By Dr. Meg Meeker, Crosswalk.com
Dear Dr. Meeker,
I have a 16-year-old stepdaughter who’s been in my life since she was 4. We included her on everything from the proposal (I proposed to her too) to the wedding vows (I said separate handwritten vows to her on the altar and presented her with a necklace). However, I believe her biological dad is always putting stuff in her head to make her question my love for her (he’s a narcissist).
We also have a 9-year-old daughter. So my 16-year-old will ask questions like “if me and my sister were both drowning, and you could only save one…who would it be?” How do I answer these kinds of trap questions?
I tell her that is an unfair question with no right answer and I’m not going to engage in this conversation. I tell her I love them both equally and hope there is never a situation where I would have to watch one or the other suffer. What are your thoughts and advice?
Dear Hurting Dad,
First of all, you sound like an amazing Dad! How many fathers propose to a stepdaughter along with her mother? This tells me that you are kind, intuitive and very sensitive to her needs.
Regarding your daughter's questions about who you would save, many biological kids ask this. So don't be too rattled. Kids are competitive for their parent's love and want to know where they stand in your heart against a sibling.
I think you handled it well. My own kids have asked me who my favorite is. It can feel upsetting, but they're just looking for reassurance that you really love them. Also, if they do feel that you favor one over the other, they will let you know. So it's important to make sure you don't have a favorite.
When your daughter asks these tough questions, I would recommend that you say something very simple like, "Honey, you know that both you and your sister occupy the same amount of space in my heart. Who would I save? The question is unimaginable and I could never answer that because I love you both so dearly."
When you say this, look her in the eye and don't brush her off. If she asks you over and over, ask her why she keeps asking. Does she feel that you have a favorite? Does she feel that you don't love her? I'm sure you can have open conversations like this.
Her biological father may well be filling her head with negative comments about you. The man is jealous and this behavior shows that he does not have his daughter's best interest at heart. The best way to handle this is to either have your wife talk with him or ignore it.
This is hard but here's what will happen. If you take the high road and refuse to criticize him, I promise, you will reap the reward later. When she is an adult (in her twenties) she will begin to assess your behavior against his and see that his wasn't really in her best interest.
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Meg Meeker, MD is a best-selling author and pediatrician. To find her online parenting courses or listen to her podcast Parenting Great Kids, go to meekerparenting.com. To send in questions of your own, email them to [email protected]