Q: My stepdaughter’s father is nonexistent. I’ve been married to her mother for seven years and he has shown up maybe a couple of times a year with no warning. Since I have known my wife she has purchased a Christmas present for my stepdaughter from her father. She says she doesn’t want her daughter to think he has forgotten about her. My stepdaughter is now 14! This infuriates me because I have been there this whole time and support and love this child, but she waits for this present from her nonexistent father. I want to tell her the truth, but her mother says that if I say a word, she will leave me. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Not saying a word — for now. But Mom has created quite a mess. Her lie has not only affected her daughter, but it’s also affecting your relationship. When you start lying, you either have to lie to keep things going or lie again to cover up the original lie. That’s one of the reasons I included “Be honest and straightforward” in the 10 rules of good ex-etiquette. Rarely does any good come out of lying, and when your loved ones find out that you’ve lied, you have probably hurt them twice. Plus, when there are children involved, it complicates matters further. Parents are role models.
Not only that, but when you threaten to leave a seven-year marriage to prevent your spouse from doing something you don’t want them to do? That’s a huge red flag. Now she’s lying and giving ultimatums. You can see what I mean — one thing just leads to another.
Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not judging Mom. She told the original lie to protect her child. It doesn’t make her all bad. It was a stretch but done out of love — and guilt. A common problem. A parent feels bad about the breakup and worries that their child will feel abandoned by the other parent, and that was her way to save the day. And, ultimatums are usually made out of desperation.
Honestly, I think Mom knows she’s just putting off the inevitable. She’s backed herself into a corner and since she has no plan to get out of this mess, she doesn’t want you to say anything before she can figure something out. You have made it very clear; you’re frustrated and want some sort of acknowledgment for being there all these years. Mom probably knows that — and wants to give that to you, but she’s desperate and just wants time. Unfortunately, her daughter is 14, time is quickly running out.
It is not your place at this juncture to say anything, but Mom has to take care of this ASAP. I’m always in favor of a sit-down, face-to-face, this-is-the-deal, come-clean, I’m-sincerely-sorry conversation. To me, you can’t beat honesty. If you don’t feel you can do it by yourselves, don’t be afraid to seek help — a therapist, clergyperson, etc. But it really has to be done. And, let Dad fail all by himself. Be there to pick up the pieces, as always. You won’t be sorry. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is founder of bonusfamilies.com.