Mirror, mirror …

reflection
Dear Jutka,

I’ve been in relationship with a man for a year. We get on well and have a lot of fun together. The only difficulty is that I find it very hard to be around his seven year-old daughter. I find her behaviour very demanding. She is constantly throwing tantrums and it’s clear she’s jealous of my time with her father. She ruins all the time we have together and the most challenging part is, my partner seems oblivious to what’s going on.  I’ve tried to talk about it with him and he clearly wants it to be off limits as a subject. Worse still, I feel incredibly guilty that I dislike a child so much but although I try my best, really I find her intolerable. It doesn’t make sense to me to end a good relationship because of a naughty child but I’m just not sure I could take this on long term. I don’t want to be critical of his parenting “ I’m a parent too and know how tough it is. But even my kids don’t want to hang with this girl. What do I do?

Jutka: Mirror Mirror on the wall whos the unfairest of them all? The step mother of course.

You are never there because of good news. Either someone left or they died either way you are the woman who took daddy away from mummy.  The fact that mummy might be just fine about this or even relieved is irrelevant. The step child isnt! You are what potentially stands between the current disruptive family arrangement and some blissful fantasy of what it would be like in the family re-united.

What an unenviable position being the step mum or even potential step mum is. It is the common stuff of fairy tales where every lovely young innocent girl has not just a ˜bad but an ˜evil step mum. Shes jealous, conniving  and ready to make the daughter a slave or ˜gone.  Interestingly I cant think of even one ˜bad step dad story let alone ˜bad step child story, unless of course we are talking about real life stories where sadly I can think of many. So we are dealing with an archetype or a stereotype at the very least.

Now from the other perspective, there is an irresistible force in most women (particularly mothers) to parent (improve) children who come into their orbit (charge). This is a mistake. Trying to ˜fix the child/ren will backfire. A more thankless undertaking would be hard to find. Children know which authority they have to answer to. If they get a whiff of you needing to impression manage your relationship with daddy and appear like a ˜good parent to him, their power antennae is activated and they know just how to manipulate to get attention and priority.

Then of course theres the ˜oedipus shmedipus 7 year old infatuation with daddy. If this child is the ˜oedipal victor which means shes won daddy over mummy, (which may be a function of their separation but to a child subconsciously it can be a victory nevertheless) then shes done it before and she can do it again. You dont want to be a participant in that mighty tournament.

This is not to say that there should be no boundaries in the relationship. Perhaps you can sensitively suggest to your partner that his child might like to be with her daddy on their own? You may see less of him but youll be spared the dysfunctional ˜step dynamic. When she feels she hasnt lost him to you she may be able to accommodate your relationship and with less perceived threat,.she may even start to see you as separate from him as a ˜real person or even an ally.

If youve found a loving relationship with a good man then I agree its worth fighting for. One threatened child no matter how badly they are behaving has more potential for change than a difficult partner.

Perhaps with time, empathy, good boundaries and a little discussion with either your partner or your children ( they may all be siblings one day) you could offer the child some one-on-one time with you ( its amazing how different they are when theyre not competing for daddys love) and less time with you as a couple. It only takes one person in a system to shift to create a new dynamic ¦ good luck!

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Authors Website: http://www.jutkafreiman.com.au

Profile: Jutka Freiman is a psychotherapist & group facilitator in private practise in Sydney. She also runs workshops on Feminine Archetypes & the Enneagram.

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