My 2 year-old daughter’s dad passed away when she was six months old. I’ve been dating a man for the past six months and we plan to get married in the next month. She calls him “daddy”, as she’s never known any other father figure in her life.
My deceased husband’s parents are making things complicated with my attempts to move on and start a new life. As the grandparents, they are demanding weekend visits with my daughter every other weekend. They don’t want my daughter to forget her real dad. When she has visits, they show her pictures of her dad and say, “this is your real dad.” My fiancé is doing all he can to be a father to her, but they are making it so hard. I understand how they want her to stay connected to her family, but their approach is just nuts to me.
I’ve looked up so much stuff about going to court and how they could get visitation because their son has passed away. However, I don’t feel like a little girl being around people who constantly remind her of her deceased father is healthy for her when she has a perfectly capable father right here. They also don’t want to believe that my fiancé is a good guy. When she comes back from visits, she says she hates my fiancé and doesn’t love him. This is so painful to my fiancé and me, as the rest of the time the two of them get along so well and she really connects to him. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this situation?
Even though your former in-laws are driving you crazy, it’s important to recognize that fighting them is only going to make things more difficult for your daughter. They are struggling to hold on to the memory of their son and the dream of having a granddaughter while you’re dealing with the reality of needing to move forward with your life and provide her with a stable marriage and family environment.
I can tell you don’t want to erase the reality of her biological father or his family. I think it’s good for her to have a connection with them, even though they’re going about it in a way that confuses your daughter. You can imagine how confusing it is for a toddler to be told that this man in the photograph is her father while the guy who is in her life everyday isn’t her dad. That’s too abstract for a toddler to grasp, hence the confusion about who she loves and hates.
Consult with an attorney who can help you sort out the legalities of grandparent rights so there can be a consistent schedule your daughter can count on. This isn’t something you want to fight out with them on your own. If they’re reasonable people, you might attempt a conversation with them about agreeing on how to handle the reality of your fiancé and the memory of her biological father. The way you would handle something like this with a toddler is very different than how you would handle it with a teenager. If they won’t cooperate with you to provide a unified approach, then let it go and work on building a secure environment in your home.
Your fiancé is understandably worried about his role in her life. However, please tell him to not make this more difficult on you or on your daughter by taking any of this personally. You know he’s a great father-figure to your daughter. He knows the same. Your daughter also knows this because she spends the most time with him. He needs to continue being there for her, playing with her, and giving you and her the same love and care he’s been doing. Don’t get hung up on titles and labels right now. The truth is happening, which is that he’s fathering your daughter on a daily basis.
This situation has nothing to do with your fiancé’s efforts. He’s doing the best he can while your former in-laws are grieving the loss of their son. I’m sure they are terrified of losing the connection to their granddaughter. It would help if your fiancé didn’t put you in the middle by creating a loyalty split. The two of you can let your former in-laws know of your support and desire to make sure your daughter has a strong relationship with that side of the family. She belongs to them as well.
While this may initially be confusing to her and create some drama when she comes back from visits, my belief is that she’ll eventually get used to the routine. I’m sure everyone will settle down as family life moves forward and they see that she has a supportive and loving family environment.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.