Care and Feeding

My Boyfriend’s Daughter Forbids Us From Having Sex

It maybe, possibly, probably has something to do with the fact that I was his wife’s best friend before she died six months ago.

A tween folds her arms across her chest and purses her lips.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HbrH/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I lost my best friend to suicide last year and, in the aftermath, became close to her husband. We eventually began a romantic relationship. She had left him six months before she died and they were in the middle of a divorce. Her death was a complete surprise. Despite all this, we have worked hard to be open and honest and build a good foundation, and I am very happy in this relationship. It has been a mutually good thing for the both of us to have close support and be able to start to heal.

We have five children between us, and for the most part, they have smoothly transitioned into this new chapter between our families; they all get along, as they had known one another somewhat before this. However, my boyfriend’s 12-year-old daughter, “Polly,” isn’t having an easy time. Her dad has said that she likes me as a person, but she’s got mixed feelings about him dating. I completely understand that, and I am doing my very best to be very careful. She just lost her mother and is hurting, and I do not want to put pressure on her to accept me.

Polly recently started confronting her father about the fact that we have sex, which upsets her greatly. She has told him we can date, but that she does not want us to have sex or be alone together because she wants to have him all to herself. She screams at him before bed and then will loudly cry herself to sleep every night over this, even when I am not staying over there (which I do about four nights a month).

My partner is a very attentive father and has had many conversations with her about this relationship. He lets her know that she can express her feelings about it to him and they’ll work through it, but tells her that our sex life is none of her business and she needs to drop it. I personally feel the same way; I have no problem backing off while she adjusts and I will do whatever I can to make her feel more comfortable, but I am at a loss as to what to do about this particular fixation she has with us having sex. I am very conscious about not being too touchy-feely with him in front of the kids, but I am not about to have a 12-year-old dictate my sex life. Short of leaving the relationship, I’m unsure of what else to do here. I appreciate any advice!

—Banned From Sex

Dear BFS,

First, my deepest condolences to you and your partner. What you two are managing is a uniquely devastating type of grief—one so profoundly difficult that the union that has come of it, which would be taboo under nearly any other circumstance, makes a whole lot of sense. You’ve found solace in one of the people who can relate to what you are going through better than nearly anyone else on the planet, and that is a great blessing.

However, Polly isn’t as fortunate. She had to grieve the loss of her mother just months after having to deal with the end of her parents’ marriage. That’s two traumatic events in a very short amount of time, and at one of the more challenging periods in a young girl’s life to boot.

Polly likely wants her father to be happy in the long run, but to see him not merely partnered, but partnered with her mom’s BFF? So soon? You’re fortunate that the reaction hasn’t been worse. I say that not to shame you, but to restate the obvious: Polly’s faced with a terrible set of circumstances. It’s hard to imagine that Polly doesn’t resent seeing her father find love (and pleasure) knowing that her mother left this earth both on the heels of a breakup with him and, ostensibly, in some sort of pain or depression. Why should you and Polly’s father get to be so happy? This poor child needs to work through this pain with a professional—as do you, as does Polly’s father and his other child(ren.) If you all haven’t already explored this, please do; if it’s out of your budget, check out the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics’ website for options that may work.

In the meantime: Spending the night at a partner’s home while the children are there is a huge dating milestone, and it sounds like you all may have started doing that on a timeline that was a bit aggressive—especially considering why this relationship is unique. You may need to slow down for everyone’s good, and when it comes to integrating the two households, you definitely need to chill. Get some babysitters and spend the night at a hotel. Sneak in a quickie before picking up the kids. Stay connected via text. But give Polly and her sib(s) some breathing room so they can heal; otherwise, you may be in for a lifelong battle with a girl who deserves to be her dad’s priority right now.
Best wishes to you all.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I have a wonderful 3½-year-old daughter, “Mallory,” who is doing very well at pushing our boundaries. We’ve both done our share of reading and understand that this is her “job” and that it is our job to recognize that.

For instance, my wife loves to sing, but Mallory won’t let her. She loses her shit at the first note and screams “NONONO!!!” Capital letters and exclamation marks are not sufficient to express how loud this kid can yell; my wife is trained in opera and our daughter has clearly inherited her lungs. We have been guilty of shutting our mouths all too often at her command.

