I have been divorced just over a year and have a little girl, who is 4 1/2.
Her father has moved halfway across the country for his job and she has adjusted to his absence about as well as can be expected. I have tried to create a "family" for the two of us and do my best to encourage her relationship with her father. Overall, she is secure, plays independently most of the time and is comfortable around other children.
My problem is that I recently have become involved with a man who has been a family friend for the past three to four years. Now that he spends more time at our house, my daughter is exhibiting symptoms of what I assume is jealousy. She repeatedly places herself between us, or tries to dominate either him or me.
I know that she is probably just trying to figure out where we all fit in this new arrangement, but meanwhile, it's bringing about a lot of "baby behavior" and the independent play all but disappears when my friend is around the house.
How can I cope with this behavior without making her feel unwanted or replaced?
Yes, you probably are dealing with jealousy.
Some of that is inevitable when a single parent gets interested in someone her own age, especially when the parent and child have operated as a team as well as a family.
Although your daughter may be upset by losing some prime-time attention from you, this probably isn't the main cause of her jealousy.
The posturing that you see, and the insinuating of herself between you and your friend, sounds like your little Electra has fallen in love.
If that's the case, she's just doing what most 4-year-olds do: Girls between 3 and 5 traditionally fall in love with their dads, (and boys with their moms.
Since your daughter's father is seldom around, however, she has latched onto the next best man in her life, the one she has always adored.
Even though this makes your daughter competitive with you, she still needs to imitate you.
Despite the most gender-free upbringing, a little girl tries to behave like her mom while a boy tries to walk and talk like his dad.
Your daughter probably will get over her romance in a few months, particularly if you and your friend try to be more understanding of her and if you tell her that she'll grow up to have a special friend just as nice as yours. This defines the situation, yet still respects her feelings. Falling in love can be quite overwhelming, at any age.
She also needs for you to be more reticent when he first arrives and for him to give her extra attention. He might take her for a walk -- just the two of them -- or read to her or tuck her in at night.
You can improve your own time with your daughter by letting her make cookies for him, or a stew for supper, before he gets there. Although you'll gather the materials, measure the ingredients and turn on the stove, she puts everything together, serves it and gets the compliments from him. By letting her make him the focus of her attention in a positive way, she won't have to flirt and act babyish to be noticed.
If she has a chance to shine for him at the beginning of his visits, you then can demand -- and get -- the private time you need together.
You and your friend also will help your daughter get over her jealousy if you give her extra attention when she's being her old self and take her out for a fancy brunch when she has been better for a while, or give her a toy or a book she didn't expect. By giving the present together, you subtly let her know that you and your friend are a twosome, just as much as you and your daughter; she and your friend, and, as distant as he is, she and her dad. Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.