My parents divorced when I was 6 and my dad moved to San Diego. He promised to visit me but oftentimes didn’t. Whenever he started dating a new woman and wanted to impress her, he’d come and get me to show off what a loving father he was by taking me out and buying me presents. If they later broke up, I wouldn’t see him for months.
I’m tired of being treated this way. I’m now 13, can speak up for myself a lot better, and told him everything I just told you. I said he’d have to change if he wanted a relationship with me. He admits he has been self-centered and that it’s because he suffers from depression. He said he’d make it up to me.
He promised he’d bring me back to his house and spend Christmas Day with just me. That was OK with my mom because we spent Thanksgiving together and are taking a trip to New York over New Year’s. This week he called and said that instead of it just being the two of us, he invited a woman he’s been dating since August. He says she doesn’t have family in the states and that she’d spend Christmas all alone if we didn’t take pity on her.
I feel bad for wanting him all to myself, but I do. He lives near the ocean and we were going to have a Christmas picnic on the beach. He now wants to take all three of us to a fancy restaurant for dinner. She’s spending the whole day with us and maybe even the night. He says she’s sleeping in his room and he’ll sleep on the couch. I’ll have no time alone with my father. I don’t mean to be selfish, but now I just want to stay home.
I’m so sorry you’re going through this and I don’t think you’re being selfish. Because you’ve had so little time with your father, it’s understandable you don’t want to have to share him right now, especially on Christmas Day with a woman you’ve never met before.
I’m proud of you for speaking up and explaining to him how you feel. That took a lot of courage. Since it seems like he still might not understand your feelings (and you don’t want to be disrespectful), let me try to communicate to him for you.
Take care and feel free to write me again sometime if you’d like.
Dear Riley’s Dad,
It’s always difficult to be divorced and separated from your child, and it’s clear it’s a struggle for Riley as well. It’s important to her to be able to spend quality time with you, especially on holidays. I don’t know if you invited the woman you’re dating to spend Christmas Day because she’s quickly becoming important to you or if you’re just trying to teach Riley to be respectful to your future dates. Whatever the case, it’s my professional opinion that it may be too soon for her to share holidays with you and another woman. While I agree she needs to give your female friends a chance, it sounds like she needs “alone time” with you first to strengthen and renew your father/daughter bond. It’s also probably best to not expose her to multiple people you date.
If you absolutely feel the need to include your new relationship this Christmas, I recommend a compromise. Ask Riley to describe what the perfect holiday would look like. If she wants to picnic on the beach, open presents and watch favorite Christmas movies with just you, tell her you’ll make it all happen but you’d like your new friend to come to dinner. Tell her what time she’s coming and leaving. If there’s a three- to four-hour time limit, it will be easier for your daughter to be gracious. If she feels she has to accommodate this woman coming into your life without any say-so, she may never learn to accept her, no matter how much the woman tries.
If Riley refuses to visit you over Christmas, try to understand. Pick another weekend coming up as soon as possible and make it all about her.
If this continues to be a problem, I recommend family counseling. Whether your new relationship ignited quickly or is one you’ve wanted for years, it’s important to put your only child first. Reassure Riley through your actions and words that she’ll never be replaced.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.