Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries — Divorce, Debt and Divided Loyalties

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Here, advice on dealing with divorce, debt and divided loyalties

Q. I split with my husband two years ago after 12 years together. Unfortunately, he left me with a massive amount of debt and I’m facing bankruptcy. He has a daughter, 19, who I’ve been best friends with since she was five and we’ve enjoyed a wonderful relationship – until now. My issue lies with her, her mother and their family. I’ve also had (or thought I had) an amazing relationship with her mother – at least until my ex told his daughter how much he gives me per month, which is a lot more than he gave her mother. I’ve been generous with my step-daughter but now it seems she wants nothing to do with me unless I have money to offer. I recently gave her a gift of money (more than I could afford) to congratulate her on exams. She ignored my recent birthday, which was a first. I’m confused and deeply hurt.

Barbara, Ashford, U.K.


A. What a sad situation. Especially since you built a solid relationship with your step-daughter and her mother over all those years. No doubt you had to work hard to do that. And it’s really too bad your ex-husband “had to go and open his big mouth,” as Debra McLeod puts it. She’s a Calgary-based former divorce mediator turned relationship expert and the creator of the website  “When money comes into the picture it turns people into baracudas.”

Debra says your step-daughter is suffering from a classic case of divided loyalties. “She feels bad her mother didn’t get as much money, so she’s pulled in that direction, plus maybe the mom is telling her that her inheritance is all going to be spent on you. That can create resentment too. And, she may also not realize her dad left you in a bankruptcy situation.

Add to that the fact you’re now left out of family events, chances are opportunities to be with this girl are going to diminish as time goes on. Plus she’s at an age where she’s only going to get busier with her own life. So what, if anything, can you do?

“Go shopping,” says Debra, who suggests inviting your step-daughter to spend an afternoon with you and shop for a pair of boots, a new winter jacket or a house-warming gift for her new apartment. It’s simply a way to be together. (Anyone who’s had teenagers can attest to the effectiveness of this type of bribery.) You’re really just buying time with the girl and she’s getting something she needs/wants. “It’s not right, but it’s real,” says Debra. “And it’s just a phase.”

But if that doesn’t work you’ll need to start lowering your expectations. Stay in touch with cards, social media or phone calls, Debra suggests, but be realistic. “Even if you’re right and you want to be vindicated and you want them to understand, they can still take things and twist them and you’ll end up looking even worse.” It’s worth a try to stay in touch, but be prepared to let go.

Send Diane a brief description of your dilemma, along with your first name and where you live, to [email protected]

A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.