Five year old favoring dad's GF over me (natural mom)
June 4, 2009 2:09 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with five year old daughter showing preference for dad & dad's girlfriend over me?

Today was my daughter's kindergarten "graduation". After the events were finished and people were basically socializing, it became glaringly obvious that my daughter wanted nothing to do with me. I tried to give her a hug and kiss and she deliberately pulled away from me and ran to stand by my ex-husband and his live in girlfriend. She was holding the gf's hand and hugging them while I stood there and watched. She didn't even give me a glance. It took every ounce of self control to not burst into tears.

My ex-husband and I have been divorced since our daughter was 18 months old. As far as I know, we have a very good relationship. Very rarely do we argue or disagree about things and certainly never in front of our daughter. I like his girlfriend and there have not been any problems that I'm aware of. My ex and I have both joint physical custody and joint legal custody. She splits her time equally between our homes (well, I have her probably 55% of the time and he 45%.... whatever, semantics). When we went through the divorce I agreed to joint physical and joint legal because, well, he is a good father, is very involved with her, and has every right to spend time with her just as I do.

I'm looking for other's words of advice, observations, experience, etc. as to why my daughter acted like this. She's done it a couple of other times but not every time. When she's with me she is very much a "mama's girl" and wants to be with me, doing whatever I'm doing, all of the time.

Is this just a normal variant due to the fact there were a lot of people, maybe she was uncomfortable (she can be shy)? She did stay with her father last night, so maybe it's a transitional issue? Is it just a case of a "kid being a kid"? Am I not giving her enough attention or something?

Should I be concerned about the possibility of them (ex and gf) attempting to alienate her from me? I would hope to god he would have more class than that but on occasion when we have fought he has threatened to take me to court to get full custody of her..... on what grounds I have no idea, considering I don't smoke, drink, have never done drugs, am gainfully employed, nice house, never been in trouble with the police, haven't abandoned her, no abuse, etc. And I'm NOT suggesting that people who smoke, drink, et al are not good parents so please don't infer that. I was simply listing things that I've heard other people try to use as grounds for getting custody. Anyway, another thing that makes me question this possibility is I found out on her school registration form that he filled out, he put himself as the custodial parent and me as the non-custodial parent which isn't factual at all. If I had filled out the form I would've made it glaringly clear that he and I both had physical and legal custody. He also listed his gf's name as the 2nd emergency contact and me 3rd.

Anyway, I know I have NEVER, EVER put her in a position of choosing me over daddy. NEVER. I've never bad mouthed him to her. I've never denied him from seeing her. There isn't any tension between he and I that I'm aware of. I don't trust him 100% but I keep that to myself.

She is my only child and I love her more than words could possibly express. Hopefully you guys can maybe ease my mind because I'm not going to tell my five year old that she hurt my feelings or try to have her explain her behavior because I think she is too young to articulate why she did something, aka "I don't know."

Thanks for any and all advice!
posted by cdg7707 to Human Relations (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I know she's only five, but could you talk to her about it? My parents certainly let me know (in an age-appropriate way) when I hurt their feelings.

Also, maybe you could talk to you ex (in a non-accusatory) way about the situation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:19 PM on June 4, 2009

Seasons come and go. If you let this brew in your mind, then you risk becoming saturated in confirmation bias -- your happy moments together wind up being taken for granted, but any perceived slight will be chalked up to her favoring her father, and having always done so.

Kids are fickle in their affections, and not particularly good at broadcasting their love in terms adults understand. I guarantee you there will be a time someday when your husband feels the way you feel right now.
posted by hermitosis at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2009 [20 favorites]

Ouch. That must have hurt. Please remember that there may be a simple explanation that doesn't involve the adult dynamics at all--and that is that 5-year-olds wax and wane on everything they love, from Popsicles to Mommy. Grape is the flavor for today, but tomorrow? "YUCK! I HATE GRAPE!"

