I’m in a long-term relationship with an incredible man who has two children from a previous marriage. They are both girls and are 20 and 22. His relationship with his ex-wife is good, and we all (including the man she left him for and then married 15 years ago) get along well and have spent many special occasions together. I like both his ex-wife and her husband.
Robert, my partner, and I have been living together 3 1/2 years. In this time, I have witnessed what an incredible father that he is to his two girls. He calls them nightly, supports them monthly, has moved to various states to be near them, pays for college, etc. My issue is that they take him for granted, are unresponsive to his calls, and when we do get together, the conversation centers solely on them. They forget his birthdays, don’t call their grandparents, and are generally self-consumed. The only time they ever initiate a call is when they need something from him.
I have seen Robert cry on several occasions because of his relationship with the girls, and it breaks my heart. I know that girls can be awful and that children often don’t appreciate their parents until they are older. I also believe that he has set the bar very low with his girls because he is afraid that if he asks something of them or gets angry with them that they will walk away from him. Typically, I try to stay out of things and just try to be supportive of him. However, sometimes his relationship with the girls spills over in to our relationships and this is when I speak up.
We’re in a difficult time right now because I’m very angry with his girls for using him as they do. It is compounded by the fact that I grew up with a literally insane father, who was physically abusive, threatened to kill my mom, and tried to kidnap me. We moved secretly from Georgia to NJ overnight when I was 7 years old and I assumed a new identity. Nevertheless, he managed to track me down and stalked me for my entire life until he died last year (I’ve had lots of therapy). So, I know a bad dad from a good dad.
I know that this is Robert’s issue and that some of my own anger is driven by my father’s actions. I’m just not sure how to handle the anger I feel towards his girls and towards Robert for letting him treat him as they do. Robert is the most sensitive and loving man I have ever met. I would like to support him but I’m so mad at his girls for some of the things they have done I can’t see straight. They have no idea what an incredible father they have.
Do you have any advice?
Hi, This is such a sad situation to watch or even to think about. As I sit here, I’m thinking about so many dad’s (including my husband) who’ve tried so hard and have been so hurt by their own children. I can understand why you’d feel anger at them. They seem to be treating their dad like their personal concierge without offering much in return. It appears to be a one way street, running towards them and manipulated with the use of fear. Really very sad.
There are a couple of things that come to mind. Maybe something will feel useful to you (maybe not but here’s hoping.)
For your dear Robert:
Would he read a book about narcissism? The book, “The wizard of oz and other narcissists” by Eleanor Payson could be pivotal for him if he is in a place where he is ready to stop being tortured by them.
The fact that he is doing so much for so little is a complex thing. Clearly he is wanting to be a responsible Dad. (That’s great) Many times father’s do things because their own Dad’s never did things for them. They believe they will be giving their kids the feelings they longed for from their own dad’s. It’s common and can be very generous and magnanimous until it begins to hurt.
He is being used and manipulated and this always results in feeling hurt. The question is how aware (versus how numb) someone is to this pain. Sometimes the pain, hurt, anger gets shoved back behind the fear or guilt until another pathway of expression shows itself. (That’s the misdirected anger outbursts or impatience that can leak out-unintentionally but still hurtful to the innocent person.)
If he is open to considering new boundaries with his girls, it would be helpful. Since I’m sure you’ve talked with him about this, maybe I can offer a new angle. Can he set some new boundaries (behaviors/actions) so that he will be able to feel he is being a good dad AND protecting himself from their hurtful behaviors? For example, in regards to calling. How about calling them and not calling again until they call him back?
How this is going to bring some anxiety to the surface. This is the time when he will want to remind himself that everything is OK and that you are there to support his withdrawal from the “Spell” over him. He has been conditioned over the years. (Too big a topic for this venue) I would imagine he was raised by a narcissistic mother who taught him he was only lovable if he did her bidding. Something from his background is letting himself feel that this kind of treatment is OK. He’s been wounded and by golly, it is not OK for him to be so mistreated!
There are a couple of SMOMS on the Bulletin board, who I know have lots to say about this if you’d write a post on the general BB. I feel certain they can offer you more support and insight into what they found to work.
When their actions hurt his feelings, it is a choice point for him. Can you help him see that he is not deserving of this treatment? Can you hep him see that he would not allow anyone else to treat him this way so he can look at why he is allowing it from them? Is he open to talking about why this treatment seems OK to him? (His past) Would he be willing to face his fears, instead of being manipulated by them? This is scary and yet can be very powerful for him to take a stand for HIS value, for HIS feelings, for the kind of treatment HE deserves. If not love, then at least respect and gratitude. What do you think?
As for you, it makes complete sense that you would be impacted by watching what these girls are doing. Given the nightmare you experiences AND the seeing the tremendous love and giving that Robert has given the girls, there’s a HUGE gap between the 2 situations. It makes sense that you would want to shake them and say “Can’t you see how incredibly lucky you are to have a dad like this?”
Sadly, many of the kids and stepkids of today are not interested in the past nor having gratitude. You’ve been through lots of therapy, (good for you) so you know about how their actions are triggering all the pain and hurt and anger you may have not released in your past work. Their actions are fine-tuning your healing. They can serve as a clue to you for ways to support and love your “inner child.” It makes sense they would trigger a lot. Hopefully you’ve got some tools for helping yourself release that pain and anger.
It’s so sad that they continue to mistreat and to unappreciate their dad. One of my coaches said, “nothing changes until you do.” Could you offer some new possible boundaries for Robert to consider so he can honor HIS needs? This may be the first time, someone has stood up for his rights to be honored so tread gently and patiently. If he can open up to his rights to be treated well, in this blood relationship, he is bound to be flooded with all the times he was NOT and this can be excruciating. It will pass, like but your presence will give him the love and courage to hang int their and “Choose” to believe he is worthy of better treatment.
As for what you can do about their actions? Once you have done all you can for yourself and all that Robert will allow for himself, at this time, it is about turning your attention elsewhere. (Jeepers this is hard!!) It is about not giving it any more time and attention, once you’ve both done all you can. Hopefully Robert will wake up to see he has done his best and now it is time to take care of (Father himself-the way he did his daughters.) That will be a glorious day.
The girls will continue until another guy comes in to take over-more than likely anyway. It is sad for them. Robert has allowed them to get away with this kind of behavior. In a sense he has taught them that it is OK to treat someone they love like this. (That may be what he was forced to accept as a child so it seems to make sense to him as an adult.) There will be a reaction when/if he decides he’s had enough. He is lucky enough to have you to give him another perspective and hopefully he will let you help him chart a new course of action where he can be respected, honored, appreciated in return for all he does.
He’s lucky to have you. I’m glad he is good to you (and your inner child must feel very safe with him.) Here’s hoping he is open to learning more about the dynamics of what is going on so he can spare himself such grief. This is a long reply but doesn’t due the topic justice. Good luck. Please register for the bulletin board and let me know your screen name via private email (part of the BB features.) If you post about your situation, I will be sure to let a couple of smoms know so they can weigh in with their experiences.
I wish you and Robert lots of loving epiphanies so together you can end the pain and anger around the girls poor treatment of him. Whether the girls ever decide to value what they have is a mystery.
All the Best, Cathryn