This is the most difficult part of divorce when kids are involved. People parent differently. Your ex’s new partner isn’t forcing you to do anything. You are entitled to hold onto your own ideas about appropriate diet and rules for your daughters when they are with you. If your girls question your decisions, you can simply, and without being defensive, tell them that adults often have different opinions. In your home, your rules apply.
In an ideal world, you and your ex and his GF should get together and make some basic agreements about rules for all of your children. But too often in situations like these, the adults are too involved with their own fight or too committed to their own ideas to put the children’s needs first. I hope that is not the case here.
If possible, meet with your ex and his GF to work out a unified position. Be aware that when talking about things like how kids dress, you are talking about values-level ideas. Do your best to refrain from blaming or accusing. That will only make the GF defensive. The issue isn’t whether the GF is “interfering” but what the three of you think is appropriate at what time for your collective children. You may have very different opinions about that.
It would be a good idea to talk with the school guidance counselor before that meeting to find out what the norms are for dress and grooming among your daughters’ peers. On the one hand, you don’t want to rush adulthood. But you also don’t want to hold them back so much that it becomes a problem for them in the peer group.
If you and the girls’ father and step-GF can’t come to agreement, then it’s important to have a very mature conversation with your children. Sympathize with how difficult it is for them when the two households are in disagreement. Reassure them that you don’t want them to be in the middle of an adult conflict.
Don’t criticize the GF’s position. Instead, emphasize that different people have different ideas about how fast kids should grow up. Explain your position. Ask the girls what they think is okay and necessary to fit in with their peers. Work on finding areas where you can bend.
Shaving leg hair, for example, may be something you can give on. It is only hair. If the girls will feel more grown up if they shave it, then consider being the one to teach them. But if the girlfriend wants your girls to dress in ways you think are too provocative, that’s another matter. Then it’s important to talk with your daughters about how they want to be seen by others and what you can and can’t support. Help them develop their own position and guide them in feeling strong enough to defend it without putting down the other woman they have to live with part of the time.
I hope the three adults involved can be their most adult selves and work this through for the sake of all three young girls. You are going to have to revisit these conversations a lot during the next few years as your teens start to be more independent. Working out how to talk about a dress code is a good rehearsal for how you are going to deal with dating, sex, drugs, money, jobs and career planning. If you can’t manage it, I hope you will all consider bringing in a family therapist to help you all make healthy decisions for your kids.
I wish you well.