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 Post subject: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 4:45 pm 
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UGH. I just had a horrible talk with my stepdaughter on Facebook messenger. To sum up the situation, she's in Brazil. Her dad (my husband) is currently in Brazil, but husband spent the majority of his daughter's life in the US. She lives with her mom and maternal grandparents. They were in the same town, but from what I understand, her grandfather got a better job, so they moved a few towns away. Husband doesn't have a driver's license, and spends all of his time farming. Stepdaughter thinks he doesn't love her, and that he'd pay attention to her if she had been a boy. Her mom says that parents should put kids before everything else, that's why she doesn't have friends or boyfriends or anything.

Um, HALP!? Can I do anything? Can I say anything to help? I know that he loves her more than anything, he's just so tired from all the manual labor he's been doing. (Not to make excuses for him.) Plus, he's just not like, good at that sort of thing. He's not very sentimental or emotional. I don't know a good way to tell an 11 year old to lower her expectations or that she should base them on the person her father is, not who she dreams he will be.

UGH, restated for emphasis. ETA: "I don't belong here," meaning in the playground. I like other people's kids for the most part, but I don't think I have a maternal bone in my body.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 4:56 pm 
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I have lots of empathy, I'm a step-parent who doesn't belong here! I have plenty of maternal bones for guinea pigs but none for children.

Would she understand if you explained the situation to her like you've explained it to us? Ie he loves her more than anything but that he's not an emotional person.


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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:00 pm 
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OH, the other hardship is that she doesn't speak English, and I don't speak Portuguese well. I've been using Google translate.

I tried to tell her that he's a simple man, and that I always wish he were romantic, but he's not. I also tried to let her know that it's OK for her to be sentimental. (She said something like, her dad thinks she's sentimental and silly.) I think it's great that she's sentimental and silly. She's 11. But like, I don't know. I just don't want her to be hurting like this.

ETA: Thanks, 8ball! I'm thinking you definitely know where I'm coming from. I don't even have pets though! I don't have plants!

I guess a lot of the time I feel guilty for not being more 'there' for her, too.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:05 pm 
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:( could your husband maybe write her a letter telling her how he feels about her? would that be easier for him than expressing it in person? maybe you could help him write it?

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:19 pm 
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I just talked to him. I didn't realize, but she actually lives an hours drive away. He's going to get her this weekend and spend time with her. He says he's going to talk to her this weekend. I mentioned writing a letter, ijdi, and I might do it again because I think it's a good idea. He's said he'll talk to her, but if she had a letter it could be a keepsake and she could reread it and whatnot.

She has this image of him taking her out to lunch and walking through the streets holding hands and then going for ice cream. I told him that I think he pretty much just has to do this. But he's like, I'll do it if I'm feeling it. I don't want to fake it.

Am I wrong for thinking (and telling him) that sometimes you just need to fake it and do something for a person you love?

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 7:56 pm 
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It matters to children if you are there for them or not. I'm sure you can imagine how you would feel if your dad moved to another country, spent most of his time away, and when he was in your country - didn't spend time with you.

I don't think that it requires that you have been a parent to understand how much this must be hurting her. Your husband needs to make a big effort for his daughter. I'm sure there are things that are within his comfort zone that he could do to show that he cares for her. Can he visit her, listen to her, and do something with her? What sort of things is comfortable with?

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:20 pm 
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She has this image of him taking her out to lunch and walking through the streets holding hands and then going for ice cream. I told him that I think he pretty much just has to do this. But he's like, I'll do it if I'm feeling it. I don't want to fake it.


Can I just say, that sometimes you have to fake it for kids. If you're exhausted, tired or frustrated, you fake it, and (at least for me) soon you don't feel down at all. Its not their job to have to deal with your feelings.

To be blunt, your husband isn't, and doesn't want be, the father this little girl wants. The mother is feeding into/setting up unfair expectations by saying that "parents need to put their kids first." That may be true for her but it isn't true for him. He loves her but he doesn't put her first, and that isn't "wrong." He is not an active part of her life and your goal is to eventually move back together in the US, so at some point he is going to leave again, right?

