Tell Me About It: Hurt by adult stepdaughter's request for 'daddy time'

Question: My 26-year-old stepdaughter recently sent a text to her father asking for some "daddy time." She asked whether they could meet for breakfast and specifically asked her father not to bring me.

I am upset by this and think it's disrespectful. If she were 12, I'd probably be OK with it, but she's not. We've had our ups and downs, but I feel we have a good relationship.

The salt in the wound is my husband's going along with it. His not taking a stand in regard to my presence leaves me wounded. I can't let this go. Please help.

Answer: I see why you're taking it this way. I can see why you're hurt.

You don't have to stick with your own version of events, though. You can instead choose to look at it from the daughter's perspective. You had parents - didn't you ever spend time with each of them one-on-one? Wasn't it different, even just a little, from when the whole family was together? Wasn't it a natural part of family life, as opposed to a referendum on your feelings for each parent? Didn't it help you have a close and individual relationship with each parent? Or, if you were robbed of this experience for some reason, can't you see how it could be helpful and important?

You could also look at it from your husband's perspective. This is his daughter. She asked. She might want to speak to him about something in confidence; one-on-one typically does mean one-on-specific-one vs. one-on-ew-not-her.

Even if you don't like these two views or don't think they're applicable here, I hope you can see what they have in common: They're not a criticism of you, they're not about getting away from you, they're not about you, period. And sometimes that's OK.

In fact, sometimes that's a good thing. If your goal is to be accepted and respected - in other words, to be as much a part of the family as either of them - then you're actually undermining that goal by taking offense at this breakfast. In families where no one questions who belongs, this spinning off into subgroups for any number of reasons isn't given a second thought. A major holiday or her wedding, OK, get upset, but this is an hour of one parent with one kid.

So please try seeing it as such and not giving it that second thought - or, even better, thoughtfully saying, "Enjoy yourselves. Tell Daughter I said hi."

Or, better still, endorse it by doing the same thing yourself. Invite her to something occasionally, just you two - for coffee or lunch or a second opinion on something you're looking to buy. If you ever need to get along without him there as a buffer, you'll be grateful you practiced it now.

Question: Someone in our community took his own life recently. I, being somewhat closer to this person than others, keep being asked (in a whisper), "How did he do it?" I figure anyone whose business it is already knows. Suggestions for dealing with this gracefully?

Answer: That's terrible - I am so sorry for your loss.

For the gawkers, upon whom your grace will be wasted, I suggest you dust off a classic: "If you forgive me for not answering that, I'll forgive you for asking it."

Question: When we have family visiting and sit down for dinner, grandchildren will bring a cellphone to the table. I politely and gently inform them that we do not permit cellphone use at the dinner table.

Although they comply with my request, there is apparent dissatisfaction. Is there a way to handle this situation in a better way than I do?

Answer: Your grandchildren have seen "no cellphones" in movie theater previews, in checkout lines, in medical offices; they've managed limits and bans in school; they've ridden in cars behind other cars with bumper stickers saying, "No text on board."

These notices were not posted by the League of Cantankerous Old People, but instead by adults of all ages who would like to enjoy their movies or do their jobs or not get T-boned at an intersection by some idiot sending a text.

Do not, and do not think you need to, apologize for declaring a no-phone zone at your own dinner table, and don't let them eye-roll you into believing you're the only one in their lives drawing this line.

If anything, an eye-roll reaction - at you, their host and grandparent - suggests they need more such zones in their lives, or fewer apologies for them.

tellme@washpost.com.

Chat with Carolyn Hax

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