Psychologist Dr. Karen Caraballo – "I’m Upset That My Daughter Is Calling Her Father’s Fiancé ‘Mami’"

QUESTION: I have a 2-year-old-daughter. Her father and I have been separated for almost 2 years. He has a girlfriend that he has been living with during this time period. Well, recently my daughter came to me saying that her father’s girlfriend was her “Mami”, something she never did before. I went to her father and asked him why she is calling his girlfriend this. He said that since they’re engaged, they have been telling her to call her Mami. This got me very mad and upset. Am I in the wrong here or is he and his girlfriend wrong?

DR. CARABALLO’S ADVICE: Let me begin by saying that you are completely entitled to feel angry and frustrated. I do not know how the relationship with the father of your child is, nor why the relationship ended. However, ending a relationship is always somehow difficult and more so if there is a child involved.

Before you have a conversation with your child’s father you should ask yourself the following questions:

-Do you feel threatened by the new relationship he’s involved in?

-Are you resentful at him? Are you bitter at the break up?

-Do you usually feel left out when it comes to decisions related to your child?

-Are you afraid that your daughter will be confused?

-Do you feel insecure of the possible bond that your daughter may develop with her father’s fiance?

-Is this woman kind to your child? Does she treat her with love and respect?

-Are you confident of your bond with your child? If you are not, what might be missing? What can you do to strengthen that bond?

-Have you found peace, acceptance and forgiveness in your heart with the separation?

-Are you ready to set hurt and anger aside for your daughter’s best interest?

The answers to these questions might help you to clarify your feelings. You will need that clarity to speak openly and frankly. Once you are ready, share your concerns with the father to hear his position on the matter. Try to listen to him and do not overreact.

Establish a clear boundary and communicate that he needed to discuss that decision with you. Remind him that as the mother of his daughter you would like to be involved in any decision that has an impact on your child’s development. Before you talk, you should be clear about what those decisions are, for example: values, education, medical needs and general rules. Additionally, clarify that although you are not a couple you still should be a team because you are lifelong co-parents. It might be helpful to think that a healthy communication with your ex is for your child’s well-being.

Do not let this situation interfere with your relationship with your daughter. You are her mami and I am sure she loves you very much. Do not inflict guilt on your child. This is only going hurt your daughter. If you show your frustration, it’s probably only going to make you feel worse.

In reality, you are the adults and it is your responsibility to create clear boundaries for your child. She is too young to know the difference. In cases where children are very young, it is not uncommon for them to call her step mom “mom” or some variation of that name.

I hope both of you can meet halfway.

Good luck!

Karen Caraballo, Psy. D, ABSNP


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