Honesty vs. discretion about an ex
Dear Amy: I have a 4-year-old daughter. Her father and I separated when she was a baby. We share custody.
He has a long history of being hostile to me, including threats and insulting emails/texts, yelling for hours over actions I never did, not helping with chores or bills, etc. Things between us have only moderately improved in the past four months.
I acknowledge that while he can be a jerk to me, he is caring and affectionate with our daughter.
When he comes over to pick her up, he waits outside.
Last week she asked, “Why doesn’t he come inside?”
I provided a one-sentence factual answer with age-appropriate vocabulary: “Because he was mean to me and the cat.”
I have never given her details of the hurtful words and actions I endured. Later, she repeated the phrase to him, and he sent me texts/ emails demanding answers.
I want them to have a healthy parent-child relationship, and I do not want to cause drama or problems for her. Typically, I do not talk about her father in front of her. But as she ages, how do I answer her questions about him or our past?
While I am willing to keep the past in the past, I do not want to lie or pretend these hardships never existed. Wondering Mom
Wondering Mom: You might have used age-appropriate language and concepts with your 4-year-old, but you also burdened her with knowledge she doesn’t have the maturity or context to handle.
You also called her father a “mean” man and then sent her out into the world to be with him! How confusing for her. And — with your one sentence — you put her in the middle of your drama.
Children your daughter’s age are just starting to understand the concept of friendships, so you could frame your situation in those terms. You could say, “Daddy and I are trying to be better friends, but for now I just want to wave to him when I say goodbye to you. The most important thing is that we are both cuckoo-bananas about you, and I’m really happy that he is such a good daddy.”
There is never a need for you to tell your daughter that her father is a mean jerk. Unless he presents a danger to her, this is one case where you should not be completely factual and truthful to allow your daughter to form her own relationship with him. If that feels like lying to you, then I give you permission to lie your head off. In time, she may ask more pointed questions, and — no matter how old she is — you should be circumspect in your answers.
Dear Amy: “Forgotten on the Fourth Floor” was upset that no hospital co-workers visited her after knee-replacement surgery.
I’ve worked in hospitals for 30 years. There are real concerns regarding patient privacy.
My rule of thumb is, if I am close enough with the co-worker that I would drive across town to visit them in the hospital, then I will go to see them in this hospital. Otherwise, I stay away and send a card.
Experienced: Thank you.
Amy’s column appears seven days a week at washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency, 16650 Westgrove Dr., Suite 175, Addison, Tex. 75001. You can also follow her @askingamy.