Splitsville: Why Did You Buy Our Daughter Bridal Barbie?

Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

When a friend of mine got pregnant with her second child, she told the world by giving her daughter a bunch of “Big Sister” shirts. It was a cute way to share the news with her friends and family. Her daughter would pull off her jacket and my friend got to watch as the realization dawned on those around her and everyone started to squeal in delight.

I guess my ex (who we’re going to start referring to as John, as in John Doe) was going for the same kind of surprise when he bought our daughter Bridal Barbie. Actually, he bought her the entire wedding set, complete with groom, flower girls and cake. At first, I thought that she must have picked out the set, begged and pleaded and coerced her way into a new toy. I couldn’t blame John for giving in, my daughter is pretty persuasive when it comes to buying Barbies. I’m pretty sure she could convince a Tea Partier to sign off on a tax hike to begin a Free Barbie Fund.

I knew that John had a girlfriend, whom neither my daughter nor I had met. I knew that things were getting more serious between them and that she was a nurse at a local hospital. This is literally all I knew about their situation. However, as I stared at the plastic bouquet and ugly bridesmaid dresses (even on a Barbie!), I pondered the hidden meanings behind the gift. Even though my husband called me paranoid. Even though it didn’t really matter if John was getting married, because it wasn’t something on which I was allowed to have any input. Even though I buy my daughter sets of wild animals without planning a trip to the rain forest. I just wanted to know… why did you buy our daughter Bridal Barbie? Why did the man who hadn’t paid child support in four months or ever spent additional money on our little girl spend $60 on a set of Barbie dolls?

My obsession with the appearance of Bridal Barbie might have seemed extreme, but weddings are a big deal. The marriage of a parent means a lot more than pretty dresses and throwing flower petals. It means that there’s a new person who will be permanently in my daughter’s life. It means a change in their living situation. Once John gets married and settles down, there’s a possibility that he and his new wife will want to become a bigger part of our daughter’s life. And while I welcome visitation that happens more than once a month, any sudden changes would disrupt the tenuous schedule we’ve tried to keep in place. More than anything, we need to talk about how we can help our daughter adapt to these adjustments. If Bridal Barbie meant everything I feared, there was a lot to think about.

Finally, I asked John about the newest toy in our house. My paranoia was vindicated! Bridal Barbie meant alot more than a future-debate-clue-president. She was preparing my daughter for her upcoming flower girl duties. Bridal Barbie was an announcement, just like those “Big Sister” tee-shirts. After a couple weeks of staring at the doll in a strapless, poofy dress with a bright pink sash, I learned that Bridal Barbie symbolized a very large change in our child’s life. It’s not going to be immediate. John is still in the “picking out a ring but haven’t actually proposed” stage. But change, it is a comin’. Heaven help me when my daughter comes home with Baby Sister Kelly.

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  • Dr. Leah at Singlemommyhood

    Hmmm… who knew a doll could be fraught with so much drama. Thanks for opening up such an interesting conversation. A GREAT read!

  • Naomi

    Non-verbal communication is a big part of communication…but perhaps this was a little too non-verbal? At the couple’s counseling website I work for, they always encourage people to “just say it,” which I think is pretty good advice. Basically, like what you did–you straight up asked John what the barbie meant. I think sometimes hints like a symbolic gift are, while cute, just too subtle for people to figure out (I, for instance, am completely oblivious to most things. So much for “feminine intuition” lol). I’m totally impressed by the way you’re handling the situation, and thinking about what it means for your daughter. Interesting post, good food for thought!

  • Lisa M

    I love announcements presented like the kids’ t-shirts. Best one I ever saw was a couple who had volunteered with an organization for something like 20 years. Their children were presenting them with an “award” at an event. They opened up the “award” and it was two t-shirts: one that said “#1 Grandma” and one that said #1 Grandpa.” The looks on their faces were priceless.