Mallory’s aversion to live singing is not just limited to her mother; anyone else who sings in her presence gets the same treatment. However, she loves vocal music when it doesn’t come from a live human being; she watches musical cartoons, sings along with them, and does not complain when we play music on the stereo or radio. What to do?

—Tightlipped in Toronto

Dear Tightlipped,

You shouldn’t feel “guilty” for refraining from doing something that triggers an uncomfortable reaction from your very small daughter. It may be disappointing not to be able to share a family love of live singing, but it’s a pretty small inconvenience until you figure out why this particular sound triggers such a reaction from her.

Capture a recording of her mom singing, then let your daughter hear it. How does she react? Bring her within earshot of someone who is singing live but is outside of her line of vision. You need to figure out if she simply does not enjoy hearing people sing live, which she could grow out of without intervention, or if there’s some sort of sensory issue that she could be experiencing, which would require the support of a medical professional to diagnose and address. Good luck and I hope the three of you will be able to make beautiful music in the future.

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a first-time mother to a wonderful 6-month-old boy. While life is great, I have struggled with depression since I was a teenager and often find it difficult to accomplish as much as I’d like including cleaning and enrichment activities for him. Berating myself for not being better or for not being perfect is, I know, often a symptom of my mental illness, but I find it especially difficult to keep a healthy perspective in this age where anything less than “perfect” parenting is shamed. My house is a mess! I don’t do as much Tummy Time as recommended! Sometimes I watch TV and don’t keep him completely faced away from the screen! My son is fed, healthy, goes to the pediatrician as scheduled, gets his vaccines, and when he’s sad, I do what I can to make him happy. I guess my question is, what activities should we prioritize as truly “mandatory” in this day and age and what can we let slide without beating ourselves up?

—Too Tired

Dear TT,

It sounds like you are doing great, despite a challenging set of circumstances. I’d only add, in terms of “mandatory” to-dos: make sure the baby sleeps on his back and that you keep blankets out of his crib.

My greater concern, based on what you’ve shared, is you. Are you taking time to take care of yourself? For moms like us who suffered with depression prior to pregnancy, postpartum depression can be a little harder to notice; if feeling low energy or sad without provocation is a common occurrence, it may not seem like such a big deal to be experiencing it now. However, PPD (as I’m sure you know) can be quite serious, and if you aren’t currently being treated, now is absolutely the time to get some outside help.

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is widely used to help identify (but not diagnose—only a professional can do that) signs of PPD; you probably received a copy at the hospital with the advice that you should answer it in the first week or so after delivery. Print out a copy and go over it with your partner or another trusted loved one who has been able to observe you since giving birth, and discuss the results with your therapist or counselor.

In the meantime, think about ways to make your home life less stressful. The messy house can create some feelings of anxiety or inadequacy; what can you do to get it in better order? Are there friends who have offered to help you? This is a perfect opportunity to take them up on it; order pizza and call it a party. If not, TaskRabbit and Handy may have some affordable options for one-time or regular cleaning services.

What sort of practices or rituals do you have that are all about you, TT? Do you get manicures? Soak in the tub once a week? Push the stroller to a local library and browse your fave easy reading? If you aren’t doing anything that is all or mostly in the service of your own pleasure, please try to make time to do so. It is particularly important for new moms, especially those who deal with depression, to make space for self-care and selfishness. Enjoy those sweet baby cuddles!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son’s high school sports team expects each player to sell at least one ad for the program book at $150 a pop. We already pay a significant fee per sport at this public school, but the money covers activities, along with gifts and awards to be presented at an end-of-season banquet. My son doesn’t care a bit about this. Last year, he sold no ads and I just sent in a check. When he sells no ads this year, do I have to cough up the money again? Can I ignore it? Tell my son he needs to spend his own money since he didn’t bother trying?

—Checking In or Checking Out

Dear CIoCO,

Ask your son why he didn’t do his part to contribute to the team, and why he seems to think his commitment to the squad and the sport doesn’t include completing all tasks required of him as a team member. If there isn’t some lurking anxiety about having to fundraise (in which case, I feel him! Who wants to sell something that honestly has no value? When was the last time you chose a local business because it was in the football team’s program book?!), then he needs to cough up his own money. If he doesn’t have it all, work out a payment plan and stick to it. This is poor sportsmanship on his part and an easy teachable moment for you to—wait for it—knock out the park. Go sports!