What's your biggest challenge when it comes to family life? Send your questions and dilemmas to experienced life coach Joanne Mallon via this confidential form. Your name can be changed on request.
I am really upset at present – my 11-year-old daughter has gone to live with her father. We have had to deal with her tantrums, increasing level of disrespect (no regard for myself or her stepdad, whilst her own father is on a pedestal) and mood swings over the past 12 months.
I consider myself firm but fair. In our home we are a family of five: myself, three children and dad (our eldest's stepdad). My ex-partner cannot hold an adult discussion with me and has no regard for co-parenting, rules, boundaries etc. She has been gone two weeks now and won't even communicate with me. She has always been slightly jealous of her siblings, and over the past 12 months has got angry at calling her stepdad 'dad' which she has always done! We are acutely aware her own dad manipulates her to try and upset us but what is upsetting most is the person he is hurting the most is his own daughter! I am at my wits' end with the situation.
Here's the life coach's reply:
I am sorry to hear that things are not going well with your family right now. But since when did an 11-year-old get to choose where she lives? Eldest children can often seem quite grown up compared to younger siblings, when in reality they are still very little. You sound very angry (and no one would blame you for that). So does your daughter. But she's a little girl and is looking to you, the adult, to show her the way.
So as the adult – how did you arrange this? What have you agreed in terms of access and maintenance payments? You may dislike your ex, but you will have to put this aside for the sake of your daughter's welfare. If you really can't communicate with each other, then you may need to get outside help from a family mediation service like this one. If your ex won't go, talk to a mediator yourself to find new ways to approach things.
In some ways this situation could be a blessing in disguise. It will give you both a bit of breathing space and a chance to decide what happens next. Your daughter and her father can work on their own relationship by spending some concentrated time together – she will be less likely to put him on a pedestal when she sees him up close as a human being. Her dad may gain more understanding of how life is for you if he's having to do the day-to-day donkey work of parenting.
A lot of what you describe seems pretty normal to me for a child of her age – unfortunately many parents of pre-teens also experience sibling rivalry, moodiness and backchat. But just because she's angry doesn't mean you have to join her there. Stay as calm as you can and never forget that you're the adult and the most important role model in her life.
When did you last spend time alone with your daughter having fun? I know it's not easy when you've got a busy life, but it's essential that you make space for your daughter.
Good luck and best wishes,