You will have many opportunities to create loving and lasting memories. Look forward to those and let this "I hate grape!" moment go.

She cannot be held responsible for how you feel. Be the adult here and love her even when she hurts your feelings.

(This is coming from someone who was just told by her 5-y.-o. "I love Daddy to the end of the universe! He says yes! You say no, and I will send you to the moon without a spacesuit!")
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2009 [28 favorites]

It's perfectly natural for kids to go through phases where they prefer one parent over the other- and that's in families where the parents are married. I'm sure you will have many occassions of this, simply because the child is shuttling back and forth between households. So it's completely normal. Nothing sinister. Honestly, I think you're overracting and pushing the issue would be a mistake.
posted by Eicats at 2:24 PM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I still feel guilty to this day about screaming and crying for my mother during one of the only times I ever saw my father during my childhood. How must that have made him feel?

The circumstances between my experience and yours are wildly different; I don't know why your daughter did what she did. I just want to say, 5 year olds don't understand how they make people feel with their actions. She's not pulling away from you forever and ever. She's not scared of you, she still likes spending time with you.

I feel much different about my father, and this incident of favoring my mother over him, than I did when I was seven years old. I seriously doubt this is the beginning of your daughter pulling away from you which is going to end with you being completely estranged at age twelve. Your relationship is life long, not based on one afternoon. Though I can see why it hurt you, don't worry about it.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:25 PM on June 4, 2009

Children often don't realize the effects their actions have on others. It seems likely to me that at the moment your daughter prefers your ex-husband. Throughout my own childhood, I know I often had a preference for one parent over the other, and it took me some time to learn that, while it was okay to like one parent more at certain times, it was hurtful to show that preference in public (always choosing to go with dad if I had the option, or saying "I love you" more to mom, etc).

Before you jump to conclusions about your ex's intentions, I think you ought to approach this as a teaching moment for your daughter. You might speak with your ex about it: "Hey, Mr. Ex-cdg, I've noticed that our daughter has started doing the little-girl thing of showing preference for one parent over the other. It's hurting my feelings. Could we both use this as a time to teach her about being nice to others by treating people fairly and not being rude to them?" If she's being taught this by both her parents, she'll know it's okay to feel the way that she does, but that she needs to keep other people's feelings in mind.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:26 PM on June 4, 2009

I know that hurts. If it helps you, I have been the brunt of that behavior from my kids (minus the girlfriend, as we are still married). There have been stages where one of us is blatantly preferred over the other, and hurtful things have come out of little mouths.

I think this has way more to do with her being five and almost nothing to do with you being divorced. Of course, it does add a flavor to your perception of it, but if you can, try not put that spin on it, as it is happening in houses all over the world, whether the parents are married or not.
posted by agentwills at 2:30 PM on June 4, 2009

Five year olds don't always have the social graces of an adult. Maybe in that moment she really did want to be with dad and not you. But kids go through phases of preferring one adult over another.

I wouldn't make a big deal with her about her preference for one parent over another.

I'd just ask her if everything's OK and say how happy you were to see her graduate.
posted by zippy at 2:31 PM on June 4, 2009

This has got to be tough. My daughter is 8, and she has definitely gone through phases of being closer to either my wife or I at certain points in her life. Often, it is whichever one she is seeing less of at the time. Right now, my wife is working crazy hours and I am unemployed, so when Mom is home it is All Mom All The Time.

My advice for you is to talk to your ex (and his girlfriend) about this. Just mention that it's going to be something you will both have to deal with as she gets older, and that you hope that you can count on each other to reinforce your little one's love for all her parents.

Two cautions for you:
1) If your ex and his gf have a child, that little sister is going to be a powerful draw for a pre-teen girl. Start thinking now about how you will deal with that.

