Jealous of mom's love interest

I am a single parent with a three-year-old daughter. I left her father when she was six-months-old. She doesn't remember any life other than just the two of us. Up until this point I haven't been dating anyone so she had all of my attention. I am now seeing someone and she is not too happy about it. How do I reassure her that I still love her while not letting her run my life?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

It is natural for your daughter to react to your new love life since she has never had to share your attention with anyone else. Still, you are right to want to assure her that your new friend is not competing for her own very special place in your heart!

Your sense of a balance between reassurance and maintaining limits is a sound approach. Let her know that you will be spending special time with her and that this time between you will be saved just for her. Point out to her that you will have your own activities together, but that moms need adult love and friendship, too. Compare it to her playmates and point out to her that she also has "special" friends, and that you are happy for her to have these important people in her life. Make the point that having special playmates does not change the love between you.

Do not expect her to instantly "warm-up" to your new adult friend. Keep your activities separate, until you are clear that you want to involve him in your family life. If this occurs, take it slow and continue to preserve special mother-daughter time and activities.

Keep in mind that your daughter's self-expression at this change is also a sign that you have been doing a wonderful job parenting this little girl. She feels secure enough to express herself, which is a natural part of the process of adapting to change. She will eventually learn that mothers have needs, too. Her behavior will no doubt settle down as she experiences your consistency towards her in both love and discipline.

Be patient. In time, your child will learn that your new adult friend will in no way replace her. A new clarity about the definition of your mother-daughter relationship will evolve from this situation. This event presents an opportunity for her to let go of any fantasy that she must fulfill your adult needs in order to sustain your love. The result will be a greater sense of security about her rightful place in your life.

Once your daughter understands that you are taking care of your own "loneliness" she may even feel relieved that you are doing so. Maintain your commitment to meeting your needs and not allowing your daughter to "run" your life. A potential pitfall for single parents is making children your "friends" instead of developing your own independent adult relationships.

Meeting your own needs is in your daughter's best interest. Without fulfillment of your needs for adult intimacy, the nature of your mother- daughter relationship could become more of a "bind", than a very special bond!

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