QUESTION: My husband and I are raising
an only child with not much possibility of having another. I am a
"brittle diabetic," which makes child birth again almost impossible.
The problem we are having is it seems like our child is running our
lives! We never get a moment alone. If my husband and I are hugging
she feels like she has the right to be in the middle of it.
I am also starting to notice difficulty in school
dealing with other children, and always wanting to be in control.
If we play a game together like dominos, she gets mad and whiny if
she is not winning.
My husband has been Sara's "Daddy" since she
was two years of age, so I don't feel like she is insecure about him
leaving. Please help me! I feel like I am going out of my mind. I
refuse to be in competition with my six-year-old for attention from
ANSWER: It appears that you are distressed
with your marriage, not your daughter. You may be targeting your child
when you should be turning to your husband to resolve your loneliness
and dissatisfaction. You must be willing to take the lead in putting
an end to the competition you feel with your daughter. She may be
filling a gap in your marriage that you and your husband are not bridging.
Ask yourself why your jealousy is flaring at this
time. Your daughter is now six. Why have you suddenly, after four
years of marriage, reached your limits? Is this age triggering any
unresolved childhood relationships for you? Six years of age is a
natural time for your daughter to seek the special attention of being
Daddy's "little girl."
Consider the possibility that you are overreacting
to her needs by feeling as if she is in true competition with you,
when in fact she is not capable of being your replacement, nor should
she be in any position to do so in your family! Either there is some
insecurity in your relationship with your spouse, or you are reliving
a similar love affair triangle that threatened your emotional stability
in childhood. (Or both!)
Ask yourself whether your mother interpreted your
relationship with your father as a threat at any time in your development.
Was your father getting emotional needs met by you that should have
been met by his wife? If so, it is possible that you are in the midst
of your own unresolved rage at not having your father's attention
without the threat of losing your relationship to your own mother.
You and your husband may be in full swing of creating a family dynamic
which has potential to not only harm your daughter, but your marriage
as well. If you feel that your husband is having an emotional relationship
with his stepdaughter that he should be having with you, communicate
this to him. Do not scapegoat your daughter for your marital problems.
The natural "love affair" a child experiences with
the opposite-sex parent is meant to resolve strong feelings of love
and hate without threatening the emotional connection with either
parent. The healthy resolution to this developmental crisis is for
your daughter to feel that she wants to "marry Daddy," but eventually
incorporates the message that she can have a man of her own some day.
When sexual and relational boundaries are intact,
a child can feel safe to have strong ambivalent feelings without threatening
her parents' marriage or the security of her bond with either parent.
In your case, your family dynamics are reflecting unhealthy boundaries
which no doubt need correction. Your feelings of jealousy are misplaced
and indicate that a realignment of your marriage may be in order.
It is easy to "triangulate" a child to avoid resolving
problems in a marriage. It is natural for children, especially an
only child, to secure all the parental attention they can possibly
get! This tendency can be magnified by the stress of including a new
family member in an already existing family unit. Do not gloss over
the foundational history of your stepfamily.
Two years of age is a time of great upheaval developmentally.
The period of adjustment to becoming a stepfamily at that time in
your daughter's life could have set the stage for putting her in the
spotlight. Accept responsibility for guiding her. As her parent, it
is likely that you supported the relationship between stepfather and
child at that time. If you feel that your marriage is now suffering
because of it, talk with your husband about carving out special couples'
Successful remarriage depends on two key factors.
The first is the establishment of a positive stepparent-child relationship.
The second is the secure development of a strong couples' bond. You
have succeeded at the first. Now it is time to attend to your couples'
Talk with your husband about your desire for more
connection with him. Consider your needs, and establish patterns of
interaction which respect the primacy of your couples' relationship
without rejecting your child. For example, you might establish special
time as a couple following dinner to talk to one another without interruption.
After your daughter has connected with both of you, told you both
about her day at school, and you have all enjoyed a family dinner,
consider instituting a protected 30 minutes of couples' time with
your spouse. She will learn that she is not to interrupt during this
time. You can expect your six-year-old to play or do schoolwork on
her own for half an hour. Similarly she can accept taking her "turn"
Your daughter's seeming need to "be in control" or
"win" may be a result of being in an "adult" instead of a child role
in your family. Seek to realign your relationship to your spouse.
Your child will not only learn to follow the guidelines you establish
as a couple regarding your relationship, but she will gain security
from being in her proper place in the family. She will learn that
she does not have to "compete," "win" or "be in control" to get attention.
Do not repeat generational patterns, which elevate
a child to adult standing. Your husband is your mate. Do not place
responsibility for your marriage in your daughter's hands. Instead,
take your place at the helm next to your husband and invite him to
join you in steering a safe and steady course.