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November 14, 2008


Absolutely keep the confidence, otherwise the kids won't confide ever again!!! And yes, kids will talk to mom much more than Dad. The mistake you made was in how you told your husband. It would've been better to say that it's a private, girl thing and he could ask her what the problem had been- but let's not go there now because it's over. Sorry, honey.

Ora - I agree 100% with your evaluation of my error. It could have been phrased way more tactfully! Unfortunately, I figured that out a half-second AFTER I said it... :P

I'm torn. I see Ora's point--but P and I have made it a habit to share everything that's going on with our kids. The only exceptions are if the child has specifically asked that it not be shared and it would have no effect on the other parent anyway, or she has said something really hurtful about her father--in which case we deal with that issue.

I hope you and your sweetie can come to an understanding on this one.

Does he read your posts? ;)

Laura - You've reminded me of something I meant to include in the post: At a certain point in our discussions, Stephen said "I can't ask you to violate your conscience. I'm hurt, but I'll get over it." He's a good guy.

Does he read my posts? Usually only when I direct him to one (I write for half a dozen blogs), but I don't think I've said anything here that would offend him. Here's hoping I've read that correctly this time!

Oops, that should have said, "...if you decide you can't tell me, I'll be hurt, but I'll get over it."

I think girls are more likely to confide in their mothers, by far. There are some things you just don't want to talk about with your dad or assume he won't get.

Is it an option to ask daughter's permission to share the issue with stepdad, telling her that he inquired because he was genuinely concerned? It may be that she would be okay with you telling him, especially if you honored her by asking permission. So long as it's not something that would embarrass her, and she might need reassurance that he won't try to discuss it with her. Just a thought.

Could you ask your daughter?

Actually, I think he is being a bit out of order in still wanting you to tell him about a matter that's private to your daughter, but which she - in a moment of weakness, she wasn't meaning to (but is probably glad she did) - confided to you.

Initially, it was fine for him to ask and, as you know, your reply wasn't exactly a model of tactfulness; it's not surprising he was taken aback and hurt. But it's not a question of whether or not you trust him with the knowledge, but that your daughter told you something in confidence. She hasn't *not* trusted him with it - it could have been him at the door that morning when it all came tumbling out - but she hasn't okayed you passing it on and that you are hesitating isn't a reflection on him or his relationship with you or her and he needs to appreciate that.

My children, especially my daughter, would be more likely to confide in me about an emotional matter, but in either/both of us about a practical one.
And your second question - I might keep it from my husband, who is my children's father, if I thought it appropriate.

Hi I -

I am vastly unqualified to answer this one as a mom as my daughter is 4 years old, though I am expecting these issues any day.

As a daughter and sister I think your approach was spot on (as usual). Maybe this situation opens an opportunity to test the water and discuss how he is feeling as a step-dad. You maybe surprised what about the situation made him feel hurt.


First off: Good for you for reinforcing the importance of communication and strong relationships!

Now, your question: I'm a bio mom of a young (4-year-old) daughter, and the step mom of two more (ages 15 and almost-13). I also have a 2-year-old son and a 10-year-old stepson.

I do think that kids, particularly daughters, tend to confide in their mothers more so than their fathers, and in their bio mothers more so than their step mothers, in general.

That said, I think it's important to share at least the basic outline of the problem/event/situation with your spouse, whether you're the step parent or the bio parent. When the kids confide in their Dad (or, for that matter, when their bio mom confides in my husband about their children), I don't expect to hear all of the deep, dark details. But I do expect to be kept in the loop so that if the problem/event/situtation continues to unfold and I happen to be the one who has to handle the next part of it, I can do so without being clueless. (It's happened to me *many* times, and it's much easier to be a helpful and supportive parent if you know what the hell is going on. Plus, if you don't know the background, a stroppy teenager is just as likely to assume that you don't care as she is to assume that you just haven't been informed.)

Now, I think what I would have done in your shoes was to tell my spouse that I'd like to share the details, but daughter is still working them through. Then I'd tell daughter that her dad (stepdad?) has also noticed how sad she's been and is concerned about her, and would it be OK if I let him know a bit about what's going on, now that it seems to be resolved. She might say no, but she might say "sure, whatever," and she probably would be relieved that you're not suggesting that she tell him herself...

Hi Ilona, Of course I can't resist to leave a comment. I've been there too! The thing is this, at the end of the day everyone needs someone to confide in. My husband and I are a strong couple that want to be there for each other.
In the end your daughter needs to confide in someone too and so do you. My kids - and friends - fot that matter, know that if they don't want my hubby to know about something, they should not tell me. We are both parents to our kids and want to be there for them and know what is going on in their lives. I know he's your second husband, but he sounds like a great guy and daddy! Point is, our kids know upfront that my husband and I will share what's coming up, that's part of our power and they are fine with it.
Talk soon!

I am writing my comment before I read the others so I won't be influenced. Bear with me if I am just repeating what they have said. I would keep her confidence. Of course, if she gives you express permission to tell your husband then by all means let him know.

Always tricky this bit...even sometimes with bio-kids and bio-parent of the opposite gender. I tend towards the, "I'm sure she'd be willing to talk with you about it if you ask her...Everything is fine though." We tend in our house to comment on the emotional content but not the particulars when we share with each others about the kids. It minimizes the triangulation, keeps broken telephone antics to a minimum and allows everyone to feel that their stuff is confidential.

