[This letter has been condensed and edited.]
I am going through something that does not make sense. I am a single mother. I have three children, Jonathan is 14 1/2 and has Asperger's syndrome, Amanda is 12 and Beverly is 7. The background is that my daugther, Amanda, was not yet born when her father and I separated. He is not involved in her life due to his mental illness. Minor attempts on our part at involving him have failed. She always wanted a dad and when she was 5 years old, I got involved with a man who cunningly pushed his way into our lives. I had a daughter with him. She is 7 years now. He was in our lives for 2 years, however, because he is a drug addict, he disappeared five years ago, and we have not seen or heard from him since.
Amanda loved him very much and missed him badly, as did his 2-year-old daughter. In the last five years, I have only focused on being mom and dad to my children, working, going to college, PTA president, church, etc. We are a low-income family, getting by....I bought this old broken down house when I was 21, 9 years before I married Amanda and Jonathan's dad.
A man came into our lives, as a friend, and has been a friend for a year and a half. My children have known him for the entire time and have seen him every week and sometimes three or four times a week for all this time. They have grown to trust him, love him and enjoy countless hours of his company. This man and I were only friends and were never interested in becoming a couple. We are Christians and neither one of us date or become sexually involved outside of marriage. We discovered about one month ago our feelings [of] deep love for each other. It grew over time.
We thought all the children would be overjoyed, as all of them often said they wished we would marry....Jonathan and Beverly are happy about it. Amanda is not. She is angry. she threatens to kill herself if I marry him. She is telling me that other men I know are better choices. Jeff works. He supports himself. He helps support his mother, but he is not wealthy. She went from loving Jeff and having fun with him often to being downright cruel and mean to both of us, almost all of the time. I do not understand. I am worried. I am searching for answers. I want to know what to do.
Amanda has a counselor she sees for some anxiety issues. The counselor explained that I cannot turn off my love for Jeff. That it is my choice who I want to be with. Barbara, I am not, we are not, imposing him as a father figure to any of the children.... I am still in the role of mom and dad until that were to happen, if it can.... We do not flaunt our relationship in front of her, but we are seeing each other almost daily and we are kind to each other. It is hard to hide the joy of caring for each other in this new way and we sometimes using words like "dear" and hugging more often, although we always hugged before. I tell her I care how she feels, but she needs to uphold a standard of treating others with respect, and I know that she loves Jeff, because a person does not "pretend to love someone" for a year and a half, and then suddenly not care about them anymore and hate them. She says that she liked Jeff until he liked her mom, and now she hates him. She makes threats to kill herself or others if we ever marry. I just do not understand any of this.
From: Mary, Margate, NJ
It sounds like you're handling this appropriately: You're not foisting this man on your children as their dad, and he's not living with you. You're accepting of her feelings, within appropriate limits: she can't be disrespectful to him any more than she can be of anyone else. I also hope that you are making a point to have alone time/activities with her (and each child) so that she doesn't feel as if she's lost you to him.
My best guess about what's going on? She's 12 and she had/has a fantasy life all this time with him. It's all in her head, and it's probably pretty complicated, given that she's never known her dad. Perhaps she imagined Jeff as Prince Charming who would be both father and romantic figure.
In other words, she's likely had a crush on him. Now she feels betrayed, certainly by him, maybe even by you. I'm not suggesting she (or he) ever acted on this. In fact, he's probably not even aware, and she may not be in a fully-conscious way, either.
I'm also not suggesting this is something you talk to her about because that will likely make her even more resentful. Leave that for the therapist.
My advice for you is to go slowly with Amanda. Don't expect her to engage with him; in fact, his best move right now is to be a background figure as far as she's concerned.
This is perhaps the toughest age for a child to have a step-parent appear on the scene because of the swirl of developmental and hormonal changes going on, especially for a girl. Don't hold this against her, don't try to reason with her about it. This isn't something that's logical. She leaves the room when he enters? Ignore it. She won't speak at the dinner table if he's there. That's her choice. Only react when she's rude, and then keep it simple.
During some quiet time together, let her know how much you love her, and that, yes, you also love Jeff. You hope someday they will be friends again. In the meantime, you will respect her feelings and you hope she will respect yours.