2) I don't trust him 100% but I keep that to myself. Be very careful about this. Kids pick up more than you think. My parents never fought and were always mature in their dealings with each other, but my brother and I were both incredibly relieved when they divorced (I was 12, brother was 9). We knew they didn't love each other, and they were not happy. Their divorce was the best thing that happened to us as kids. In addition, they both remarried wonderful people who I love as much as I do my birth parents. I have four parents now, and it's a great thing. I'm sure that wasn't always easy for them to deal with, but I think they have come to terms with it now, some 15-20 years later.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:32 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hi, you're a parent. This means you sometimes have to say no and not be their best friend, while the ex's girlfriend isn't in that position. To a five (or 15 year old) this may mean a lot. This could manifest itself on numerous levels, from you don't have time for her 'cause you just got home from work/school and have to make dinner and you're focused on that, while she just wants you to pay sole attention to her. Meanwhile at dad's there's two adults so could be doing chores, while the other pays attention to her. This may not match your situation exactly but you get the drift?

Also, it's only one instance from your description, so it may mean nothing. Look for patterns not single occurrences. Let it go for now, but keep your eye on things.

he put himself as the custodial parent and me as the non-custodial parent which isn't factual at all. If I had filled out the form I would've made it glaringly clear that he and I both had physical and legal custody. He also listed his gf's name as the 2nd emergency contact and me 3rd.

You need to put an end to thisshit, right now. It's completely unacceptable and you should not only call him on it but correct it. Considering his previous threats, he's clearly leaving himself an out, just in case things ever come to head. Do not let him.

A decent girlfriend of ex would insist on her spending some time with you at the graduation. If she doesn't, I wouldn't necessarily consider her an enemy, but I wouldn't consider her an a complete ally in terms of raising your child, either.

Finally, there's a note of frantic desperation in your post, which hints at your kid being the major and only focus of your life. That may or may not be so, I could be totally off base, I would just caution you on putting your complete identity and happiness in your kid and having these things validated based on whether she's happy with you. Just a thought.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:38 PM on June 4, 2009 [14 favorites]

There's NO WAY she loves the girlfriend more than you. Just putting that out there, because I bet your ego needs to hear it. I'd chalk it up to a weird momentary phase, and try not to think too much of it, although I totally would have felt the same.

Sometimes the parent who has the child more of the time (ie, often the mom) ends up being the "responsible parent" and the less-time parent is the "fun parent", (ie, often the dad). That's not fair, and lard knows the parent who takes the child more of the time deserves to have the kid's excitement and anticipation, about their time together, too.

So take advantage of your times apart to act a bit like a "Sunday father" when you see her again. Make your time together not feel like the default time when it's homework and piano practice, but something really fun and unusual to look forward to. Realize that you deserve to enjoy your daughter, so plan something really fun and make it a day of playing and enjoying each other to bond with her. Maybe pick a special day to celebrate her graduation and hype it up ahead of time so it's anticipated.

The ex and girlfriend are probably doing that already- totally innocently, just trying to get to know the kid, and ease the kid's acceptance of the girlfriend- which is totally appropriate for them to do. But in the meantime, you might turn into the mundane ordinary parent by comparison- not 'cause you're not awesome, and not because they're better- only because they're putting on their best impression for the child. So you might wanna step up the Mommy fun time for a bit as well, to compensate.

Remember: the puppies always prefer the humans who have bacon in their pockets, you know? There is NOTHING wrong with putting aside some time to spoil your kid a little, to remind her that Mama's awesome, too!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:47 PM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Were you standing with your ex and his girlfriend, or were you standing in a different location. It might have been confusing for your daughter, especially if many of the other kids in class were with both sets of parents. She may have chosen the most "normal" option, and, as I said, she may have been confused and slightly upset that you weren't all standing together.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:47 PM on June 4, 2009 [6 favorites]

Yes, my five year old also favours one parent over another depending on his mood/what favours he can wheedle. In fact today we were discussing having to find a permanent home a a kitten we are fostering because Daddy is allergic to cats. His solution? "Let's give Daddy away and keep the kitten." Mind you, I know he loves his Daddy with all his heart. So don't take it personally, believe me, you never hear all the times she has shouted "I don't love you" to her Daddy and his GF.

