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How close is too close?

Tagged as: Family<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (18 January 2012) 13 Answers - (Newest, 20 January 2012)
A female Australia age , anonymous writes:

Hi

Advice sought on how to handle a prospective 13 year old step daughter. She came to stay with us for the school holidays (nearly 5 weeks). It has been one of the most stressful times for me as she seems to have set up some kind of competition with me for her father's attention.Not that uncommon I have been told but I find her behaviour odd for a nearly 14 year old. She is an attractive tall teenager but still acts like she is 10 around her father. She sits on his knee, fondles his hair,cuddles him,and holds his hand and plays with his fingers. I have 3 grown up children and I did not see this behaviour with them at that age.Blending families is hard I realise.I actually do like her but this behaviour is icky to me.

I went to the movies with them and turned around at one stage to see her with her arms about her dad with him sitting their stroking her hair. I thought yuck -she looked like his lover and acting like this in public too. We just got back from holidays and whenever we went shopping she would have her hands all over him and other people were looking at them strangely. It really does not look good.At home my partner will have his hand on her leg and I think this is not appropriate at her age.Her brother's fiancee also commented on her behaviour and the poor way she treats me. She said it looked bad how close she is to her dad and she said that my partner's daughter played up to her brother in the same way and had caused issues for them too.I have talked to my partner about his behaviour towards his daughter - because he treats her the same as me in most things. He even calls us both honey and sweetheart and plays with my hair and hands like he does her. It makes me feel uneasy all of this.

Can your readers tell me if this is common behaviour. I am not generally a jealous person but is this what I am feeling.I feel like she just wants to get rid of me and to be quite frank it is starting to work but fortunately she does not live with us. Is it fair for me to go ahead and marry my man if I know full well if she came to live with us it would not work.I know a father/daughter relationship is very important but how close is too close??

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A female reader, peacelovecandy United States +, writes (20 January 2012):

peacelovecandy agony auntI'm 17 now, and when I was a few years (I mean 4-5ish) younger I would hug my Dad and stuff. However, when I was 13-14 I was nowhere near as close to my Dad as your step-daughter is. I could never imagine touching or being that close to him at this age or even a few years younger - it's just weird. Yes, he is her father and she is his daughter, but why is the closeness necessary? I agree that a line is to be drawn. If I were in your position, I would feel awkward and out of place. She's the one that seems jealous, not you. I would have a talk with your husband about her behavior. She sounds like she needs some growing up to do. Good luck!

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A reader, anonymous, writes (19 January 2012):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Thankyou everyone for your comments. They have been very helpful. I found the article (Ampersand) helpful and have shared that with my partner. I have thought long and hard about the situation and I realise I have to be the adult here.I spoke to my partner about the situation and he is now very aware of what is at play and already things are settling down.She is a lovely girl but is playing games. At least my partner can see it now and is being very careful with how he handles the situation. At the end of the day I want us all to get on and I am more than happy to share her dad. She is really lucky to have a dad who adores her.

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A female reader, PerhapsNot United States +, writes (18 January 2012):

PerhapsNot agony auntYou sound uptight and frankly, unreasonable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the amount of affection that her father is showing her. I grew up in Southern Europe and Germany and this type of affection would be seen as completely normal. I know many North Americans are not as touchy as most countries countries, but to compare it to lover's gesture seems completely insane. The fact that you feel disgusted by this and icky is really disturbing to me.

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A male reader, Sageoldguy1465 United States +, writes (18 January 2012):

Sageoldguy1465 agony auntI wouldn't suspect it's a question of CLOSENESS as it is a question of TERRITORY. This young gal is trying to make it clear to you that SHE is her Dad's sweetheart.... and YOU are a "Jane-come-lately"....

The basics are simple: She's acting like a child... protecting her turf.... YOU get to be the "adult".. and leave her to her devices..... and, in time, this whole matter will evaporate....

HOWEVER, you DO need to speak to "Daddy".... and confirm that HE is in-accord with you.... BECAUSE, if he doesn't recognize his daughter's childish behaviour for just what it is.... IF, he thinks this (behaviour) is appropriate over the long term.... THEN, you need to think again about just where you stand with "Daddy."

Good luck...

