Best plan for supporting boyfriend's teenage daughter? Don't fight with his ex.
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
My boyfriend has a teenage daughter who I get along with, very well in fact. I think he's a great dad but he has to travel a lot for work, so he doesn't get as much time with her as he'd like.
Her mother is just awful. And I know that is typical new-girlfriend thinking, the ex-wife is awful, but she is. She's causing her daughter so much anxiety that she's getting sent to the school counselor. Both he and I have told the kid that if dad is away and she can't take her mother anymore, she is welcome to call me. I can take her to her dad's until he comes home. It may not come to that, but I'm worried about what will happen if I'm ever confronted with her mother. She is awful. She lies. She keeps things from her ex. The suffering she's put both her kid and her ex through is just flat-out nasty. I don't know if I'll be able to hold my tongue. She's repeatedly called me some very awful things despite the fact that we've never met face-to-face.
Any suggestions on how to keep my cool? I really want to tell this witch off.
-- Navigating the Choppy Waters
You obviously care about the daughter, and the best way to show you care is to keep your cool around her mom. Telling off “this witch” would be about you -- specifically, you'd be putting yourself at the center of the mom-daughter drama -- and it would make things so much harder for the very people you're trying to help.
You can do by far the most good here by being quiet and steady and pleasant and easy to deal with. And that includes being (as) easy (as possible) for the mom to deal with. If you find yourself face-to-face with her, be the model of calm. Do some reading on “nonviolent communication” to get an idea of how to de-escalate tense situations.
To the new girlfriend:
A word of caution: It is never the case that one former spouse is the absolute worst and the other is blameless. They chose each other for a reason, and they may have more in common than you think. I'd be very cautious about becoming part of this family.
Hm. I think it is never the case that “never” applies universally when judging what happens in private.
I can endorse the advice for caution, and awareness of two-way streets. Heartily, even.
But there are some legitimately awful people who don't show their hands until well into the relationship. The people who get suckered into marrying and/or reproducing with them have been through enough hell, and don't need or deserve to live under a cloud of suspicion ever after.
We all could stand to use due diligence in choosing our partners, and be mindful of our own tendencies to kid ourselves when forming an opinion of others' choices -- that's the closest I'm willing to get to a universal declaration on people's romantic histories.