Yeah, and bring all your legal documents to the school to make sure they change their records to reflect reality. That was a shitty move on his part.
posted by saucysault at 2:51 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should probably bring up the school form thing at some point, and maybe use that as a way to talk about the larger issues. Couch it like "hey I just want to make sure the school has the full picture of the situation in case anything does happen, they know to get in touch with me" etc. etc. You can maybe gauge your ex's reaction to that and see if it reveals anything about his feelings about your custody situation. Your daughter's actions sound like pretty normal little kid stuff, but if he really isn't as cool with your situation as he seems, you should talk about it sooner rather than later. Her actions seems seem like transient kid stuff, but his actions, intentional or not, could have a more long-lasting impact.
posted by MadamM at 2:57 PM on June 4, 2009

Ouch. That had to be miserable.

I am not so much an expert on divorced parents (although mine are) but I know a lot of parent-nanny-kid combos and often the kids are nicer to the nanny than they are to their parents. They know that their parents will always be there for them, so they push boundaries, take them for granted, ignore them.

Maybe she felt very secure in your love and thought it would be OK to ignore you, Mama's always going to be there? Maybe she thinks you are strong but dad needs more help or attention? Maybe dad told her he was going to take her for ice cream? Of course it could be anything.

Do let her know NEXT time she hurts your feelings. Let this one go but in the future let her know when her behavior hurts you (within reason). I am a big believer in being honest with kids when their behavior hurts. That's how they learn how to treat people nicely.

Putting his girlfriend as an emergency contact before you is bullshit. Putting you as the non-custodial parent is bullshit. I don't blame you for being upset and suspicious about that. Any chance there is a pregnancy or upcoming wedding that you don't know about?
posted by kathrineg at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2009

Oh, honey. I hear you. It hurts, I know -- but you CAN'T let yourself take any of that kind of stuff to heart.

The girlfriend might be preferred right now. She may be younger and cooler, she may do a lot of fun things, but primarily -- she is not Mommy. Your daughter doesn't have to court you, she doesn't have to win your love -- you're her Mommy. You're a given. You'll always be there for her, and even as young as she is, she knows it. Meanwhile, the girlfriend is auditioning too, so she probably is -- whether she herself realizes it or not -- trying like hell to woo your daughter. Maybe your ex is even unconciously putting pressure on your daughter to be nice to the girlfriend. What's a little girl to do?

All I can say on that is ride it out.

But as far as the emergency card -- Your daughter gets hurt, god forbid, and the school calls the girlfriend before you? No. That's messed up, and I'd talk to the ex and make sure it gets fixed.
posted by Methylviolet at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

fwiw, for the particular incident you described, my first thought was that maybe she was self-conscious that her parents are divorced, so she went and stood by the couple -- your ex and his gf -- so she'd look like she had a "normal" family. I suggest this because, growing up, my friends with divorced parents seemed to fixate on that, like other people would think something was wrong with them if their parents were divorced. I'm 24 now and attitudes toward being divorced have improved, but with a child that young it might still be something they feel self-conscious about.
posted by Nattie at 3:16 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 34 years old and I remember myself very much having preference for one or the other parent at different times while growing up. It went back and forth, my preference did. Now I know I love them both very much. And so, when my own 5-year old displays such preferences, which he has since he was young, and it's gone back and forth quite often, I just remember myself at these ages. Rarely did I every view my parents as 'equal' while growing up, and I expect the same from my own kids.
posted by u2604ab at 3:19 PM on June 4, 2009

Not sure if someone pointed this out, but- I know sometimes my son has been uncomfortable at school events when he is aware that he is with a single parent and everyone else has a mom and a dad. Your daughter may have been sort of clinging to the two-parents-together ideal so she could feel like everyone else especially if most of her classmates have partnered parents.

