Dear Abby: Although I love my 7-year-old daughter, “Emma,” I do not “like” her. It’s because I dislike my ex-husband, “Scott,” so much. He was verbally and emotionally abusive and left me while I was pregnant. The experience left me hurt and humiliated, and I continue to harbor resentment toward him.
I’m happily remarried now, but Emma is a constant reminder of my bad marriage. I feel she’s selfish, rude, lazy and disrespectful – characteristics Scott possesses. I have little tolerance for her behavior and I’m hard on her. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to him instead of to a little girl.
I have seen several therapists, but nobody has been able to help. I have been told, “Your child isn’t your ex so you need to get over it!”
Compounding the problem is the daughter I have with my second husband, a little girl I adore beyond words. She’s sweet, kind, friendly and essentially the opposite of Emma. I love this child more than I love Emma, and I’m disgusted with myself for feeling this way. It was Scott who hurt me, but I can’t get past the hurt. Abby, what can I do?
– Distressed in Massachusetts
Dear Distressed: Try harder to rebuild the bond you didn’t form with Emma when she was born because of your anger at her father. It can still be done, but it will take work on your part. Emma’s behavior may be the result of how you have treated her, and if YOU can change, so may she. I’ll share with you a letter I printed several years ago from another mother who shared your problem:
“Dear Abby: The best advice I ever received for coping with my contrary daughter was from a neighbor who had a surly girl of her own. She made a conscientious effort to be more demonstrative to her daughter, hug her more and hold on a little tighter to show her how valued she was.
“I tried it with my daughter, going out of my way several times a day to express my love for her. It was awkward at first, but I persevered. I committed myself to loving that unlovable being, and slowly but surely it paid off. At first, she would lean away, but eventually she would ask me to hold on ‘just one more minute.’
“My daughter is 24 now and on her own. Her life isn’t what I would have hoped for or expected, but that’s OK. I’m her touchstone for love and acceptance. I can’t imagine my life without her.
– Another Mom in California”
Emma may be a difficult child, but she’s not stupid. She sees the difference between how you react to her half-sister and the way you treat her. A first step for you would be to apologize to her, put your arms around her and tell her that from now on you will try to do better as a mother. Emma didn’t ask to be born, and you owe her that.
Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com.