Well crap: Or, when your Ex manipulates your daughter and how to handle it the best that you can.
The girls came up with a special name for their stepdad, something that is of course NOT dad or daddy or father. At any rate, DD1's first idea was shut down by her father months ago, because it made him feel 'uncomfortable' so because she is a sensitive soul, she felt uncomfortable, and after consulting with my therapist and the girls' therapist, i agreed to support her 'change of mind,' poor thing, because it put her in the middle.
Then a month or so ago, DD1 asked me what dad meant in another language (my native language, even though i'm adopted, i spent a year in my birth country working as a teacher and learning the language long ago--anyway, the girls are half me and half dad's ethnicity). To remain somewhat anonymous, i'll just refer to it as 'aaa.' Anyway, DD1 LOVED the idea of calling him that when we got married. This week end, since our beautiful ceremony, they've been profusely and cheerfully calling him that. Cut to last evening, after an overnight at dad's house--and again, dad is a completely different 'race' than me, has his own native tongue (not that they use it), so my birth language has nothing to do with them.
So at dinner, DD1 asked 'aaa' to cover his ears because she wanted to tell me something. This came up before when DD1 shared something troubling her from dad’s house—usually a sign that dad has told her something that he doesn’t want either me or my husband to hear, so my husband dutifully covered his ears, while of course, we were both riveted to our seats. DD1 went on to tell me that her dad had a long talk with DD2 and her last night about how just because they have a stepdad it doesn't mean 'he disappears,' and she said dad was very sad. She said dad was really uncomfortable with "aaa" because it means dad in a different language. Then she said she was uncomfortable with “aaa” now and wanted to revert to calling stepdad a word that we used for him prior to getting married, a friendly word used generally here for any familiar neighbor or from the bank teller to the bagger at the grocery store, to the mailman, etc.
I responded that I was sorry dad was sad (remembering advice from our play therapist), and that dad is right that at dad’s house there is only dad and no “aaa” (advice from mediator on this matter). From DD1s reaction—feeling less alarmed, a little more calm, I can see how these kind of statements make DD1 feel validated and less in the middle. I also assured DD1 she will always have her real dad, that’s why we don't call “stepdad” dad or daddy. I told her at mom’s house she has a stepdad who is “aaa,” and it's ok to use “aaa” at mom’s house because that is the special name we decided together and because he loves us and we love him. But just because we have an “aaa” doesn't mean her real dad disappears, he is at dad’s house.
DD1 seemed to feel better but also seemed worried because dad is sad. I told her I'm sorry dad is sad, and that even if he is sad, it's not her job to be sad for dad, too. She actually seemed a little relieved and gave me a big hug. She is still hesitant on aaa and I won't push it, although DD1 still happily says aaa.
So 1) I’m working through being PISSED OFF: “aaa” means nothing to the ex or his family, they are a different race altogether, and their native tongue is completely different, not that they use it, since they are fourth generation.
2) It was an idea that came from DD1, just like her initial name for stepdad was her idea, which we nixed when it was causing her to be upset from dad making her upset. So I’m doubly pissed that Dad is making DD1 feel bad about her ideas and making her feeling sorry for dad. She is SEVEN years old. RAWR.
3) I then consulted the play therapist, attorney, other single parents who have crazy conflict with their exes, and some attorney friends I know. I don’t know what else to do. They have concurred that how I handled the talk with DD1 supports her feelings and lets her come into her own in her own time. I just find it so ironic that a lot of these parents really stick the knife in our guts to control our reactions and do the right thing by not putting our kids “in the middle” or “pressuring them,” and our exes just say whatever, whenever, with themselves in mind before the children.
4) And I am worried about my husband—who is being an adult about this and came into this marriage with eyes wide open about the machinations and manipulations of the ex and the knowledge of what we suffered in the past. It is hurtful for him to see us go through these things, and he wants to rush in and fight and take care of it. Yet, I am the one who needs to be the gatekeeper and protector of our family. I think he understands that—that it is my job to be the captain in instances like this, and also allow him room to vent and make opinions and incorporate those opinions, too, but it’s tough for him to remember that at times, because he gets so fired up about it, too.
5) This just in: now I have learned that DD2 added more to the story, that dad told them about a dog that had died, and if we changed the name of the dog that had died, wouldn’t that make them feel hurt and sad. ?? Granted that is coming from a pre-schooler, but I am just ready to throw my hands up into the sky.
Conclusion: I will talk to DD1 and let her know that since we came up with “aaa” together, that we (me, DD2, and aaa) will continue to call him “aaa.” I’m hoping this will normalize the word at our house, and remove the ‘stigma’ that dad has placed on it. Then I will give DD1 the choice to call him “aaa” or something different and not push her to choose—let her be empowered and considered in her choice and I think one day, when she is strong enough, she will come around in her own time.