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First post - Contact issues with DSD (long..)

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CeeJay1012 Fri 06-May-16 15:46:32

Hello everyone, I have "lurked" a great deal on here but have not - until now - worked up the courage to post. So... apologies that I am going to be so long here (I am trying to give a clear picture in the hopes that it will make responding easier).

DP and I have been together for 7 1/2 years and have a 5 YO son. He has 2 daughters with his former wife and she also has a new partner with whom she has a 4 1/2 YO son. DP and his ex split shortly after the birth of his 2nd daughter and ex-wife met her new partner before DP and I got together (i.e. neither I nor the ex's DP were involved in the split).

The divorce was acrimonious and relations remain fraught and bitter. ExW and SDDs moved about 4 hours away more than 6 years ago and DP travels to SDDs for weekend visits (and stays in a hotel with them there in order to save them the travel time/ensure they can participate in weekend activities/go to bday parties etc). On these weekends I stay home with our son - partly as we want the girls to have some exclusive time with their dad, partly due to hotel costs and partly because our son is autistic and does better in a routine.

However, for longer breaks (i.e. Xmas, half-terms, Easter, summer etc) the girls spend some of their time with DP here in London, some of it with DP's parents and some of it on vacation (DS and I join sometimes, depending on his therapy schedule and how he is doing health-wise). Having said that, our son adores his older sisters, who are wonderful with him, so we try to incorporate a good balance of time "as a five" so that the children have time as a family.

We - DP, DP's parents, me, my parents - have all worked very hard over the years to prioritise the girls' time with their dad. When DP cannot manage pick-ups from the school on Fridays (like I said, it is 4+-hour drive, which means that work commitments can sometimes make this tricky), his parents step in; I manage all of DS's neurologist, OT, PT and SLT appointments on my own so that DP's vacation days are free for contact visits; my parents (who live in Canada, which is where I am from and where my support network is) have always arranged their visits around the girls' schedule (for example, DP and his parents wanted to take the girls to Disney World when DS was 2 1/2 - this was at the "low point" pre-diagnosis and DS had stopped talking, was not sleeping, began having meltdowns and seizures - I was trying to hold on to a very demanding FT job in tech whilst figuring out WTF was going on with him so my mum flew over to help me so that the long-promised DSD vacation could go ahead).

The point is that even given DS's special needs, we have worked very hard to limit the impact on the girls - not once has the (astronomical, completely privately funded from after-tax income) costs of DS's therapy led to a "no" to any request from the girls' mother for additional money for special events, nor have the girls missed out on time with their dad, vacations or weekend activities.

However, recently younger DSD is objecting to her visits with her dad - to the point where the school contacted DP and asked if we were making an effort to do things on weekends/half-terms etc that interested her as she was throwing full-on tantrums at the school gates on "pick up days" about being away from her mother and saying that she hated "everything" about her time with her dad. She told her mother and teachers that she hated the food we gave her so we now take her shopping and let her have input into what we will be eating on the weekend. She loves science and animals so we have always incorporated this into visits - birthdays have included trips to the butterfly exhibit at the NHM or DinoSnores, vacations have included whale watching or bird shows, this Easter break included a visit to the London Aquarium, horse riding and to a friend of DP's parents to feed the spring lambs. Last long weekend she was taken to the zoo.

She then, in separate conversations with me and with DP's mother, told us (unprompted) that the reason she doesn't want to see her dad or us anymore is because "it makes Mummy sad". She said she doesn't mind visiting her other grandmother because "Mummy is happy when I visit her". She also said that she feels sad if she has fun with Daddy because it means that if she tells Mummy, Mummy will cry.

Has anyone else experienced this and how did you/your DP manage the situation? It breaks my heart that she is feeling so torn and that she is believes that loving her dad and family here is a betrayal of the mother she adores.

Apologies for how long this is and many thanks in advance for any suggestions!

Lambly Fri 06-May-16 16:55:44

I didn't want to read and run and I'm sure others will be along soon with some more helpful advice. However I just wanted to say you sound like an absolutely wonderful stepmum and the level of maturity that comes across in your post is really admirable. It reminds me I must make more of an effort to be more level headed when dealing with DSD and her mum!

Fourormore Fri 06-May-16 17:06:50

I'd get in touch with the Family Separation Clinic. They're based in London. Have a read of Karen Woodall's blog as well.