You say that you share time nearly 50/50 and you and your ex should be absolutely commended for working well together for the sake of your daughter. Don't worry at all about her switching preferences- they are only momentary and absolutely not global. Enjoy that she is happy! And loves her Dad freely without feeling as if she is betraying you! It's healthy!
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 3:24 PM on June 4, 2009

Your daughter may be in the throes of the Electra Complex.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:35 PM on June 4, 2009

Speaking as a father who is married to my wife and a child the same age - let it go. I have had many moments where my children have pulled away from me to be with a family friend or grandmother. I could easily read into it that they are making some kind of statement or the family friend is poisoning them against me but why would I, I'm not divorced? If I were I most certainly would be having the same feelings that you are having. This is normal behavior for a 5 year old but your extenuating circumstances might be causing you to read too much into it. Be happy your daughter feels that comfortable with your husband's girlfriend. My wife wasn't so lucky with her stepmother and had a rough childhood as a result.
posted by any major dude at 3:39 PM on June 4, 2009

A decent girlfriend of ex would insist on her spending some time with you at the graduation. If she doesn't, I wouldn't necessarily consider her an enemy, but I wouldn't consider her an a complete ally in terms of raising your child, either.

Just chiming in to say, as much as this had to hurt for the OP, I don't think this is true. It was a big moment (Kindergarten graduation) and everyone was likely caught up in the emotions of that milestone. Dad and gf (presumably) love the daughter just as much as the OP and are entitled to want to give their congrats as well, without any sinister agenda.

OP, I might bring it up with Dad & gf (in a non-accusatory, as mentioned above), and let them know that at future events, everyone should either stand together to begin with, or should bring your daughter over so everyone can be together and no one is left on the sidelines waiting their turn. I wouldn't immediately assume the worst of the gf though. She's caught in a horrible middle-man position here, and if you two can be on good terms, it's better for everyone.
posted by messylissa at 4:26 PM on June 4, 2009

Just chiming in to say, as much as this had to hurt for the OP, I don't think this is true. It was a big moment (Kindergarten graduation) and everyone was likely caught up in the emotions of that milestone. Dad and gf (presumably) love the daughter just as much as the OP and are entitled to want to give their congrats as well, without any sinister agenda.

Caught up in the emotions of that milestone? She's graduating kindergarten, not getting an MFA for christ sakes. Hell, all the kid has to do is show up regularly and not be a problem for the teacher and she's golden.

Otherwise, part of being step-parent is never coming between the child and their biological parent, while helping to make sure that relationship stays intact. In this situation the step-parent can certainly bask in the glow and bond with the child, but to not encourage the child to spend time with Mom at this moment hints at selfishness or an agenda.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:37 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

...part of being step-parent is never coming between the child and their biological parent

Agreed, but unfortunately, a lot of stepparents/girlfriends/whatever don't realize this and end up hurting the other parent unintentionally, out of sheer ignorance and not because they want to steal the child's love away. A lot of stepparents think they can intuit their way through and don't really think it through. I'm just saying that open communication between mom and gf will go much further than skepticism and plotting will.

And, wow, a lot of parents get really sentimental about Kindergarten graduations, probably even the OP, given this question. Their baby's all grown up, and all of that.
posted by messylissa at 4:43 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm curious to know how your ex-husband reacted while your daughter was behaving this way.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 5:02 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can chalk this up to normal behavior, most likely. Kids have preferences that shift, sometimes in moments; just a few nights ago our daughter wanted nothing more than her mom to leave her alone, but the moment she left the house to get something from the store, all our daughter wanted was her to come back home.

Having said that, it's also possible that...

1) your daughter ran to her instead of you because she's still trying to win the attention of the girlfriend, while with you she knows she has your love and devotion. Kids often try harder to hold onto a relationship they value but fear is tenuous, and act out against those with whom they have a strong, trusting relationship (ie they can act out without fear of that person leaving.)

