Second Fiddle

I have a 7 yr old son, and my boyfriend of one year has a 9 yr old daughter. She used to like us and would invite us to ‘sleep over’ at her Dad’s (whom she visits every 2nd weekend and on Wed and Thurs evenings). She no longer seems to enjoy our company and doesn’t even want to go on hikes or to the beach with us. I can understand she may feel some resentment and/or jealousy, but I feel she is manipulating her dad. It works better when she can bring a friend on outings, but sometimes she can’t find a friend to come. The last time we went to the beach she sat in the car and cried. What can her Dad say to comfort her? How can he let her know he needs ‘a life’? How should I behave around her, smother her with attention or back off and let her come to me?Since this girl enjoyed your company and welcomed you at first, it can’t be just that she doesn’t want her dad to have a partner. Something must have happened to make her not want to be around you. My best guess is that you and her dad, being in love and/or having adult issues to discuss, are paying little or no attention to the children when you’re together with them.

When you spend time with children as well as adults, it is only polite and respectful that the adults acknowledge that they’re having a “family time” which includes the children. This means that any conversations should be on topics of interest to children, and any activities should be shared ones which interest both children and adults.

I’ve seen so many couples at the beach or in the park ignoring the children, who are just supposed to play with one another or run along beside the adults, not taking part in the conversation, which is entirely around adult issues. This often happens at the dinner table, too – the adults dominate the conversation, and when a child tries to change the subject to something of interest to him, the adults regard him as rude for interrupting.

The assumption, which the adults don’t even think about, is that “children should be seen and not heard.” We can’t teach kids to respect adults when we don’t respect them and their needs. When we choose to be with kids, they deserve conversation on topics of interest to them, on their level.

I imagine your boyfriend’s little girl has until recently been able to have her dad all to herself. While it’s okay for her to be asked to share him with his new partner, it’s only fair to her that when he’s being shared, that the activities and conversation are of interest to the child. You and your boyfriend should save your romantic expressions and adult conversations (having “a life,” as you put it) for the times when you are alone. There can be plenty of such times when he doesn’t have his little girl with him. She is already suffering from not having her dad available to her every day of the week, and it is really unfair if all his attention is going to you when she visits with him. That’s why she cried.

How should you behave around her? Listen to her. Play with her. Involve her in decisions about what you should do when you’re with her dad. Most of all, respect her need to be with her dad, and be willing to play “second fiddle” when she’s having her time with him. You get to see him at other times; she doesn’t.