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Carolyn Hax: ‘Obsessed’ ex insists their daughter have long hair

Dear Carolyn: My ex-husband is obsessed with our 7-year-old daughter’s hair. I once had it cut a few inches below her shoulders, and he threatened legal action. He said it caused him harm — that he couldn’t look at her for days. I’ve asked him to maintain getting her hair trimmed since he is so concerned about her length. She just had it cut, and it looks nice and healthy. My daughter likes her long hair, and I’m okay with it as long as it’s taken care of.

But tonight we found out that her friend cut her hair. It was the first time I’ve heard our daughter express interest in cutting her hair. I told her dad, and informed him that I’m okay with allowing her to make the decision on her hair length. He will push her to keep it long.

Advice on how to co-parent with this type of person? Many times I “give in” because if I don’t, he takes it out on our daughter in the form of yelling, talking badly about me, etc.

Anonymous: You co-parent “with this type of person” under the regular care of a therapist equipped to handle someone as dangerous as he is, to develop strategies for protecting your daughter and yourself, and for mitigating the damage he has already done and will continue to do, at least in the near term.

You also co-parent with an attorney backing up your effort to document everything for the purposes of demonstrating to the courts the urgency of protecting your daughter from him in the long term. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, thehotline.org, can get you started on finding local support within your means.

As described here, your ex demonstrates a degree of preoccupation and control that is simply beyond a benign explanation. It’s unhinged. Plus he’s willing to punish a child psychologically — which is out of bounds for any reason, but certainly so for actions you took, and especially so for such a trifle as hair length.

That his fixation is about his child meeting a traditional standard of feminine beauty tips it into creepy.

Even without all that, even if we take the creepy hair thing out of the conversation — you say “many times” you change how you approach parenting because you know he will act out to and/or around your daughter when the person he’s upset with is you. Wow. That pegs his maturity level at adolescent or less, and his priority as his ego above all.

With either of these problematic behavior patterns, he creates an environment that’s deeply unhealthy for a child. With both he’s a human emergency.

Appeasement is ill-equipped for that task.

I assume you’re aware of this but face the real and demoralizing problem of having your hands tied, at least for now, by custody arrangements. But I am typing it out loud anyway because a sense of urgency is easily dulled under the grind of necessity and daily routine — and what you describe calls for a sense of urgency that is morning-fresh and renewable daily until you are able to limit your daughter’s exposure to the toxic environment she knows as “dad.”

Get the psychotherapist on board as soon as possible (resources here: wapo.st/haxresources), talk with a seasoned attorney and start treating this as way more serious than the length of your little girl’s hair.

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