2) your daughter and the live-in girlfriend have conversations about school that resonate more with your daughter, or she's been involved with her homework more than her dad (possibly instead of her dad), or she's formed some kind of school-specific connection with the girlfriend that made her want to share it with the girlfriend at that moment. Which is nice, because (as much as having such a relationship can be harmful if the girlfriend leaves) if they stay together, it means she gets three adults she can connect with instead of two.

Having said that, your feelings are normal and natural. I wouldn't worry about it; it's healthy for your kids to form relationships with other people that they value, and it doesn't take away from their love for you. Heck, I performed once at my kids' day care, and more than a year later some kids still run to me for a hug or some silliness before they go to their parent (if we arrive at the same time.)

You're still a great mom, and her relationships/preferences don't change how much she loves you, or how much you deserve to be loved.
posted by davejay at 5:18 PM on June 4, 2009

This isn't something that you deal with. It's something that just is sometimes. The factor that complicates it for you is your divorce.

The important thing is to realize that this is a normal part of 5 year old behavior and not personal rejection (even though it feels that way - I know). 5 year olds do this kind of thing all the time and it swaps from one parent to another to the parent of a friend and back to you. So, you don't really deal with it, you just accept that that is the way things are at the moment and remember how much you love your daughter. Make sure that she knows you love her and that you are proud of her. Eventually, she'll come around.

What you don't want to do is 1) get angry or defensive with your daughter or 2) try to bribe your way back into her favor. Kids are generally doing one of three things when they act like this. They might be testing you to see if you still love them when they act badly. That's why you don't get angry or defensive. They might be trying to find out if they can get something extra if they withhold their affection (5 year olds are cleverer than you might think - there might be an ice cream cone in this for her). That's why you don't want to bribe her. Finally, sometimes it's not an intentional slight, but just a tactless kid. Maybe dad and gf bought her a new toy yesterday so she feels especially enamored of them right now.

In the meantime, you can talk to your ex and his gf and, very gently and without a trace of accusation, let them know that your daughter is going through this right now. Let them know that since you can all agree about how important it is for a mother and daughter to have a good relationship, you'd appreciate their support as you and your daughter work on maintaining a great relationship. End by telling them that because all the parents working together as a team is important you want them know that you would like them to feel comfortable coming to you whenever they might want discuss parenting decisions or want your help supporting those decisions. Let them know that you're glad you can rely on them.

Good luck!
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 5:30 PM on June 4, 2009

It is a teaching moment, and your daughter is not too young to understand. Just as you should correct bad table manners, you should correct the lack of manners she displayed. People who make an effort to show up for an event should be graciously thanked, not dissed.
posted by francesca too at 5:41 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm just saying that open communication between mom and gf will go much further than skepticism and plotting will.

Yeah no, not when dad is threatening about custody and purposefully putting Mom outta loop, re: the school example.

And, wow, a lot of parents get really sentimental about Kindergarten graduations, probably even the OP, given this question. Their baby's all grown up, and all of that.

If they think their baby is all grown after a kindergarten graduation, they're in for a few surprises.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:44 PM on June 4, 2009

When I was in my early teens, I completely preferred my dad and his gf over my mom. They did not try to dissuade me, and in fact did and said things to try to alienate my mom from me. So, to answer one of your questions, yes it is possible that they are actively fomenting alienation.

But it was a phase for me, and it probably is for your daughter as well. Continue to be a good parent, and eventually she will come back to normal (or even prefer you for a while).

I can't imagine how hard it is for you -- best of luck.
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:56 PM on June 4, 2009

I'm sorry. I know how much that hurts.

My ex husband and I separated when my daughter was seven and I vividly remember an occasion where she asked for a little notebook that caught her eye. This was a dozen years ago and I still remember the notebook was a Lisa Frank product with a unicorn on the cover. Newly single, I wound up saying no to my daughter because it wasn't in the budget. Dad's girlfriend bought the notebook and my daughter's affection.

