting after divorce can be complex. Your daughter may still be mourning the breakup of her parents, and in her eyes, your girlfriend is “replacing” her mother. She will need time to accept that the relationship is really over between Mommy and Daddy and that there’s truly no going back.
So, slow down if you can, and either way, try to do fun activities together, allowing the relationship to normalize through active fun. Ride a rollercoaster, go to a trampoline park or a bowling alley, or watch funny movies together. New experiences, exercise and laughter all prompt our bodies to release “feel-good” hormones like oxytocin and adrenaline. Your child will associate feeling good with both you and your partner – the people she has shared those experiences with – and this will help with the bonding process.
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