Question: Dear Luise: I am in a very strange situation. My husband found out that his little girl was not his when she turned 3 years old. He had been taking care of her by himself until she was 2 years old. The biological mother has since then taken her from his life stating that she is not biologically his, and the current boyfriend will be raising this child as his own. This has happened 5 times in the last 6 years. One time we can see her, one time we cannot, the mother decides. The child is now 10. We finally obtained custody last year, and she has been living in our home for the last 1 1/2 years. We have also had another child since then, who is now 5 years old. The mother consistently talks badly about us to the little girl, tells her she does not have to listen to me, (step-mom). She has not paid a dime in child support. We do all the driving back and forth for visitations. We take care of health insurance, everything. Her mom has not worked since July and is now living with the 4th guy in the last year, and has had 5 jobs during that time. The woman is cruel to me when she calls. She is rude, and has told the little girl the only reason she’s not with my husband any longer is because I broke them apart. (There were 2 years in between relationships.) I am not sure how to handle either one of them anymore. I know that the little girl is confused , but I just wish I could talk to her and set her straight. Her mother is bad news, but I know that this would hurt the child more, so I keep my mouth shut. I have been respectful and kind to this woman, but I am at the point where if she is rude to me when I answer the phone, etc., I am going to give it back. Please help. How do I work this out without stooping down to this woman’s level? What is the best way to handle these kinds of situations? I am so angry with her behavior, I am finding it difficult to maintain composure. Catherine
Answer: Dear Catherine: How does a mature adult deal with a seriously damaged pseudo-adult? Not very easily. You don’t want to stoop to her level and it sounds like she is totally incapable of responding in kind.
You are thinking of the little girl first and her biological mother apparently can’t. It sounds like you have been and are reasonable, kind, logical and mature…all resources that her own mom doesn’t seem to have. Nothing is harder on communication than being from two different worlds. You really don’t even speak the same language.
You’re right, the one getting the brunt of the whole thing is the little girl. I think I’d get her into counseling, if that’s an option for you. She needs an outside advocate and you need support. Your own child is going to feel the brunt of all of this, soon, if he/she hasn’t already and may need some help dealing with it, as well.
You “wish” you could tell the little girl the truth but you’re right, trying to help her by attempting to shed light on her mother’s behavior would only make things worse for everyone concerned. Certainly you can set boundaries on the phone and refuse to converse if the woman is abusive. You can also refer her calls to your husband and pass on talking to her. Beyond that, there have to be other options that a counselor could help you to consider.
Someday you may be able to talk candidly with the little girl about all of this but that’s a long way off. Children who are lied to often know it…but trusting adults is also part of childhood. She can’t help but be damaged by all of this chaos.
My response to a “Catch 22” is to get professional help. Don’t try to do it alone. Blessings. Luise