I have been dating my boyfriend for eight months now. He has a 4-year-old daughter who is extremely attached to him. He insists on her sleeping in the bed with us and says he will never have her sleeping on her own till she wants to. She will sometimes tell him that she only wants to sleep with him in the bed and not me. She has periods where she likes me, but they are very far and few between. She will even hit me sometimes, and he does not believe in reprimanding her because she is 4 years old. She will also cry just to get her way or so that he will feel bad and will not reprimand her for the things she says or does. When I try to approach him about these issues — and there are more — he tells me I am jealous. And to make it worse, he tells me he is not going to “love” me until my relationship with his daughter is where it needs to be. He says that I am not just dating him, I am dating her too. Please help! – Amy L., age 34
This is a very complicated and alarming issue on multiple levels. The first thing I want to suggest is a shift in your perspective of this man’s little girl. She is four years old. She is not making the bad choices in this father daughter relationship. Her father is making those choices, and they are driving her behavior, not the other way around.
The philosophy of having children sleep with parents is highly controversial. The “family bed” concept is based on attachment theory, which is the idea that securely attached children turn into healthier adults. Attachment theory is pretty solid. The controversy is in the “how.” How do you help children be more securely attached? Family bed proponents believe having your children sleep with you makes them more emotionally secure, but there is no research to back that claim.
There is, however, a lot of evidence that when a single parent has a child sleep with him or her, that child will have boundary issues with the parent as well as later in life. The message this guy is giving his daughter is that she is in charge of his love life. If she is happy with you, then he is happy with you. She’s four years old! And she’s a child of divorce, so she is working through issues of loss that she can’t even understand cognitively at this point.
Boyfriend making wrong parenting decisions
He’s giving her way too much emotional responsibility, which is probably contributing to her anxiety and thus her conflicted feelings about you. Her behavior sounds like that of a very emotionally insecure child, the opposite of what you should be striving for as a parent.
The big problem you have is this: what is your philosophy of child rearing? Do you believe in the family bed concept, or would you manage bedtime for children differently? If you envision having your own children with this guy, and you’re not a family bed proponent, there are huge red flags flying here. You are not going to change this guy’s mind about how he parents, and the conflict over his relationship with his daughter is only going to worsen.
There’s another issue here: his assertion that he will only love you when his daughter accepts you. I must call bull**** on that. That is conditional love, and it’s the poorest kind of love a man can offer you. It’s right up there with “if you lose 20 pounds I’ll love you,” or any other condition you can imagine. This guy doesn’t love you. You are accepting crumbs when you could hold out for a banquet – a man who truly adores you, who shares your values, and who wants what you want in life and in relationships.
I do believe that a parent should make his child first, and that he should carefully evaluate whether or not the person he dates will make a good step parent. But little children cue off of their parents feelings for someone. She sees him holding back his love for you and that becomes her cue, setting up internal conflict. No wonder she’s acting out – liking you at times and lashing out at others.
Reevaluate the relationship — and considering moving on
My advice is that you take a giant step back and talk to friends and family, and perhaps a therapist, about this relationship, so you can get some perspective. Reevaluate the basic compatibility components so that you can assess whether or not it makes any sense to go forward with him. Do not continue to sleep with him minus love and commitment; that puts you in a powerless, one down position.
Lastly, tell him that you are very uncomfortable with the sleeping situation, stop participating in it, and tell him you are re-evaluating your compatibility. If he really loves you, this will be a wake-up call and he will re-evaluate his own behavior. IF he does that, suggest that you see a therapist together. But I think you must prepare yourself for moving on because that scenario is highly unlikely.
Copyright 2013 by Nina Atwood, All Rights Reserved
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April 29, 2013