I’m divorcing my husband but I am very close to my stepdaughter who is just turning 16. Her birth mother is estranged and we have had a great relationship over the years of the marriage. I don’t want to lose that in the divorce. I don’t know what her father would think of me seeing her regularly. How do I approach it?
One good thing about today’s world is that there are no hard rules about the way a divorce should be handled.
Honesty and communication are the key elements to making this work for everyone.
Begin with your soon to be X husband. Explain to him why you want to keep in touch with your stepdaughter. Assure him that it will be a positive relationship with no ulterior motives.
One very important aspect of this conversation is that he knows you are not trying to take his place or interfere with his relationship with his daughter. Think about this conversation beforehand. In fact write down your reasons so you are clear in your own mind why you are asking for this connection.
If he is skeptical then suggest that there be a trial time of a few months. You can all reassess the relationship at the time because your former stepdaughter should have a say in the decision as well.
It is very important for a teen girl today to have an older mentor woman friend. As you will no longer have any legal capacity as a step mother, view yourself in that way. There is much she will gain by a good trusting relationship with you.
When you do see each other avoid any discussion about her father other than pleasantries. It is easy for a child to get caught carrying stories back and forth and you do not want to put her in that position.
Your role is a friend. You can meet for coffee or a lunch but occasionally focus on doing things with her that her father would probably not do. Get your nails done, or a little mini spa visit, see a chick flick movie together – have some fun with whatever the budget allows.
Most important is to listen to her, without distractions – including phones. Your undivided attention will do much to demonstrate her importance in your life.
She has now seen two divorces in her young life. Be hones about life being lessons we learn. Without getting too specific you want to assure her marriages can and do work. Approach your marriage break up with her father without oversharing and in a minimal but honest way. Divorces are generally about two people who are often equally to blame but in different ways.
She doesn’t need details but what she needs is to be reminded that life is about detours. We learn and continue on life’s journey.
With that, give her hope that just because her parents and your marriage to her father didn’t work, there are many marriages that are successful.
Make sure that your conversations move past the divorce and be open with her about wanting to talk about other things. A divorce has a way of taking up so much emotional energy and monopolizing conversations. You want the relationship to be much more than the divorce from her father.
At 16, she is thinking about next steps in her future. Let her talk through her hopes and dreams. Offer advice if you feel it appropriate. If she disagrees with what her father advises be very careful of any criticisms.
As time moves on there will be less strain about overstepping perceived boundaries in the friendship. Good Luck!
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ABOUT LINDA SIMPSON
I take strength from your calm, your honesty, and the hope you give me for my future.” Cheryl
Linda is a fresh voice in the divorce advice world. She offers a pragmatic, common sense approach to life after divorce issues based on over twenty years surviving and thriving following a very traumatic divorce.
As a single parent, her sons are an enormous source of joy in her life. She is a loving mother and grandmother to four delightful grandchildren.
She holds a degree from the University of Waterloo with concentrations in sociology and philosophy and guidance counselling certification from Queen’s University.
She is an accredited trainer for The Peace Education Foundation, a leader in conflict resolution training. The institute is ‘dedicated to educating children and adults in the dynamics of conflict resolution and promoting peacemaking skills in home, schools, and community.’
In a long and successful teaching career, she also served as a counsellor and workshop facilitator for SEL (social emotional learning) programming and The Peace Education Foundation throughout her school and school district and was a frequent conference presenter for SUNY Potsdam Faculty of Education USA.
She writes for The Divorce Magazine UK and her blog is seen regularly on Huffington Post Canada where the focus is life after divorce and parenting issues.
She is a writer and poet and is presently at work on a book based on her divorce experience.