My teenage daughter is 17 and very rude when my partner comes over. I have only been dating him for nine months but I have known him for 10 years – he is a widower and his wife and I were friends before she died nearly three years ago.
I have been divorced for five years – my ex has remarried and divorced again, and had other relationships in that time.
I don’t know what to do with my daughter. I have tried talking to her, calmly asking her to help me to understand why she doesn’t like him (she loved him before I started dating him).
She actually asked me to tell him to leave her 17th birthday as she didn’t want him there. I have explained to her that he is the nicest man I know or have ever dated and he treats everybody lovingly. I even said to her one day – after asking her to give me one good reason why I should break up with him and she couldn’t, admitting there’s nothing wrong with him – that I was going to continue seeing him so she needs to start showing him respect as an older person in her life and either suck it up or pretend to suck it up! That she needs to be civil, etc.
None of this has worked. She is still rude to him to the point of being nasty. I’m at a loss – can you please help?
It’s great to sit down and ask her calmly why she doesn’t like your new partner, but only if you really want to know the answer, not so you can issue ultimatums. The reason she doesn’t like him may not be easy for her to articulate. This is because she may like him – after all, she used to. It may be the combination of you and him she doesn’t like. And that will be hard for her to express because she loves you. (There may also be something else upsetting her about your new boyfriend, however much he was previously loved by her, and you need to give her the space to tell you.)
Certainly you can’t command someone to “show respect” to someone and especially not just because they are older. I don’t see why it always works just one way. This phrase used to annoy me as a child and it still annoys me as an adult. Respect has to be earned. It has to be clearly mirrored back.
You shouldn’t ask your daughter “give me one reason why I should break up with him” and follow it by saying that you are “going to continue a relationship with him anyway”. That is only going to make her incredibly defensive.
I asked Alison Roy, a child psychotherapist (childpsychotherapy.org.uk), for her opinion. She also thinks it may be the combination of the two of you she objects to rather than him alone: “I suspect the problem is not about him, but you both as a combined unit – now a couple.”
It sounds as if this is either your first relationship since divorcing your daughter’s father, or your first big relationship, and we thought that was significant. “It sounds,” says Roy “as if you’ve been the only consistent relationship in her life and now you are pouring your affections into someone else.”
Roy also says that even though your daughter knew your boyfriend before, it’s quite different for her now that he is your partner.
“A sexual relationship is much more threatening, much more exclusive. Your daughter may feel she has lost the relationship she had with two people who have now become ‘one’. Her status, as being central, is threatened. To your daughter, he may not be the bonus you think he is [to the family unit],” she says.
We wondered if you had asked your daughter if she wanted your partner to come to her birthday celebration? “Birthdays, especially when you’re a teenager,” says Roy, “can be really intense family times. Was he there for your benefit or for hers?”
Roy suggests working this out with your daughter. “Letting her make decisions where it’s reasonable, without allowing her to dictate or damage your relationship. You need to make it clear what is acceptable: being vile to others is not OK, but expressing that she’s not happy is OK.
“I feel your daughter is asking you for time in with you, so be careful you don’t shut her down or silence her.”
This really doesn’t mean letting her call all the shots, but with, for example, something such as her birthday – which is really about her – let her invite who she wants. You will both need to negotiate a middle ground.
Also, do you still make time for her one to one? Are there still places and times when it’s just you and her? This is really important and will continue to be important throughout your lives. One-to-one time between each child/parent is vastly underestimated as an important parenting tool.
I know you may feel this is “your time” and the start of a new relationship is heady and exciting, but think long term.
A final note: when you are trying to get people onside, or help them adapt to a new situation, it’s a really bad idea to tell them to suck it up, unless you are in a smoothie bar.
This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 17 September 2016.