And it sounds like you're trying to convince her that she is important to him, and force a relationship, but maybe you can just let their relationship be what it is, and let the two of them figure it out? Its not your relationship, though that sounds harsh, and if you are artificially managing it on both sides, you may be meeting short term emotional needs but you're not going to let them sort out something that works for them. It sounds like your husband already feels a bit resentful that you're trying to guilt/bully him into doing something he doesn't want to do.

I think you may want to work with a therapist who deals with families and figure out how you can get support in this for yourself. I wish the little girl could get help too, but you don't have a lot of power to effect that.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:40 pm 
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I think you are both right. It reminds me of coming to terms myself with the fact that my mom can't be who I want her to be. But she's my mom, and we love each other the best we can. I don't know how to communicate that to an 11 year old though. Or, if it's even my place. She's hurting, and I'd like to help that if I can. You get to the heart of it though Vantine, because I have issues with my mom not spending time with me, and I don't want my stepdaughter to feel like that.

And a lot of it probably had to do with guilt because I will be taking her dad back away. She said that she felt like he made more of an effort to talk to her when he was here though, if that makes sense. He placed a lot of importance on calling her on his day off. Now he doesn't have a day off though. He works 12 hr days on a farm.

Part of me feels like I am trying to force the relationship because I want to be with someone who is a good father even if I don't want kids. I want to believe he is a good person.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:58 pm 
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One of the reasons I wanted to get advice in the playground is I guess I am wondering if it's "wrong" for a parent to not put the child first. I can't commit to putting a child first, so I'm not planning on having a child. And I don't mean to say anything against unplanned pregnancies or anything. I don't know how parents deal with the balance of having kids and a life and the judgment from everyone. And on a personal level I'm wondering how that fits in being a stepparent. I feel guilty for not moving to Brazil so that Wilson and his daughter and be together, but moving there is not really an option for me.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:10 pm 
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Oh that sounds tough. Honestly, it sounds like you adore your husband and he adores you. It seems like your husband puts you first, and would you really want him to put her first? His relationships as father and co-parent to his ex are completely separate from his relationship to you.

Yes, she is hurting, but that isn't your fault or yours to prevent. Her relationship with her father is between her and her dad and he has to generate that. My friend lives 3,000 miles from his kid and they have skype dance parties and play online games and its great, but he doesn't see her IRL - it works for their situation even though it isn't ideal. If W works 12 hour days on a farm in Brazil he needs to find what he feels comfortable with. You can have your own relationship with her, if you wanted to, and it sounds like you do. There isn't a reason why that can't be something that nurtures her.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:17 pm 
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I think you're doing all that you can do by caring about her feelings and hoping that your husband fosters a relationship with his daughter. You shouldn't feel guilty about any of it. It's always a bummer when a parent doesn't make time for a child, but it happens and it's not something you can force to happen unfortunately. I'd just let her know that you care. It's probably a good sign that she felt comfortable chatting with you about this stuff, you know?

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2012 2:12 pm 
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To be blunt, a whole lot of parenting is faking enthusiasm for things you don't want to do because you love the person you're doing it with. I just spent 10 minutes helping my son pretend to clean his toy cars in his lego car wash because you need more than two hands to operate all of the brushes he has built. I have no interest in operating a pretend car wash, but I love my son, so I do it, and I pretend it's fun because I want him to feel important.

As for the whole putting a kid first thing, sometimes that's not possible. And I think having a kid be your first, last, and only thing in your life is not good for anyone. But I think a kid needs to feel like they are at least somewhere on the list. With modern technology, it takes all of two minutes a day to make someone feel important. Just send a little message asking about her day, or say hi, or say that he was thinking about her. He may legitimately not be able to take her out to lunch and hold hands to get ice cream if he works 12 hours a day and has no car, but he can find a way to have a relationship that works for them.

But ultimately, you have no control over this. While you can encourage your husband to find creative ways to be more present for his daughter, you cannot make your husband be someone he is not.


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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2012 2:41 pm 
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i have a few things to say that i am not entirely sure i should say, but i will anyway. Just from how it might appear from down here.

