Child Caring

Dad has unrealistic expectations about a toddler's visit

[This letter has been edited. Ed.]
Dear Barbara,
I wanted your advice in a situation I'm in. I have a two and a half year old daughter, [and I've] been separated for approximately a year and a half. Every other month, her dad makes contact to see how she's doing. He lives in California, I live in NC. Recently we argued because he wants me to send her there so she can spend a few months with him. I'm in no way against them spending time together but I am against sending her across the country to someone she barely even knows....Am I being overprotective? What do you suggest I do? Another thing, I recently married and my daughter calls my husband dad....They have a nice relationship but I don't want her to grow up thinking that's her real dad even if she does love him. When is the right age to explain that to her?

From: Maria, Concord, NC

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Hi Maria,

Two questions, two answers.

1. Over-protective? No, her dad is unrealistic. She's too young to travel alone. (Does he really mean he wants you to "send" her there? By herself? Does he have any idea of what taking care of a toddler even means?) The only way I can even contemplate travel for a young child is if you go with her. Is that an option? That you would travel with her, stay nearby so he can visit with her and, perhaps, gradually spend time alone with her? What makes more sense is for him to come to NC periodically, stay in a hotel/friends, and spend time getting to know her. Because you're also right that she's too young to be away from you, her primary care-giver, with someone she does not know.

2. Start talking now about how she has two dads: the dad who lives with her, and her birth dad. Show her pictures of the birth dad (get some if you don't have them) so his face can become familiar. Start doing this now so all three of you get used to talking about the birth dad and so his presence doesn't come as a shock years down the road. Have her send photos to him for his bday, or holidays, arrange to have video calls or find ways for him to be at least some kind of presence in her life. It sounds like he would be open to this kind of participation which is a beginning, a way to pave the road for a relationship that could lead to visits in the future.