Are they trying to alienate your daughter? Probably not. The girlfriend may be acting self-servingly in order to be accepted by your daughter. The display at graduation could be a reflection of transition (as you mentioned) or could just be a fickle kid moment. Were there graduation gifts? Were they making a particular fuss over her?

The custody issue needs to be discussed when it comes up. Is this a random threat? Is it recent? It sounds like something someone would say in the middle of an argument, and not when everyone is getting along as you've said is the norm. Please make sure that the school office understands that you have joint custody. I would tell the ex that "the office had the wrong information and I've asked them to correct their records," just in case they approach him for confirmation. This way he knows that you know without your needing to accuse him of any bad faith.

The only other thing I want to say is that your daughter absolutely loves you more than you'll ever know. Please steel yourself for all sorts of outbursts and hurtful displays because you have a long road ahead of you and it can get particularly difficult during the teenage years. If you allow yourself to be swayed emotionally by the drift of her affections, you'll make decisions that aren't in anyone's best interests. You don't have to do or buy anything to be number one on her list. You're already there, whether she's showing it today or not.

Best of luck.
posted by contrariwise at 6:05 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I get that parents' feelings about their children are really strong. But part of what you seem to be asking here is what thought process or judgment behind the scenes was going through the head of someone who was quite recently using her own poop as a toy.

And as others have noted, there isn't any judgment of you as a parent or weighing how much she loves you and her father or anything else. She's a little kid, driven by powerful, immediate urges that aren't well inhibited yet, and deeply living in the moment. Really, unless your child is literally freakishly precocious, she just doesn't have very much in the way of considered, stable judgments to offer anyone. Heck, I would bet a lunch that if your daughter is normal, it is probably physiologically impossible for her to have the sort of real judgment against you that you seem to be worrying about.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:35 PM on June 4, 2009

Caught up in the emotions of that milestone? She's graduating kindergarten, not getting an MFA for christ sakes. Hell, all the kid has to do is show up regularly and not be a problem for the teacher and she's golden.

Try on some different shoes, there. As a parent who's sat through her daughter's kindergarten graduation and her own MFA graduation? There was a hell of a lot more emotion at the former, for everyone involved.

I'll concur with those who say that small kids do strange things at one-off events with large crowds, and that's all that happened. As for the paperwork, that was likely filled out almost a year ago. Avoid the temptation to give it any weightier of a connection, but definitely make sure it's filled out properly for next year.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:13 PM on June 4, 2009

One explanation I can't see from skimming the thread so far is that she was actually angry with you, for not being there during her time with the father. This is a common thing with kids, surely?

The first time our son spent a day at day-care, when he came home he shunned his mother, which of course was very hurtful, but I saw it as his anger at her for "abandoning" him, not preferring the day-care staff to her.

I hope you can see it that way, which in fact makes it the opposite of your interpretation. Your daughter was expressing anger precisely because she does prefer you, and feels hurt that you left her with her father and the girlfriend overnight.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:10 PM on June 4, 2009

What AmbroseChapel said. My niece (raised by my parents) was very affectionate toward me for many years, until she felt the need (at 19, emotional maturity closer to 13) to move in with her birth mother. For about two months she radiated utter hostility, but has now come back around and gives and accepts hugs (though still a bit standoffish). She had also always had difficult adjustments after visiting mom in the past, creating emotional havoc for about a day after each one. It really wasn't anything rationally motivated and we just grew to accept these phases and let them pass.
posted by dhartung at 9:58 PM on June 4, 2009

She knows that your love and affection are bulletproof. The GF may need more wooing. She may feel threatened by GF, and sticking close to guard her Daddy. She was impolite not to greet you. Address it in those terms.

