DEAR AMY: My boyfriend and I have been dating for 3 1/2 years. When he was 20, his casual girlfriend became pregnant and had a baby. His daughter is now 7, but the child's mother is controlling and wouldn't let my boyfriend see his daughter alone. Two years ago (after spending thousands in court fees) my boyfriend was finally able to take his daughter every other weekend without the mother. Obviously, things were difficult at the start but she has adjusted well. The problem right now is that she cries for her mom when my boyfriend picks her up on Fridays and sometimes she'll cry all night. For the next two days she seems fine. We used to let her call her mom but stopped that when the phone calls became 20 minutes long. We've sympathized with her, comforted her and tried to distract her, but nothing seems to work. We don't know what to do. I know she is exhausted with the new school year starting, so we try to put her to bed early, but do you have any advice on what to do to help her get through this?
-- Puzzled and Frustrated
DEAR PUZZLED: My heart aches for this girl. Even the most well-adjusted child would have a hard time switching homes under a court order to spend weekends with a parent -- and partner -- she is still getting to know. She should be allowed to call her mother if she asks to. She should talk to her mother for as long as she needs to -- 20 minutes is very reasonable.
Develop rituals she can look forward to: "Tomorrow morning we need your help making pancakes." If you are pet people, she might enjoy having a cat she can talk to, take care of and pet when she is feeling lonely.
Your boyfriend (and you) should attend parenting classes. You should also seek professional mediation with the child's mother in order to work out visitation terms and reasonable contact when she is with you.
Please -- try to see the world through this child's eyes.
Be very gentle, comforting, sympathetic and understanding.