Father figures: The

My four-year-old daughter stays with me each weekend for a total of 10 to 12 hours. Her mother has had a male friend in her life for the last couple of years and seems to be pushing him on her as a father figure. This seems to confuse my daughter. I am worried and want to know what role this other man can play in her life without harming my relationship with my daughter?

Question:

Your daughter is very fortunate to have you actively involved in her life. There are definitely some things you can do to keep your relationship with her strong and supportive. The fact that she has another man who cares for her doesn't mean that she will care for you less. There will never be another you in your daughter's life. There may be other wonderful people who she cares about, but you are and always will be unique. Her "love" for mom's new partner is not coming out of the pot of love she has for you. Unless, we make children choose between adults, they are generally willing to love and include all of the people who care about them.

One of the things that is sometimes difficult for parents is having their child refer to another person as daddy, or mommy. It is important to note that even if your child calls another man, daddy, he isn't you and she clearly knows the difference between the two of you. Think about grandparents. Many children have two or more grandpas. Do they confuse who they are because they have the same name? If mom wants your daughter to call the male friend, Daddy, you could request that he be called "Daddy Steve" to clarify who is being talked about. Unless your daughter is getting messages that, "This is your new daddy, now that your old Daddy isn't here anymore," she should be able to include both of you, without detracting from her relationship with either of you.

There are many things you and your ex-wife can do to support your daughter's relationship with you, even when you are not together.

  • Provide for consistent, frequent time together. Spending frequent and consistent time with your daughter lets her know that Daddys are reliable. It offers an opportunity for your relationship to grow and develop as she matures and changes. It gives her something to look forward to and to hold on to when she is not with you. Developing a predictable schedule allows her to learn to trust that she will get to see you on a regular basis.
  • Find ways to connect when you are not together. You can let your daughter know you are thinking about her, even when you are not spending time together. You can send her cards and postcards, make her a tape of your voice (reading stories, singing, talking to her) for her to take when she goes back to her mom's house, make her little picture books of your time together; call her (as is comfortable with mom) to check-in during the week. These things will provide tangible reminders that you love her and are still her daddy even when you are not together.
  • If possible, work on good relationships with your ex and her male friend. Given that there can be many factors that make this difficult, your daughter will benefit from any attempts on the adult's part to develop comfortable communication and acceptance of one another. One very difficult thing that happens for children during divorce is being set-up to have to "choose" between the people they love. "If you love me, you can't love her (or him)." If we can convince ourselves that love is not limited and there is enough to go around, we can give our kids the gift of wonderful, guilt-free relationships with everyone who cares about them.
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