The dilemma Two years ago I separated from my husband of 26 years. We have a teenage daughter who lives with me. My ex has had a girlfriend for about a year. My daughter has never met her, but she is naturally very curious.
My daughter tracked the girlfriend down on Instagram and now follows her and my ex, who both post frequently about all the things they are doing. It’s become hurtful to my daughter, who rarely sees her father, yet she sees all these fun things he’s doing. I asked them if they could block my daughter. I thought this was a reasonable request, but so far they have done nothing.
I’m flabbergasted that my ex has so little regard for our daughter, and he doesn’t seem to remember what a tender age 13 is.
I’ve tried to explain to her that Dad now has a new life and that he still loves her and wants to do things with her. But it all just feels so in-her-face. What should I do? Get a legal request added to our divorce terms?
Mariella replies I do understand. But I can’t help feeling that your emotions are the one thing we need to remove from the equation. Your daughter is clearly struggling with the aftermath of your separation and the last thing she needs to shoulder is any of the ongoing acrimony between her father and mother.
Splitting up after so many years is a terribly painful business and, as a woman in midlife, it can feel like the world is dumping on you from a great height. I may be misreading you, but my gut instinct is that you too are hurting badly and that your ex’s determination to live out every moment of his new life on social media is not helping to heal your wounds.
It would be easy for me to rail against his lack of emotional intelligence and the unnecessary trauma he is putting his daughter through, but we both know that would be a waste of time. It sounds as if his main priority is himself, but that’s hardly headline news. Despite my sympathy for you and recognition of this type of behaviour, it’s not a crime for him to carry on with his life. His choice to chronicle it on social media is not something you can legislate for or put restrictions on in your divorce deal. Uploading his “adventures” for all to see may be narcissistic, but it doesn’t single him out from the crowd.
While I can empathise with you, it’s your daughter we need to focus on here. This is a teenager who leads her own online life. It’s imperative that she learns to navigate that deceitful online world. Shutting down access to her father’s account will only make it more tempting and more damaging in terms of her sense of being marginalised from his life. I’m sure when you turn the emotional heat down you will be able to see how wrong-footed and unproductive a response that would be.
I appreciate it’s painful and complicated, but what is required here is for the adults involved in this girl’s life to lay down their weapons and call a truce. The busy social life her father is promoting is all very well, but there will also be grey skies and arguments, painful moments and miserable mornings – they just don’t make good Insta, so they’ll be filtered out. That’s what you need to be teaching your daughter.
The world she’s gorging on in cyberspace has nothing to do with the one people are actually living in. Whether it’s her father’s new relationship or the state of the union, most of what we’re fed is misleading or downright fabrication. You can take this situation and turn it into something positive by showing dignity in the face of your husband’s propaganda and understanding for your daughter’s distress, while educating her about how to process the information she has access to.
Your conversation about this shouldn’t be focused on his “new life”, as we all know there’s no such thing. Wherever any of us roam, we bring our old selves along with us. Your daughter needs to develop an independent relationship with her father with the opportunity to discover through her own eyes – not through either his or your filter – who he really is.
Meanwhile, freeing yourself from your anger and frustration with him will be as liberating for you as it will be for your daughter.
There seems to me to be two different impulses here: the irrational one to protect your girl from images of her father enjoying himself and the other to score points over him for his selfish and thoughtless profiling, which is alienating his child. There is so much hurt and abandonment to be navigated when a 26-year marriage unravels and I know it’s agonising for you to have to be confronted with the ways he’s moved on, but set your daughter an example by refusing to be lured into his storyline.
Meanwhile, both of you should try to focus on the girl whose life has been changed by your choices. Building resilience in our children is just one of the many challenges parents are charged with, and we can’t do that until we’ve mastered our own. Your goal should be to make your life one of tangible happiness rather than desperate display, then your daughter can follow your example.