I have an 11-year-old daughter and I got married last summer to a man with a 9-year-old girl of his own. When we first decided to get married, we were concerned over how the two of them would get along – but so far they’ve been great. But now I’m starting to worry about my relationship with my husband’s daughter. I’m finding myself siding with my daughter on any little disagreement, instead of being the impartial parent I’m supposed to be. My husband treats my daughter wonderfully. I am getting very anxious about this.
Dear One-Two Mother,
As much as you may want to be the impartial party between your daughters, it is normal to find yourself in allegiance with the one you carried around in your body, eventually forced out of you, then spent 11 years taking care of. Not only is biology in play here, but your time as a parent to your own daughter.
Those of us with more than one child we have raised from the time of infancy eventually get to a point where the arguments between them become their own battles to fight. Having spent too many hours holding court in the family living room over whether one was in the right for calling the other a poopy stink face, the parents of multiple children learn to hold up their hands at the utterance “She started it” and let the kids figure it out for themselves. There is no way to be a proper diplomat to sibling squabblery.
With a new marriage and a new role as mother of two, you are still getting to know your step-daughter while sensitive to your own daughter’s place in the family. Your new family is forming, and since you already went through a time of worry over the dynamic of the step-sister relationship, you have not had the time to consider your own place in that dynamic.
Yet, here it is. The time has come to develop a maternal role with another person’s child. While it is great that your new husband seems to be able to become an easy father to your daughter, it isn’t that easy for most people. You’ve got the parental equivalent of an arranged marriage happening. Obviously you considered this before you walked down the aisle, but knowing about it and living with it are two different things.
My suggestion would be that you do the following two things. One of those is that, hard as it may be, you hold your tongue when the girls have their minor disagreements. You’ve said that they get along well for the most part, so if these are matters which don’t require your intervention to maintain the overall function of the household, stay the hell out of it.
The other is that you step up your efforts to get to know your step daughter. Schedule time where the two of you do things alone. Get to know her strengths and interests. Have moments with her that will belong to the two of you. Get to the point where you find yourself unable to contain yourself from telling other people stories about the cute things she said or did. It will be an eventual process, but one day you will find that impartial part of yourself. And keep in mind that when it comes to our children, an increase in love for one doesn’t take anything away from the love we already have for the other.
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