What do you do when your father’s girlfriend wants your family out of your father’s life? Do you rally against her? Try to reason with her?
My siblings and I range in age from early 40s to mid-50s. My mother passed away years ago and we have watched my father do his best to continue living “his best life,” not just surviving day to day. He has his weekly card game with his friends, goes to the gym twice a week – he does what he can to stay busy. Last year, his friend introduced him to a woman. My father and Janet (not her real name) have been dating for several months.
My siblings and I thought this was good. My father has someone he can take out, go places with, and someone he can share his life with, if he chooses to. So why am I writing? Janet’s attitude towards my father’s family has suddenly changed. She had been happy and friendly; I never had any doubts about her. Now I do.
A short backstory: Janet was married for a short time decades ago and divorced without children. She never remarried. I hate to write it, because it will sound awful, but here it is: Janet hasn’t been someone’s number one, or priority for a very long time. I can imagine how flattering it is and how special she feels to be the focus of a man’s attention after all this time. When my father takes her out, she feels like they are a couple, which they are. A few weeks back, my siblings and I received a text message from Janet. It was long, but she told us that she felt our father was too involved with his adult children and their families. She likes us. But she is here for my father, not the rest of us. She wants us to focus more on our families leaving my father all for herself! She didn’t come right out and say it, but we interpreted it as: Don’t bother your father too much because he’s with me now. I don’t think we’re a bother. We have always been close. It felt like a slap in the face. We welcomed her into our lives. My eldest brother spoke with her about the text message, but he said it didn’t go well.
We’re sorry that Janet doesn’t have a family of her own, but that doesn’t give her any right to take our father from us. There is no competition; we are his family, and she is his “girlfriend.” We don’t think my father knows to what extent Janet wants his attention or affection because he wouldn’t trade it for his family. We’ve made her feel welcomed, but now we want her out of his life. I’m afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg. We didn’t see this coming. What else does she have in mind down the road? How can we tell my father that his friend has asked us to take an indefinite backseat, so he can focus all attentions on her?
Thank you for your email, Chana.
I can see the issue clearly. You want your father happy, and he seems to be with Janet. Suddenly it appears that Janet is showing her true colors and has very plainly said, “Get out of your father’s life so he can focus on me, and I can finally be happy.” There is no clear or clean resolution here.
I’m glad that you and your siblings realize that Janet’s words may be coming from a place of hurt. She’s hurt that in several decades she probably hasn’t had the friendship, relationship or attention of a man. She hasn’t been able to find love, something that everyone else seems to have found. She can’t understand what your father feels for his family because she doesn’t have one. You feel if she had a family, she would know what she is asking is literally impossible. Your family will not pull back the reigns significantly on the close relationship you have with your father. To me, it sounds like she feels threatened by you and your siblings’ families.
Is Janet worried about the strength of her relationship with your father? Does she feel that with more people “competing” for his attention and focus, the two of them will grow apart? There are many questions here, but they are questions and a conversation for your father and Janet to have.
Clarity is needed in a situation like this. I wonder why she texted all of you. Texts seem impersonal to me. I feel texts and posts are for quick questions, messages, definitely not for something as serious as this. Did your brother ask exactly what Janet had in mind with sending the text to all of you? And what she had in mind with all of you being less involved with your father? I hate to even ask, but are you sure that your father knows nothing about this request of Janet’s? Maybe he is aware that Janet feels and views this as a competition. I can understand why all of you feel sucker-punched by Janet. You said she was welcomed by all of you and now this. It probably wasn’t easy to see your father with someone else, even though you want him happy. Wanting him happy with someone and seeing him happy with someone are two different things. But you seemed to have done what you were able to do for the sake of your father’s happiness.
It’s insightful that you realize Janet may not understand how you and your siblings feel. How can someone without a family of her own understand all the emotions involved? Maybe your father is already trying to balance things. Maybe he has already tried to make some changes to please Janet, and Janet, in an effort to move things along, took initiative and sent the message. There are a lot of maybes here. I think that before you or your siblings go storming to your father about this (if you think he is unaware), your brother should speak with Janet again. He should ask her exactly what she wants from all of you and to be specific if she wasn’t clear while speaking with your brother the first time. Let’s not forget, the text caught all of you by surprise. Your brother may have spoken out of emotion and heart, not really listening and trying to make sense of her request – and I am not saying it makes sense. All I’m saying is get Janet to be very specific. It definitely should be your brother or another one of you. Not even two of you, because Janet will get defensive right off the bat. She’ll think “two against one. They are ganging up on me.” Give Janet the opportunity to explain herself.
Also, ask yourself how much of this is your father aware of. I feel that if Janet did discuss her feelings with your father and he agreed to a certain degree or wanted to appease the woman in his life, he would have spoken with his children about this. The text was inappropriate, and Janet should not have gotten involved in her boyfriend’s relationship with his family. No good can come of that. Feelings are already hurt. Some of you think Janet has more of this type of behavior in mind for down the road and have come to want her out of your father’s life altogether. This may have been done out of fear on Janet’s part – fear of losing her new significant other to his family – so she did what she thought she had to, but didn’t do it out of malice. It may have been out of fear. All she wants is attention and love. But if that is the case, she went about it completely wrong. Communication is so important. Again, I can’t say anything for certain because I don’t know what Janet feels or had in mind with sending the text. Why send a text instead of having a conversation, which would have cleared up ambiguities? Yes, it would be an awkward (inappropriate if you ask me) conversation, but the text was worse.
I would exhaust all avenues before one of you speaks with your father about this. If your father is unaware of Janet’s text, it will surprise and perhaps disappoint him that Janet went to his children before she spoke with him. There are a number of ways this can cause issues between your father and Janet and, as you said, all of you want to see your father happy. And as I wrote in the beginning, there is no clear or clean answer here. Someone will be hurt, even if it’s just a little hurt or offended.
Hatzlachah to you all.