Mother’s failure to bond is cause for concern

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Dear Amy: I am married to a wonderful man. I have an adult daughter from a previous marriage who I love and am close too; we bonded well when we were alone after the divorce.

In my second marriage, we have two young children who are 8 (daughter) and 5 (son).

My second daughter was my now husband’s first child. He did everything from the moment she was born. He has doted on her, which is natural.

Although I did share in her care, I feel I have never bonded with her and find I feel no deep love for her.

It is very hard to admit. I do care for her but not even close to the same way I feel about my older daughter and my son.

It does not help that she has become very dismissive of me, and only listens to her father. She tries my patience. This is causing a strain on our marriage, as it is becoming more evident that there is a deep divide between my daughter and me.

I have tried talking with my husband, but he feels I am just callous and cold to her because I choose to be. What can I do? I would like to go to counseling but can’t afford it right now. I feel like a failure as a mother.

— Failed Mother

Dear Mother: The failure to bond is a tough thing for a mother to own, but it is more common than you may realize. Please understand that your girl’s behavior (being dismissive of you) is likely a reaction to her acute awareness that you favor her siblings. An 8-year-old has limited ways to express her own emotions, anger, and confusion about the relationship. You both need help.

Your local Department of Family and Children Services should offer low-cost parenting counseling and support. You and your daughter could attend therapy together, and you should also pursue individual counseling. Your husband also has an important role, and he should try to help you, rather than judge you.

It is possible that your husband’s “doting” during your daughter’s early life contributed to your own failure to bond (there are many other possible causes, including postpartum depression). Those early days of feeding, holding, bathing and reading to a baby can help to create a bond that the parent builds upon throughout childhood.

In addition to professional help, you should deliberately seek to spend individual time with your daughter doing something she enjoys. A mother-daughter book club where you read to each other and meet with other mothers and daughters is one idea. Pro-social activities such as scouting and theater could be good for her.

Dear Amy: My 21-year-old stepdaughter lives with her mother. They are both fairly sloppy and tend toward hoarding. We regularly donate unwanted items to charity so we allow my stepdaughter to bring items for donation to our house.

She recently brought some things over in small grocery bags. I was sorting donation items — some go to a free cycle store, some to a clothing store, etc.

I found a vibrator in one of the bags. Amy, please say something to make me feel better. I can’t donate this because that just isn’t sanitary. Also it’s creepy — and that’s the real reason I write.

Why would she put this in our donation? Does she truly not understand that you can’t donate sex toys? Does she truly not understand that is TMI for parents? Why would she even involve us? Do I put it in a bag in her room, or do I toss it without saying anything?

I have not mentioned this to my husband.

What should I do?

— Gobsmacked

Dear Gobsmacked: So many questions. So very many questions.

I have a few of my own, naturally. But I think you should table your questions, and leave the item in a bag in your stepdaughter’s room and simply say to her, “I don’t know of an organization that will accept this as a donation.”

It’s possible that it landed in the donation pile by mistake, or as someone’s idea of a (bad) joke, but I don’t think it merits much attention or comment.

Dear Amy: “Wondering” asked what she should call her former in-laws, who she had remained close to.

Although I’ve been divorced for more than 18 years, I’m still very close with my ex’s family. I refer to my former mother-in-law as my “Mother UN-law.” It works for us!

— Marcia

Dear Marcia: I like it.

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