Dad and daughter’s relationship puts mom in the middle

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Q: My 9-year-old daughter and her dad were always very close, but last year he moved across country to live with his girlfriend and her two daughters and their communication has virtually stopped.

He calls, leaves messages, and gets very angry with me when she doesn’t call him back. I understand the importance of teaching respect for her dad, but unfortunately, she doesn’t want to talk to him and gets angry at me when I remind her.

I’ve got both of them lashing out — and I’m in the middle. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: Get out of the middle. It’s not your problem. Well, of course it is in the sense that your daughter is in pain and you want to facilitate better communication with her father because she needs both her parents in her life, but your making excuses for dad or constantly reminding her to call him back probably won’t heal the situation.

It may even make things worse, your daughter feeling as if you, “Just don’t get it” or are “Sticking up for dad” and she’s in this all by herself.

Unfortunately, reading between the lines, your daughter’s reaction is pretty easy to figure out. She and dad were close and he left to live with another woman — but more importantly — her daughters. She had no say, and if she did express her opinion before he left, it didn’t matter. He left anyway.

She’s feeling replaced, so not returning phone calls puts her back in the driver’s seat — and paying dad back for hurting her.

Dad’s anger with you is a typical reaction, as well. “Make her call me back!” But, this is “his bed” and you can only do what you can do — which means keep the doors of communication open, don’t badmouth him (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 3) even though you probably want to when you see your daughter’s pain and support an environment where when he does call his daughter is available to chat.

It may help if there is a set time for the calls, say 7:00 p.m. each Sunday. Dad may want to set up an email account associated with a pet name or favorite father/daughter memory and use it to communicate between calls.

He may also want to set up some trips to see her well in advance, so they can plan and talk about what they will do the next time they see each other.

Ideally, the trips should be every few months and should include one-on-one visits from him, not just expect her to fly across country. Granted it’s expensive, but the choice is find the money or lose his daughter.

How to integrate her into another long-distance family where he is living with two bonusdaughters full-time when she didn’t want him to leave in the first place? That’s another column all together.

Other alternatives should have been considered — even as drastic as this girlfriend may not have been the right choice. The first rule of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents is, “Put YOUR child first.”

Finally, it’s not uncommon for kids to be resentful when a parent moves away. In their minds it just boils down to he or she didn’t love me enough to stick around. That’s the issue that Dad and daughter should be talking about, not why she’s not returning his calls.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is an author and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.