Young daughter misses dad's ex-girlfriend

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Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: I'm a 26-year-old single father with a daughter who is 5. My ex and I split when our daughter was an infant. I had a girlfriend "Debbie" for three years. We lived together and shared custody of the child. She was a crucial part of my daughter's life from ages 1 to 4. Debbie and I have been apart for 16 months but have stayed in touch. My daughter will talk about Debbie as if they just hung out the other week. After 16 months of zero contact, she still asks when she is going to see Debbie. When I told Debbie, she brought up the idea of public visits with me and my daughter with the hopes of the two of them becoming buddies down the road. The child's mother thinks our daughter will one day forget Debbie, and seeing her would tease the child about the possibility of Debbie and me getting back together. I don't want to toy with my child's emotions; Debbie and I know we're done for good.--J

DEAR J: You cannot make someone "disappear" from your daughter's mind and heart simply by removing contact. Every adult in her life is vital to this child's development and she is proving this by keeping "Debbie" present, even if the two never see each other.

Because Debbie seems to have been a loving and involved co-parent and a benign force in your daughter's life, you should promote them spending time together (along with you) occasionally.

Your ex is mistaken: Your daughter will not forget Debbie, even if her memories of their time together change or fade. Seeing Debbie will replace the buildup in your daughter's imagination with real-world experiences and a more balanced attachment.

Seeing you and Debbie peacefully go from being partners to friends will demonstrate to her that people don't just disappear from a person's life when they move out and move on. What a wonderful lesson for her.