Oh, wow! Such excellent, thoughtful responses. I'll do much better next time this situation arises -- as it almost certainly will! I also have lots of ideas for conversations with both my husband and my daughter.

Thank you all so much!

Gail and Sylvia: Ask my daughter. Why did that never even occur to me? So obvious! Thank you!

Z - You make a good point when you say that she "hasn't *not* trusted him with it", though in truth I doubt that it would have come tumbling out with him, even had he been there. He has some justification in his feelings of being on the outside looking in, and I feel for him.

Your distinction between emotional and practical matters is pretty much how it works in our family, too.

Cindy - Step-parenting is so tough! We've talked about this issue before, but there seem always to be new nuances and situations to bring out the insecurities -- and the satisfactions -- of the role. Phew.

Lylah - I love this approach. Love it. It's respectful of all parties, it encourages communication between step-daughter and step-father, and it's SO MUCH MORE TACTFUL than what I blurted out. Yeesh...

Nicoline - If we had been this way all along, I could probably continue in the pattern. I don't think I can spring a "full disclosure" policy on her now, not without shutting down all communication henceforth. How would you handle it if one of your children wanted to confide in one of you, but wouldn't if the other had to know?

Jean - Thank you. A couple of others have suggested I ask her permission to tell, which I hadn't thought of, but I see as a good response.

Kathryn - "Share the content but not the particulars" would be a good approach, I think. With each other, Stephen and I are used to going into detail (some might find it excruciating detail :-) ), so it feels odd to do it differently, but when talking about someone else's emotions rather than your own, a less explicit approach might well be wiser -- and something my conscience could live it. Thank you.

If my child tells me something in confidence it is kept in confidence unless I feel like not doing so puts her mentally or physically at risk.

For example, when she was 7 years old she established some pretty strong body/self-image issues. I eventually confided what she shared with me with my mother, sister and eventually the pediatrician.

the step aspect makes this tough. you already know there were better ways to say it, but the concept of not telling your husband i totally understand -- and agree with.

for other readers who are NOT in a step situation, it's not the same as if it were bio dad. it's just not.

I have found that children need mothers and fathers in different ways. My 20 year old daughter talks to her father about subjects she barely broaches with me. She tells me about her secrets, her feelings, and her personal life; things she would never talk to her father about. I always go on the assumption that she expects those private conversations to remain that way, even from her dad.I guess I have found that because she knows what she tells me stays with me has allowed her to continue to confide in me about things I would never have shared with my mother.

One caveat, if she were to tell me something I thought was harmful, then I would share that with her dad.

I think you're right that kids do confide more easily in their mothers. As a stepmother, this has made things kind of weird for me; I think I am far more open to the kids talking to me about things than they might be to actually DOING it. I may be expecting more open talk from them than I'll ever really get. (I'm not their "real" mom, after all, even if I AM with them two nights a week and every other weekend.)

When my son was in his teens, we had the occasional "don't tell Dad" conversation. Sometimes I didn't tell Dad - but if I thought it needed to be shared, I would tell my son up front that I couldn't NOT tell his father about it. I would do the same thing with my stepkids. Depending on the subject, though, I might follow Kathryn's advice re: "content" vs. "particulars."

Kathy - I agree with the "at risk" idea, and if I'd thought that what had happened fell into that category, then, yes, I'd have spoken out. In fact, I'd probably have sought him out before he had to ask! He is the first person I confide in, for just about everything, and the first person whose opinion I seek when I need to sort something out.

Planet of Janet - Thank you. That's all. Just: Thanks for understanding.

Stacey - That's the big issue, isn't it? If I break a confidence, will she confide in me the next time, when a parent's input could be critical to her health, safety, emotional well-being?

Florinda - I think your idea that with some things, I'd need to say I couldn't *not* tell my husband is a good one. I don't think this was such a situation, hence my uncertainty, but I am certain such situations exist. Not that I can think of one off the top of my head... Something that would affect him directly, obviously, but beyond that, I'm not sure. Still, it's good to have principles to guide you through tricky situations,and I'd say that's one.

Ora's approach is good. It's a tricky thing.

When my 17yo told me several things lately, he entrusted me not to tell his dad. Some stuff his dad hears more about. The deep dark secrets or the need for love advice are for mommy. Yes, I'm still slightly useful.

Mercy. Lots of good advice that can't be faulted. The only thing that I would add (having (almost) survived the step parenting of the 25 year old) is talk to The Beauty now about future situations arise. She's had Stephen in her life for a long time now, through some pretty formidable years, and she's old enough now to really know who he is. Part of who she is, is because of him too. Explain to her what happened from your perspective and come up with something. 'if you tell me about what your heart on that sleeve has clearly been saying then': I'll tell him if he asks; if you tell me first that this is in confidence then I'll not say a word; let's agree on what I can say about this - whatever works best for her. And then tell him what came out of that discussion, so he'll be prepared for the next time too.

Bottom line, he loves her dearly and visa versa, they are both very aware of that truth, and they are both wonderful, caring people. Open and honest now will help when the next hormonal/relationship/life crisis comes along....

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