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A female reader, So_Very_Confused United States +, writes (18 January 2012):

So_Very_Confused agony auntIT must be cultural because it would creep me out too at the level the OP is writing about.

I understand an immature girl who's afraid of losing daddy's love will be more affectionate with daddy... but the part with DADDY holding her leg and stroking her hair like a lover BOTHERS ME TOO.

that being said... letting her have alone time with dad and private one on one time with you (go shopping for grown up girl things like make up and such) is a great idea. and then say on Saturday night (if she's there for 5 weeks life must go on) DADDY says "xxxx and I are going out tonight for our adult time, we will do family things tomorrow." and maybe he can take her for lunch on her own on Sunday.... this too shall pass

if she only visits during holidays she's making up for lost time.

making a huge deal about it especially if you know there is nothing truly inappropriate going on is just going to make it worse. Personally I'd swallow my feelings and encourage it..... kids always want to do the opposite of what their parents want.

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A female reader, Tisha-1 United States +, writes (18 January 2012):

Tisha-1 agony auntHey, I'm 50+ and I still hold my dad's hands and stroke his arm and give him big squishy hugs. We've always been a huggy family and will walk arm in arm, hand in hand... no divorce here, but I could imagine at age 13 facing a new stepmother, I might want to do the touchstone thing and make sure Dad was still Dad. That he and I still connected on the same loving and completely non-sexual level.

She's either operating from a state of insecurity, in which case, you give her time to get to know you, and perhaps you try to initiate some hand to hand contact (not hand to hand combat!) with her yourself. Or she's operating from the secure knowledge that she is daddy's girl and will be forever, in which case, you have to acknowledge that their bond was primary and precedes your claim on him.

I'm with CindyCares too. Just wait and see. And try to do it without letting your plain disapproval from oozing out when you observe them, that'll just make you seem bitter and somewhat mean. If her main objective is to oust you, what better way than to allow you to paint yourself as a woman who does not trust her man?

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A female reader, eyeswideopen United States +, writes (18 January 2012):

eyeswideopen agony auntI'm with Cindy, just wait it out, once she sees you're in it for good, she most likely with scale things down. Also when new boyfriends appear on the scene she'll be less interested in getting all of Dad's attention. Time is your best friend on this one.

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A female reader, CindyCares Italy + , writes (18 January 2012):

CindyCares agony aunt Sorry ladies, I don't want to be right at all costs, I respect your opinions, I really do, and I realize this may be vastly a cultural thing, but I have to shake my head in disbelief. "It's not the done thing " ? but it IS , that's the point. Unless in very uptight, body conscious cultures. Now , yes I live in a very demonstrative , touchy feely culture,like all Latin countries - but part of my family is from, and lives in Switzerland, is Switzerland nice and proper enough for you ? Or Hungary ? .. Germany ? ... Manhattan, NY ? All places where this behaviour is normal, or at least, acceptable. Of course there will be families who are more physical and other less, but father and child gestures of affections won't elicit " icky " or " eew " reactions. Or necessarily be seen as seductive .

I think it's because of a shift of perception, love gestures are always the same , it's the context and the intention behind them that varies. You see a daughter holding her father and resting her head on his shoulder as a " lovers " gestures " , while in fact it's the opposite : lovers copy precisely the parent / child gestures , only charging them with a desire and a sexual that meaning which ( hopefully ! ) are absent between parent and child.

Yes, there may be on both sides an inconscious attempt to perpetuate the warm coocon of childhood by repeating the same gestures of nurturing , but is that necessarily a bad, " dirty " thing ? " Omnia munda mundis " - everything is pure for the pure of heart ... What's the problem with fondling your grown up child hair , or your parent's hair, is a most natural " reassurance " ( I am here for you, I love you, you will never lose me ) gesture.

What's wrong with calling your kids " love " or "sweetheart " until they are 80,even, !, how else would you call them ? Sir ? M'lady ? Daughter ? " Daughter, take out thy olde Bible , and bring it to thy Father's shoppe ... " Well, sure, you can call her Jane if her name is Jane - but that's my point, where's the affection in that ? she's not any plain Jane :) , she is a special Jane, her dad's Jane.

In conclusion, it's normal that you feel threatened by " Jane ", and is normal that she feels threatened by you .

