How Do I Tell My Girlfriend That Her Teenage Daughter Is an Issue?

Hi, I am 26 and my girlfriend is 36. She is a single mother with a 17-year-old daughter. We both love each other very much, but sometimes I struggle with the fact she has a daughter. I come from a very traditionalist family where such a situation would be frowned upon—never mind the fear I expect when we tell them that she already has a daughter with no father on the scene. How do I reconcile myself with these thoughts of resentment toward the fact that she already has a daughter? After a year, she also wants me to move in with her and her daughter. How do I tell her that I would find it extremely difficult living with her 17-year-old daughter without hurting her feelings? —In Over My Head
Dear In Over My Head,

It sounds like there are two main issues for you right now: managing your feelings and hesitation about dating someone with a teenage daughter, and dealing with your fears about how your family will respond to your situation and the woman you love.

The fact is your girlfriend is a mom. Nothing is going to change that. You can wish it weren’t so, but that is a big part of who she is. It also may be that her experiences as a mom made her into the person you fell in love with.

I’m curious about where your resentment is coming from. Is it mostly coming from fears about how your family will react, or are there other issues at play? You knew she was a mother when you started dating her. You have been in a relationship with her for a year. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of moving in together, you owe it to her, yourself, and your relationship to have an honest conversation about that. Her feelings may get hurt, but avoiding the issue and letting these feelings fester in secret can do much more damage to your relationship. If you need support in how to have that kind of conversation, you may want to reach out to a therapist in your area for individual or couples work.

Dating someone who has kids can be complicated. Something that makes your situation potentially even more complicated is the spread of ages. You are, in fact, closer in age to the daughter than the mother. How much of that is factoring in to your unease? Would you feel the same way if her daughter were 7 instead of 17?

As for how your family reacts to your relationship, you cannot control what your family thinks or feels. They may disapprove of your relationship. They may disapprove of your girlfriend. It is up to you how much importance you give to their feelings. At 26, you are an adult who can make his own decisions. If the way your family feels about your partner is a deal-breaker, then it is important to be honest about that. Her past is not going away. If, however, you choose to be in relationship with this woman, it is not fair of you to judge or condemn her for her past. Your family can choose to disapprove. Only you can choose to let that matter.

I hope this helps shed some light on your situation. I hope you can resolve your internal conflict and highly recommend seeking the support of a therapist to help guide you through it.

Best,
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Audrey

    Audrey

    November 28th, 2014 at 9:01 AM

    The whole thing kind of makes me wish that you hadn’t already invested so much time in this relationship and that she hadn’t already done the same with you. Didn’t you kind of know form the very beginning that this would be a problem?

  • quinn

    quinn

    November 28th, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    I am thinking that this could be a a huge gap for the two of you to be able to bridge together. But I would certainly cut the ties now if you are not sure because this is probably someone looking for a commitment and it is not fair to her if you keep stringing her along.

  • austin L

    austin L

    November 28th, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    I would love to know if this is something about your relationship that has always bothered you or is it a new development for some reason?

  • Ramona

    Ramona

    November 29th, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    eek sounds like a very uncomfortable conversation is probably on the horizon for the two of you whether she knows it or not!

  • Jeremy

    Jeremy

    November 30th, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    this would be hard especially since there is not a big age gap between you and the daughter. i would be worried that because the two of you are so close in age that there could be a lack of respect there on her part so you have to tread pretty carefully in that area. always hard when your significant other already has kids of their own, but if you are gonna be all in, then you have to be on board with everything about her. you don’t get to pick and choose.

  • Beth

    Beth

    November 30th, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Think of how confusing this must be for the child too. I honestly think that the age difference is too close for you and the daughter and too far apart between you and the girlfriend. Maybe at a time later down the road this could work, but I am not sure about now.

  • chandler

    chandler

    December 2nd, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    You have so many conflicting things going on that perhaps what might be best for you two would be to take a break for a while from each other and both work out separately whether or not this is something that the two of you wish to continue to work on together.

  • NORA

    NORA

    December 4th, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    She is going to find out one way or another so I think that she would rather you be up front about it and give her the truth than she would be to find out about it in some sneaky or backhanded way. I think that the two of you probably have enough shared history that she already suspects that something isn’t right, and so you should just man up and be up front with her about what it is.

  • paula

    paula

    December 22nd, 2014 at 1:45 AM

    On paper this does sound a difficult situation. However you also state that you love each other very much. The key is to communicate your feelings and fears to your girlfriend. Without honesty and openness the relationship will not move forward.

  • Courtney A.

    Courtney A.

    December 27th, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    I know that this has to be extremely difficult on the both of you but it also would be very hard on the daughter to know that even unknowingly she is causing a rift in the relationship. I do not think that at her age it would be a good idea at all to express this to her or to even get her involved in. This is not her problem… I seriously think that it is going to be yours alone to work out. There is something that its not right, and I would surely prefer to get it worked out now before there has to be even more hurt that has to go around.

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