You Know I Love You More Than She Does, Don’t You?

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m dating a single father who says that his relationship with me means the world to him. But is it normal for him to leave in the middle of a number of dates to cater to the whims of his almost 18 yr. old daughter? He’s left to drive her to the mall, pick her up or drop her off at friends’ homes, and recently to attend to a tummy ache. Is this just some kind of a teenage power struggle and response to her dad dating? Do you think that this guy will ever stand up for himself?

A: It’s pretty clear that your boyfriend’s daughter has got some real problems with her dad dating. If she were 10 or 11, I’d tell you that her behavior, while hurtful, isn’t all that uncommon and that she’d probably outgrow it within a few years. But when an 18-year old does what this girl is doing, it’s a lot more troubling. To start with, she should have gotten over daddy’s dating by now. That doesn’t mean she has to like it—or you for that matter. But it does mean that she should be mature enough to deal with it.

This is where your boyfriend comes in. It is absolutely NOT normal—or healthy—for a dad (or any parent) to be wrapped so tightly around his teenage daughter’s finger. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s deliberately timing her helpless act to coincide with—and disrupt—your dates. Unfortunately, by continuing to provide chauffer and nursing services (a tummy ache? Really? Come on!), he’s actually encouraging her to keep manipulating him.

You’re in a tough spot: If you demand that he stop catering to his daughter, you’ll be confirming what she’s probably been telling him: that you’re trying to come between them. However, the reality is that she’ll never stop unless he takes a stand and draws some pretty clear boundaries.

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m dating a man who is over 50 and has a young daughter. The weird thing is that he’s still best friends with the “baby’s mama” (he won’t refer to her as an “ex”). He often invites “mama” out to dinner and brings her to family gatherings. She calls him when she’s had a bad day and he talks to her for hours—he says it’s just to keep the peace for his daughter. I had a particularly rough day one day and was expecting to talk with him and instead he had made plans for dinner with “mama.” Is this normal?

A: Given that there are so many tales of horror story divorces and warring ex spouses, it’s nice to hear about two people who are civil to each other and have put the needs of their child ahead of their own. But what you’re describing is way, way over the top.

One possible explanation for this is that your boyfriend simply isn’t ready to let go of his previous relationship. If that’s the case, you have two choices: either give him an “it’s her or me” ultimatum or break things off.

It’s also possible that “mama” is trying to do exactly what the teenage girl in the first letter is doing: put a wedge between you and your boyfriend. And, as with the teenager, nothing will change unless papa decides to draw the line. That means fewer (if any) invites to dinner and family gatherings as well as referring “mama” to another shoulder to cry on.