I'm divorced, shared custody, etc. I had many moments exactly like this. But my child has always come back around, and always tells me how much he loves me. There have been stretches of time when he had a clear preference for his Dad, but if you wait patiently, your child will have periods of preferring you. In my case, because his Dad left, I know he feels he has to work a bit harder to keep his Dad close. Yes, he takes my love for granted, but I think a Mom's love is something a child should be able to take for granted, at least some of the time. Not in a martyr way, but in the "I'm always here for you" way.

It really, really sucks to have those moments. Sounds like you handled it really well. By sharing parenting, you are giving your child a great gift.
posted by theora55 at 7:46 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm really sorry you had to go through that. I would suggest telling her, gently, that it made you sad that she didn't want to be around you. She's NOT too young to be taught that her actions may affect other people.

A lot of people have already addressed the specific issue of your daughters' behaviour, but I wanted to re-emphasize Brandon Blatcher's point that the crap about naming you as the non-custodial parent needs to stop, NOW. Furthermore, he needs stop threatening to take you to court to get full custody, and he needs to stop prioritizing his girlfriend over you when it comes to your daughter's well-being. All of the above is really, really immature and sounds a lot like he's trying to shut you out. Even if it's just a misunderstanding, you two need to have a talk about being on the same page as far as parenting goes.

It's extremely important that divorced parents be on the same page about the child. Children aren't stupid. They're going to pick up on the mood and the atmosphere and realize something isn't right between mommy and daddy, and it will be really confusing and scary for them. Neither of the parents have any right to pit the child in the middle of whatever passive-aggressive hostility is going on between them.

Please have a talk with your husband about this.
posted by Phire at 8:09 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a single parent, I'll nth the reality that kids easily move back and forth between "favorite" parents in rash and obnoxious ways and we just have to use the grace of our age to accept that sometimes we'll be the "bad parent". Don't worry about your daughter's behavior - totally normal and okay.

I live in a very similar situation as you - a young daughter, joint custody, more or less good relationship with the ex. No live-in SOs so that's not an issue, but I think any of us lucky enough to have an amicable co-parenting relationship need to protect it at all cost - its uncommon and fragile and always changing.

It sounds like you have an okay relationship, but I also think you should schedule a block of time, alone, to sit down with your ex and hash out some of these concerns. The examples you list are potentially troubling: the custodial thing, the emergency contact, and honestly, he should be aware enough to not let the circumstances emerge as they did at the Kindergarten event. Whenever my daughter gets too clingy to me or says something negative about my ex, I am very direct and supportive of her mother, no excuses allowed.

None of that stuff is acceptable. You NEED to talk to him about it. I think its very possible he is just being oblivious (he didn't think about the custodial form, the emergency contact was "easier" to fill out with a number he had memorized) but he needs to pay attention to it. I bet its not particularly nefarious, but if it is you need to know that, too. Please have a full-on mindful conversation with him as soon as possible.
posted by RajahKing at 9:56 AM on June 5, 2009

But as far as the emergency card -- Your daughter gets hurt, god forbid, and the school calls the girlfriend before you? No. That's messed up, and I'd talk to the ex and make sure it gets fixed.

No, go to the school and fix this. Take legal documents just in case, but the school is likely to be on your side on this. Then talk to him about it. "Don't you ever do this again, or I'm contacting my attorney." This is one of those boundary issues.

It is like disciplining your kids. I'm a pretty lenient father (their mother thinks too lenient), but the kids know that it all changes when they cross certain boundaries (you know, stuff like hitting their brother). Then it's off to their room room without toys and a stern talking when the timeout is done.

Like kids, he's testing your boundaries. You need to take action and be very clear. Maybe even call your attorney and have him/her contact his. Again, all this before talking to him. He already knows he did something wrong. He needs to understand that their are guaranteed consequences so he won't try stuff like this again, which he inevitably will otherwise.
posted by eye of newt at 6:34 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

room room?
posted by eye of newt at 6:36 PM on June 6, 2009

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