"How do I tell my partner I think he's spoiling his daughter?"
PUBLISHED: 12:54 26 February 2019
Our agony aunt Sue Bayliss answers your questions.
I have a problem for you. My new boyfriend has a daughter of six years old and I have two children, a girl aged five and a boy of seven. My husband and I divorced three years ago quite amicably and he is a good father to our children.
My boyfriend (let’s call him Steve) left his wife two years ago and it caused his daughter a lot of heartache. He feels very guilty, but things were pretty bad between him and his wife, so they had little choice but to split up.
There have been difficulties about contact, but now he has her every other weekend and one night during the week. Before he met me, he devoted every possible moment to being with her and I’m afraid to say that he indulged her every wish. He bought her everything she asked for and generally was lax about bedtimes and suchlike. He wanted to make sure that she would always think well of him as she had been so upset when he left.
Now we have a challenging situation. I have always kept a good routine for my children, so they know when it is their bedtime and there are rules about behaviour in our house. The kids help with meals by laying the table and helping to clear away the dishes. They get ready in the morning without too much chivvying and are generally polite and helpful.
Steve’s daughter has a sense of entitlement and doesn’t like to fit in with our routines. She complains about my children and me to her father and obviously resents our presence in her life. She wants her Daddy to herself and is accustomed to having the world revolve around her and her wishes.
Steve seems unable to see this situation and always sides with her if she complains about anything. He is forming a negative view of my children who are understandably getting fed up with her ways. She knows she has Daddy under her thumb, and this enables her to behave like a princess in our house.
I sometimes went over to Steve’s house, but my children felt uncomfortable and have refused to go there. Steve can be quite harsh with my children whereas hs daughter can do no wrong. Before he met my kids, I used to go to his house alone when my children were with their father. His daughter clearly resented me being there and always created a crisis of some sort, pretending to be ill or being upset about something to ensure she kept Steve’s attention. I preferred to go there when she was with her mother.
Much as I am fond of Steve, I am becoming increasingly exasperated with the situation. He seems to have no concept of boundaries or the importance or routine for children. I suggested we both went to a parenting class, but he rejected the idea. He sees nothing wrong with his approach.
Now I am at my wit’s end. Do you have any advice for me? A lot of people have told me to walk away but that seems a sad and defeatist solution.
This is an example of father guilt at work. Men who split up with their wives and leave the children often feel a huge weight of guilt. Unfortunately, some of them then decide that the best way forward is to do everything to ‘please’ their child or children. This is a mistake as it is giving too much power to a child. Children need to feel loved but indulging them tends to make them into a selfish, demanding and narcissistic person who expects to have their own way.
Children need love and boundaries. Authoritarian parenting has been proven to harm children, robbing them of any confidence they may have developed. Parenting that is too permissive encourages narcissism. Telling a child he or she is special, which is often part of school experience in the US, is storing up trouble. Every person is unique but emphasising differences and making a child feel entitled is part of what has created a divided and self-obsessed society today.
I am sure you have tried to get Steve to understand how his parenting style is causing difficulties for your relationship and for his own daughter. If he refuses to consider your view and turns against your children, it does not bode well for the future. There are some good books on parenting such as those by Steve Biddulph. Part of the problem is that if your boyfriend changes his style of parenting there will be repercussions with his daughter who is so accustomed to having her own way. She won’t like being set boundaries and may blame any changes on you, adding to her resentment of you and your relationship with her father.
Some relationships are just not going to work out. Awareness and self-reflection are necessary in both partners for change to happen. My guess is that if he is unwilling to look at his behaviour as a parent, he may resist looking at other areas of his life. You are considering the needs of your children and it may be the best solution to end the relationship with Steve and look for a partner who can fit in with your values and be more open to discussion.
This is a sad conclusion but there does not seem to be any hope of change from what you write. A parenting class would be a great idea but there has to be willingness to reflect on one’s own behaviour and a desire to learn. There has been a great deal of research on which parenting styles work best so we are not in the dark. Warm and firm is the best way. Authoritative not authoritarian.
I wish you well,
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