Q: I’m dating a guy with teenage daughters 16 and 18. He is always hugging them, and when we sit on the couch he will rub my leg and theirs as well.
We went to a talk yesterday and his youngest daughter laid her head on his shoulder – his response was to lay his head on hers. It only lasted a second, but I am confused about this. Some people think his daughters are his girlfriends. Am I overreacting? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: I think you are overreacting – because nothing you describe seems out of the norm to me. It sounds more like a father who loves his daughters, has a healthy, affectionate relationship with them, and since they look like women, not babies, you may see them as competition for his time rather than merely his daughters. It also may have something to do with the fact that your relationship with your father may not have been as you describe, but that does not mean your boyfriend’s acting inappropriately. Truth is, if dad’s behavior were inappropriate, the first ones to let him know would be his daughters. They would shy away and be embarrassed by his actions, but you say they easily interact and often initiate the affection. Therefore, it’s probably a healthy relationship and nothing to worry about.
You have not told me how long dad has been divorced or how often he sees his girls, but both could play a role in how father and daughters respond to each other. It could be that they don’t see each other that much and what you describe is in response to being apart – or just the opposite – this is how they have always acted. Either would be understandable. It’s your reaction that is of concern. Comparing your relationship with dad to his relationship with his daughters is a big mistake. They are two completely different relationships and if you put them on the same level, it’s a recipe for failure. It will force dad to make a choice and here’s a news flash – he will most likely choose his daughters.
Good ex-etiquette would be to not make him choose, and not to compare his reaction to you to his reaction to his kids, but to understand that these are his babies, even though they don’t look like babies. Embrace his relationship with his children and you will be accepted as part of the family, by both dad and the girls. Start making noise about the inappropriateness of how they interact so early in the game, and don’t be surprised if your relationship starts to wind down.
It’s important, however, that you address the issue if you are feeling uncomfortable. I’m not saying to push it down and bite your tongue. Education will help. Look for a therapist who specializes in parenting after separation and ask questions about where you fit in this scenario. There are lots of articles about this on www.bonusfamiles.com. Look in the Bonus Living and Ex-Etiquette Departments.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.