1- most importantly, good for you for taking an interest and trying here.
2- sadly, there are a lot of cultural issues that are even beyond Wilson and his relationship with his daughter. that does not make them right, or fair. but drama and competition and cattiness unfortunately that might be present in daughter's life regardless of what Wilson does or doesn't do. I am not trying to condemn anyone, just noting that it is really, really common here in cases where people have stepkids or exspouses that things become judgmental, critical and cutting, and we know from experience in our own family that these situations are often really complicated and it's hard to get a clear, fair view of what's going on, from any perspective. Another issue is that, while I'm sure these are lovely people, the fact that Wilson has a chance to go to the US may be considered some kind of angle by other people in family, who might not be above making loaded comments to his daughter about how he will go and live in the land of milk and honey while she has to suffer in Brazil. Again, hopefully not true, but widely heard here. A reality is that Wilson is almost certainly paying some kind of support and a move to the US would be an almost guaranteed argument to get a judge to grant an increase in support. Again, I'm sure they're lovely people, but maybe keep this sort of stuff in mind if you hear things that make you feel terrible. I hear so much of this from my daughter's classmates (mostly kids of divorced parents)- lots of "he/she doesn't love me" and guilt tripping that they heard from the lips of the other parent.
3- this age is really tough even for a kid in a stable situation, believe me!!!!
4- i really agree with what Tofulish said- what Wilson does, ultimately, is his call. Talk to him about it, but remember it's his life and his decision, and anything you say is just a consulting opinion for his decision. As for what you can be to your stepdaughter, I think you're really generous and it's great that you are there for her. Maybe see if you can find ways to develop your own relationship with her that don't focus on venting about your husband (and at this age there is a lot of venting).

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2012 5:28 pm 
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I think Torque's advice not to bond with W's daughter by validating her complaints about your husband is really good. You don't know how anything you say is going to get taken out of context and repeated to her mother, your husband or to the courts. Its hard enough being in an LDR without also getting sucked into complicated family dynamics!

Also, if you're looking for other step-parents to give advice on what has and hasn't worked for them, in terms of building an independent relationship with their partner's kids, sites like Baby Center often have good discussion boards: http://community.babycenter.com/groups/ ... e_original

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 12:44 pm 
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Thank you Tofulish (and Torque! and DEG!) I will definitely bookmark the link.

I didn't think of any legal or other implications, but I do know that it all in all makes me feel icky. We have a shared interest in makeup and fashion, so maybe I'll just stick to that. I hate to only talk about shallow stuff with her, but I have this idea that I don't want to 'parent' her. She has a mom and a dad, and I don't want to get in their way. She's a lovely girl though, smart and energetic, and I do want to be a part of her life. I just, I don't really relate to kids. I'll have to google it again, but I think there are different pieces written on conversations to have with girls. (That try not to reinforce traditional beauty and gender stuffs.) I mean, I think it's cool that she likes make up and clothes, but I don't want her to base her self worth on society's standards, and like, I don't know. There's just something about Brazilian women. I don't know how to describe it. It's like all bright colors and sex.

DEG, I did mention to Wilson the last time I spoke with him that maybe even trying to call her at some point each day or every other day might make a big difference. I think she'd like it if he posted cheesy things on her facebook wall, but that's really not him, and his internet is spotty at best.

As long as they don't have horrible rains, she's going to be spending Saturday and Saturday night with her dad. (I guess the dirt roads become nearly impassible during heavy storms.) He's going to talk to her, and just be honest. I hope she can understand that she IS important to him, he just has a lot of responsibilities.

Torque--the thing that gets me, is that the wife isn't catty to my face. I can't read that situation at all. I was invited to Gabi's birthday party at her place and she friended me on facebook. I mean, she seems all right, but if I was her, I would want nothing to do with me. I think her relationship with W. was pretty much over by the time I met him, but they were still legally married. And well, yeah. If I were her, I'd think I was a homewrecker and a tramp. (I'm really only a tramp though!) She does have a younger child, so she obviously moved on a little bit.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 1:35 pm 
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There is a great quote from Julian Barnes that most relationships begin with an act of larceny :)

It sounds like Gabi's mom is behaving nicely to you and that is great. She may very well have completely moved on, I just think that step-parenting is tricky business and as much as possible, negotiating the terms of any relationship should be done by the people in it. I get how hard it is though, hearing a kid feel hurt and wanting more than her father can give her, and having that resonate deeply because of your history.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 5:49 am 
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ndpittman wrote:
There's just something about Brazilian women. I don't know how to describe it. It's like all bright colors and sex.

