Question: My ex-boyfriend and I have been apart since November. We have an 11-month-old daughter. After we broke up, he got a new girlfriend two weeks later. My daughter’s dad gets her every other weekend Thursday-Sunday. I have nicely asked this girl to stay away from my daughter, but she is trying to act as the mom! I don’t know what to do so she has no contact with my daughter until later in life. Now my daughter cries when I pick her up because she doesn’t know who I am. I am at a lost. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: We all understand that the transition from couple to single parent is a tough one. Both parents feel guilty about the break-up and that they can’t be with their child every day. If one moves on very quickly, that only adds to the other parent’s anxiety. “Who is this person touching my daughter?” Add jealousy, anger, revenge, and all those awful emotions that go along with breaking up, you have a mess while you are trying to put on a happy face for a little one.
Joint custody is difficult to pull off when a child is so young. Truth is, it’s difficult to pull off, period, and the parenting plan that you have chosen might be a little tough for your daughter at her place of development. You see, infants and toddlers experience separation anxiety in the first and second years of life, even in the safety of their own home. You know this by her reaction when you walk out of the room. She cries.
You’ve established a primary home — yours — but every other weekend she leaves for four days. The courts support this sort of parenting plan, but it really doesn’t coincide with what the psychological community suggests in terms of infant development. Add that both parents may work outside of the home and add additional caregivers — all this makes it quite confusing for a little one.
That said, I’m sure your child knows you. I suspect that the fact that she is crying when you pick her up has very little to do with her father’s girlfriend. That’s your own insecurity talking. The best thing you can do at this juncture is look for ways to support all caregivers who offer a nurturing, protective response so that your child feels safe and secure. I know you probably hate to hear that, but since your child must go back and forth — that’s outside of your control at this point — and the fact that she is loved and cared for at both homes is in her best interest.
Finally, I have to support you in your concern about introducing new partners too early after a break-up. Kids get attached — as they should — and introducing someone before you know where they fit in your life-long term is just plain selfish and can be extremely detrimental. You can’t just move someone in because it’s easier and then move them out because it’s not. The primary rule for good ex-etiquette for parents is rule No.1 “Put your children first.” When you have children, it’s no longer about you. That’s good ex-etiquette.