Q: I'm getting married in a few months to a man who has never been married and has no children of his own. He's in the process of moving out of his house and into mine with my two daughters (14 and 12). I have been seeing him for two years and thought we all had a great relationship. After a general conversation the other day, my 12-year-old told me that she doesn't like my fiance, and when she has said she loves him she has never meant it. She said she still loves her own dad even though she was only 2 1/2 when he left us for another woman and we haven't seen him since.
I am so unhappy with the situation. I feel torn among all the ones I love and don't know how to make things better. Please help me.
A: Kids in your daughter's position sometimes secretly idolize their wayward parent, and each time your fiance is nice to her or acts in a loving manner, it just reminds her that HER dad is not around by his choice. She looks at your fiance and thinks, "Why is it you and not MY Dad? What's wrong with ME that my own dad is not around?" Unfortunately, kids blame themselves when their parents abandon them and sometimes, when another adult tries to fill the gap, it just makes things worse.
Your fiance may want to sit down with your daughter and have a quiet conversation where he explains that he cares for her very much. (I'd stay away from the word "love" for the time being.) Continue by empathizing -- he knows she must miss her own father, and he feels badly that things have worked out the way they have. Further, he understands it must be terrible to not have a dad around, and that he will never try to take her father's place, but he does care for her and wants to build a life as a family.
Here's an important point: Your fiance would not say, "I love you because I love your mother and you are part of your mother, therefore I love you." That makes his affection for her dependent on his relationship with you and this child is looking for a connection that is uniquely her own. He may want to tell her that he wants to be there for her and she can trust that HE will be around, even if something happens between you and him (although he knows it won't) and he just wants her to know that he's in this for the long haul. He might want to close the conversation by reiterating that if she has something she wants to talk to him about, not to worry about his feelings, he's a grown-up and can handle whatever she dishes out. His job is to be there for the family -- and for her if she needs him, and, then let her come to him.
So, what if he does all these things and your daughter still says she does not like him? Could be that's the way she feels, but it's more common that her hurt runs pretty deep. He may have to reiterate his affection over the next few years (yes, years) and, demonstrate it in deeds as well as words. Kids in your daughter's position may act out and adopt a, "You say you love me prove it" attitude. Your fiance must be consistent -- have patience -- and don't be afraid to get the help of a good counselor if your daughter needs someone other than you or your fiance to talk to.