Oh le sigh. Very true, hard to put fingers on, but I think it might be confusion as to where women fit in as the culture changes from a traditional woman-at-home-catholic-expectations thing to this brave new world where women are supposed to be just as good as men, yet get discriminated against at every turn, and still have to do all the old "women's work" along with their new professional expectations. The only real ground they have control over is sex (although it's a mixed blessing considering that abortion is not legal....). At least that's how I see it. I've met so many needy, controlling, scheming women here [mostly my sisters in law who are sure i'm also a homewrecking tramp, welcome to the family, hehe], but then for every one like that, I meet a woman who is totally amazing and off the map, so I guess it depends a lot on the person, thank goodness.
Let's hope that the kid's mother is one of the latter.

I don't think there's anything wrong about talking about fashion and makeup. I do think if it were me I would use it as a vehicle introduce her to some strong female figures-- we may have a female president but it ain't doing much for women here. I know my daughter loves to read about women who challenged the establishment, and there really isn't much here in BR that's giving girls this kind of positive reinforcement.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:37 am 
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Torque--exactly! Only in Wilson's town, the only jobs for women are cleaning houses. It's a really, really small town. The only time the women seem to have fun is when they get all dressed up and well, I guess I can't assume who they're getting dressed up for (themselves, men, other women). It seems like most have children by age 18, and there don't seem to be many opportunities other than child-rearing. Which is fine if that's what you want, but I don't know. I want Gabi to know there are options. They were SHOCKED that I don't have any kids. And that I'm so pale...but that's another story!

I tried to have the 'what do you want to do when you grow up?' talk with Gabi and she says she wants to be a model. I would LOVE to know any of the role models you all read about. You know, not of the fashion variety.

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 Post subject: Re: I don't belong here! Step-parenting advice?
PostPosted: Wed Nov 14, 2012 6:14 am 
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We have lots of peripheral relatives where they really don't have anything to do all day, and I can't imagine how they survive. the japanese folks at least garden and farm, and i can get behind that, but the other ones in the country we usually spend Christmas with.... they only work if there is a serious risk of hunger. [both genders...] nobody reads, or has any curiosity. what the TV tells them is Gods Own Truth. i suppose everyone wants to make their own Novela to legitimize themselves- so it's all sex and kids or nothing. or drugs, i guess.
we often laugh remembering when i first moved here and i would spend time helping aunts, cousins, etc at their houses.... i can think of a dozen times where friends of these ladies would appear, sit me down at the table with a "you won't BELIEVE what XXXX did this week!" and regale me with an hour of gossip- during which i said not a single word, because i couldn't understand a thing, and my relative had to come rescue me. It was just assumed that any new face wanted a big update. No thank you?

RE powerful women-- just to preface, we are pinko commies and so anyone who appeared in a Howard Zinn history book led to further exploring!!
I loooooove Mother Jones, who is the antithesis of the stylin' hottie Gabi would probably appreciate. But we had a lot of discussion about Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhardt, and Oprah [who everyone here knows but nobody knows the backstory about, BTW].... lots and lots of talk about Sacajawea, and about how she must have felt dealing with a completely impossible situation. My kid was born in RI and grew up hearing about religious dissidence and tolerance from the start, Anne Hutchinson is another one. Our models are more of the thumb-nose-to-power than the take-power type.
She might like some of the things that seem to be all over teen magazines, like
http://www.marieclaire.com/world-report ... nal-women/
http://www.younghollywood.com/scene/wom ... story.html
and also
http://www.flavorwire.com/265847/10-of- ... literature (which is good because most of them include movies as well, and you can bet she doesn't have access to the books)

My own kid is taking a lot of her role models from anime, and they are all girls who are ridiculously strong.

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