Ask Dr. J Archives
Dear Dr. J
I have been a single parent since my daughter was 6 months old. I never had a relationship while she was growing up. When she turned 9, I decided to date again but never introduced her to anyone, until I met someone I thought would be good. Into the relationship, my daughter walked in on us while we were having sex and she has never recovered. The relationship has ended due to different things.
The night before New Years Eve, I met a lovely man and I have introduced her to him a few weeks ago. Now it seems that she is trying to control the relationship by bursting in the room all of a sudden and at night she sits out side my door listening even though I’m just asleep. I can’t afford sitters all the time and I only see my new partner at the weekend and one day in the week. My daughter says she cant trust me, and I feel awful.
I just don’t know what to do. I was even contemplating finishing the relationship because it’s just not worth the hassle although I really like this man. I dread the thought of having nobody when I am older but I think that that maybe my only option...I love Shannon so much but I find myself resenting her for making me feel this way. Please advise.
The situation you describe is a difficult one. I’m not sure what happened the night
your daughter walked in on you and your partner. Hopefully, it was handled
somewhat calmly. Sometimes the parent’s reaction is more traumatic for the
child than the actual incident. Freud referred to this as the “primal scene” when
describing the effect it may have on children. While it can be frightening for
children to witness something they don’t understand, hopefully you were able
to give her an explanation that helped her. You say she’s never recovered, but
I’m not sure what you mean by that.
It is sometimes stressful for single mothers to date because, as you say, it is
so difficult to juggle the children’s needs and your needs as a single adult woman. Of course, ideally your daughter would be spending a minimum of every-other-weekend with her father and this would give you private time while she is away.
I’m getting the impression from your letter that your daughter does not have
visitation with her father. You say you just introduced her to your new partner a few weeks ago and it sounds like he’s now spending the night. This can be a difficult adjustment for a child to make when she really hasn’t had much time to get to know him. Maybe you should slow it down a bit and let her adjust to your new partner.
On the other hand, she may be trying to manipulate the situation to her advantage because she picks up on your guilt about the incident with your previous boyfriend. You said you feel “awful” and your daughter has said she can’t trust you. Can’t trust you about what? Have you made promises to her about not sleeping with your new friend? Please try to let go of your guilt about the past incident because it may be
affecting how you handle the situation now. Unfortunately, your daughter walked
in when she wasn’t supposed to, but you can’t do anything about that now. What
you can do is put a lock on your bedroom door and start working with her on boundaries. At 9 years old, she shouldn’t be spying on you and waiting outside
your bedroom door at night. Please make sure you aren’t allowing her to call the shots on this one. She should be in her own bed and, hopefully, you
haven’t allowed her to sleep with you so that she feels displaced when your
boyfriend is there. Sit down and have a talk with her about the fact that she
is the child and you are the adult and there are appropriate boundaries that
will be set for her own protection and your peace of mind. You can empathize
with her feelings to a point, but you should firmly and calmly assure her that
you will be making all the decisions about your relationship with your new partner.
If you have had fuzzy boundaries with her about sleeping with you, coming into your bedroom without permission, or treating her more like a peer than a child,
then you have your work cut out for you. You need to get a handle on this before
you can expect to have any control when you’re entertaining your new partner.
Perhaps you need to do a little groundwork first before you have him stay the
night when she is there. I realize it’s a balancing act, but don’t sacrifice the
relationship because of your daughter. As you said, you have resentment towards
her, but it’s really because you’ve lost control of the situation.