Should I keep in touch with my ex’s daugh­ter?

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - PARENTING -

A FEW months ago, I broke up with my girl­friend of three years. We lived to­gether for three months. She has a daugh­ter who is now four years of age. The daugh­ter doesn’t know her bi­o­log­i­cal father, and has

IN many ways, it isn’t fully your choice about whether to main­tain con­tact or not. I think this is a de­ci­sion you should jointly dis­cuss with her mother. What her mum wants is crit­i­cally im­por­tant.

How­ever, for the pur­poses of this re­sponse to you, I don’t have ac­cess to her mum’s opin­ion. Ev­ery­thing I say here needs to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion with her and her views. In fact, it is in­ter­est­ing that you don’t ref­er­ence her mum’s opin­ion at all. Have you had any con­ver­sa­tions with her about this?

From your own per­spec­tive, I think you need to think not just about the here and now, but about the long-term re­la­tion­ship you might want to have, or be able to have with her. If your re­la­tion­ship with her mum is quite pos­i­tive, de­spite the break-up, then it might be pos­si­ble to con­tinue to be suc­cess­fully in­volved in her daugh­ter’s life.

If things are al­ready strained be­tween you, then it might ac­tu­ally be­come more prob­lem­atic as time passes and so if con­tact dwin­dles be­tween you, then it will prob­a­bly also dwin­dle with her daugh­ter, al­ways called me Papa. We were ex­tremely close as we Skyped reg­u­larly. When we talk now, she is al­ways very ex­cited, but on a few oc­ca­sions when I ini­ti­ated the call, she seemed a lit­tle up­set to be­gin with. Should I keep con­tact, or is it bet­ter to let my­self re­cede, or will she feel that I have aban­doned her? I don’t know what to do. as such a young girl will be quite re­liant on her mum to fa­cil­i­tate tele­phone calls, video chat or ac­tual meet­ings.

You might also want to think about whether you want to be a dad at this stage in your life and whether you are pre­pared to con­tinue that role for all of your life. While your will­ing­ness, or your de­sire, to con­tinue to be in­volved in her life is quite no­ble, you need to con­sider how prac­ti­cal it will be in the years to come.

If you are pre­pared to be­come a sur­ro­gate father for her, then that is a life com­mit­ment, not just a com­mit­ment to be­ing avail­able for a few years.

So, for ex­am­ple, if you start a new re­la­tion­ship and ei­ther that woman also has chil­dren, or you go on to father your own chil­dren, will you still be able, or will­ing to be, as com­mit­ted to this lit­tle girl and her needs, as you might be now?

There is no rea­son that you can’t con­tinue to be a very suc­cess­ful step-dad to this girl, but how will you also ac­com­mo­date any fu­ture men that your ex-part­ner may go out with? What if some­one else also wants to be a step-dad to her? If her mum finds a new part­ner for life, then it is highly likely that he will take over the dad-role that you have taken on to date. Since you are not her bi­o­log­i­cal dad, her mum may not ac­cord you the same sta­tus in terms of try­ing to fa­cil­i­tate con­tin­ued con­tact.

From this lit­tle girl’s per­spec­tive, it is great that she has had a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with a man, even to the point that she was able to see you as her dad. The en­ergy and ap­proach that men can bring to re­la­tion­ships with chil­dren is dif­fer­ent to the one that moth­ers and women can bring. That is why it is typ­i­cally good to have the bal­ance of moth­er­ing and fa­ther­ing for chil­dren.

How­ever, there is lots of re­search ev­i­dence to show that chil­dren can also cope well, and flour­ish, in sin­gle-par­ent house­holds. So, in that re­gard, she doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily need you.

Even if she does miss you a lot, right up to and in­clud­ing feel­ing aban­doned by you, her mum can soothe and help her to reg­u­late those feel­ings. Even if she does feel let down by you, her mum can help her to process all of these kinds of strong feel­ings.

So, when you are dis­cussing all of this with her mum, you need to be clear to dis­tin­guish be­tween what el­e­ments are about meeting your needs and what el­e­ments are about her daugh­ter’s needs.

Some of your al­tru­is­tic ef­forts to stay in touch with this lit­tle girl may in fact be do­ing more for you than for her. While this isn’t a bad thing, it is just im­por­tant to be able to be aware of it in de­cid­ing how to move things for­ward.

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