CeeJay1012 Fri 06-May-16 19:08:00

Thank you for your kind words, Lambly - I am not always level-headed. If I don't sometimes self-medicate with wine I find myself getting very aerated about the girls' mother creating problems for her kids unnecessarily - given that I have a child with genuine issues I cannot understand why a mother would go to such an effort to generate drama. It mystifies me that she cannot be grateful that her children are able to go to school, have friends, go to birthday parties, enjoy vacations, TALK, play with other children without requiring ear defenders etc etc etc I am just feeling fairly calm at present... ;-)
Fourormore - those are great suggestions, thank you! I have pulled up the websites and will discuss with DP this weekend.
Thank you so much! xx

swingofthings Sat 07-May-16 17:48:56

What a dedicated parent you are, if only your SD could see it. Hopefully she will one day.

Is her mother suffering from depression or something? Some children are very intuitive and naturally caring and could pick up on her mum unhappiness without the mum actually trying to guilt trip her.

Her friend of mine had a child like that. She went through a difficult time health-wise and struggle with depression. Her DD automatically took on a caring attitude towards her, that despite her mum telling her all the time to go and have fun, saying that it wasn't her fault, that she wasn't responsible for her, that she wanted her to be happy, but no matter what she said, her DD felt that her duty was by her. It made her feel really guilty. Thankfully, she is starting to feel better now and DD is turning into a teenager, so much more selfish, and my friend is delighted!

TimeforaNNChange Mon 09-May-16 07:42:40

Has anyone else experienced this and how did you/your DP manage the situation?

Yes.

The very first CAFCASS report written about DHs DCs referred to his DDs "concern about her mums feelings over and above what would be expected for a 12 year old". The court, and school staff, advised DHs ex to change her behaviour in front of the DCs (she sobbed at each hand over and openly told the DCs that she hated it when they saw DH).

Sadly, despite several more CAFCASS reports saying similar, she didn't heed the advice and as the DCs have grown up, they have, quite naturally, pulled away from DH in order to avoid hurting their Mum.

DH now sees his now teen DCs on their terms - which they admit is driven by what their mum wants. They know they are missing out, and they know DH is hurt, but he doesn't cry and wail in front of them so they find it easier to reject him than their mum, who is still a drama queen and unable to move on with her life.

dolkapots Mon 09-May-16 09:01:02

This is really common and I really don't know what can be done about it if the mother is not willing to engage. I used to feel really guilty leaving my mum "alone" (although she wasn't alone!) and at times it really affected my time with my dad.

I would give lots of reassurance to your DSD that you both understand how she feels, tell her it is ok to feel that way etc. Maybe a phone call to her mum midway might help?

Peach1886 Mon 09-May-16 09:56:21

We had this too, due to major manipulative/controlling behaviour from the ex - on one occasion she booked a holiday over the top of the one and only week the DSCs spent with us in the summer, and then cried down the phone when the eldest said she didn't know what to do as she wanted to see her dad...poor kid torn in bits, our holiday cancelled and back they went one day after he had picked them up...

The problem is the kids get fed this "pity poor me" bit - whether through genuine MH issues or controlfreakery as we had - and they don't really understand what is happening, and even less how to deal with it. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't, and because at that age they are more naturally soft-hearted, they go to whoever wails loudest...as you are doing, we worked everything round the DSC and kept a dignified silence whenever they were put in an impossible position, we never made them choose.

As they got older we were able to be a little more straightforward, very gently, and say "well yes mummy might be sad, but this week you have been with her every single day except today, so do you think it would be ok if you do what YOU want today and stay here and see daddy - mummy will be fine and you will see her tomorrow." When it got really bad DH just used to take them out during the day and return them to their mother's each evening, not great but it did at least mean he spent some time with them and there was chance for them to develop a relationship with them - they are both now in their teens, one we don't see because she totally fell for her mother's manipulation, the other one lives with us, and not long ago began to realise - completely unprompted by us- what her mother did.

Wdigin2this Mon 09-May-16 16:21:21

OP you sound like a sensible, caring and kind person, who is doing her level best to make life easier for everyone!!! Have a wine on me!

It never ceases to amaze me that anyone could damage their DC in this cruel, self pitying way! I don't care what happened during the split, or how much you hate your ex, or how lonely you feel when you DC visit their NR parent.....for goodness sake you are the adult, they are children, act like it, and make your own children's path through modern life easier!!!

LittleLionMansMummy Sat 14-May-16 07:53:56

It's a really good sign that she opened up to you op, take that as a huge positive. Hidden feelings are impossible to deal with and in our case became extremely damaging with dsd1 who very much kept hers hidden. We knew for a long time something wasn't quite right but because she was such a closed book we were unable to do anything until it was too late.

I think all you can really do is tell her you understand her feelings and that she's not wrong to feel that way. Say you understand she feels torn and her loyalty to her mum. Tell her that shows what a good person she is to be so empathetic.

Could your dp speak to his ex about this do you think? Or don't they communicate well? It's very hard to deal with if communication between them isn't good, unfortunately, as is so often the case in situations such as this.

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