Accept that, and be sure that in time, ( again, when she gets her first crushes and bfs ) with some patience and objectivity, you 'll work it out and you will feel less of a rivality, in fact you may establish a nice female alliance. But in the meantime, don't go see weird things where there aren't any ( you are not accusing your partner of incestuous desires right ? ) and let this dad and child enjoy their bond.

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (18 January 2012):

Honeypie agony auntI get the "feeling icky" or "wanting to hurl" when you see her act like it, but I think she does for two reasons, 1 to show you that he is HER Dad and 2 she is insecure with everything else that has been going on with divorce, 2 homes and new "family".

I would however seriously, consider doing some one-on-one things with her and let HER get some one-on-one with her Dad.

I also think the reason she acted as a 10 year old is because she like the attention she get when she acts younger, as you know younger kids can get away with more.

I would talk to your husband, but I wouldn't mention "Icky" and inappropriate.

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A female reader, TELLULAH United Kingdom +, writes (18 January 2012):

TELLULAH agony auntSorry I agree with you, it does sound creepy. Holding his hand and giving him a hug is one thing, but by the sound of it, she is all over him? Even if you are both in competition for his attention, he should tell her its not the done thing. I'm sure he would tell you if it were the other way round. He more than likely lets her do this, because he doesnt see much of her....still not right in my eyes. x

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A reader, anonymous, writes (18 January 2012):

I am someone who was abused as a child and I see nothing wrong or innappropriate with her and her father showing affection to anyone. In fact I think that you are the one who is in competeition with this girl. Just because your not used to kids of her age being this affectionate doesn't make it wrong. She only gets a short time with her Dad and she makes the most of it, the rest of the time she is with her Mum and missing her Dad. You say that he calls her honey and sweetheart just like he calls you those names, what should he call her? You are the one with a problem here, and your jealous over his daughter's relationship with him. His child comes first just like she should, she is still a child and there is no magic age where a child should stop showing affection to her father. She is his daughter, let him have that for as long as he can. I suggest you work on your jealousy because it could create resentment. Good Luck

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A female reader, CindyCares Italy + , writes (18 January 2012):

CindyCares agony aunt I don't see anything strange in what you describe. She is ONLY 13, and she is her daugher ! They are showing each other afffection and warmth - since when 10 is the cut date for holding hands and stroking hair etc. ? Just because one hits puberty, physical contacts becomes inappropriate with your own family members ?? In fact, I think it's great that she has an affectionate,physically demonstrative dad , she will grow up with a higher self esteem and confidence, and a better approach to the male universe in general , and probably she won't go looking through premature or promiscuous sexualization for that attention and validation that many girls whose fathers were absent, cold or neglectful will miss all their life.

It sounds more than you are in competition with her ,than the opposite. Of course she may be playing this up to sort of mark her territory, and that's normal too, and it will be... until she reverts her attention to young males her age , which will absorb most of her emotional energies and quickly detronize dad from his privileged place as first male love object ; of course she wants to make the mosts of the limited time ( vacation ) she spends with her dad, and of course she enjoys being daddy's little princess - why shouldn't she ? She IS. That in your own household the dynamics were different ( different circumstances, different personalities... ) does not authomatically means that all that you are not used to , or don't approve of, must be dysfunctional.

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A female reader, Ampersand Canada +, writes (18 January 2012):

Ampersand agony auntShe's a 13 year old, so her behavior will still be needy and more child-like (after all she's closer to a child than an adult). It sounds as though she doesn't see her father as much as she does her mother, so she's probably just lapping up the attention and playing-up the role of 'daddy's girl'. And yes you're probably right, she is trying to compete with you. It's not uncommon for a daughter to compete with her own mother to achieve her father's attention. The following article outlines how a daughter experiments and discovers her feminine-self through her father's approval and reactions:

"http://www.thesuccessfulparent.com/parent-child-relationship/fathers-and-daughters"

It might be a good article for your partner to read as well, as it states how very important a father's appropriate reactions are to such behavior. I think he needs to make sure that he is not giving her the impression that she should constantly be the center of his attention and try to establish a balance.

I'm sure she'll soon outgrow this trend once she tries to establish her independence and like most teenagers won't want much to do with her parents.

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