Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single dad and need some advice about my teenage daughter. She’s 13 and It’s just been me and her for the past five years. She is extremely smart and independent and even helps me with household decisions. I admit that I am very laid back in my parenting and our relationship is more of friends and equals than father and daughter. I feel guilty because she does not have the ideal two-parent household and I often work long hours, so I let her get and do pretty much whatever she wants. To complicate things even more, I will be remarrying within the next year to a woman that I have had a long distance relationship with. I am concerned that when she comes to live with us, the new family dynamic will be too much of a change for my daughter. I want to try and restructure our relationship and instill boundaries now before it is too late. Where do I start?
A: The good news is that you’ve already taken the first step: you recognize that there’s a problem and you’ve asked for help. The bad news is that you’ve got a huge amount of catching up to do.
The relationship you have with your daughter is incredibly common among single parents: they feel guilty about putting their children through a divorce and, as you say, for depriving them of the perfect two-parent family. And they feel guilty about working long hours and depriving them of having more time with even one loving parent. As a result these guilt-ridden single moms and dads do exactly what you’re doing: try to make themselves feel better—and make amends to their kids—by backing off on discipline and letting them get away with whatever they want. Big mistake.