Q: My partner and I have been together for three years. During that time he was estranged from his now 5-year-old daughter. The parents of this child have recently reached an agreement on visitation and custody, but I'm 36 weeks pregnant and the father is afraid to tell the mother for fear she will stop the visitation. They have agreed to introduce Dad slowly, with a day visit every other weekend. She has had two visits. My concern is that she is just getting acquainted with Dad again and there will be a new child, plus Mom may not be supportive.
A: Here are the red flags I see: First, Dad is "afraid." Starting from a place of fear establishes negative interaction right from the beginning. Better to be honest and straightforward, using the welfare of the child as the criteria for all decisions. The truth is, he has a partner who is pregnant. His 5-year-old will interact with that partner. Rather than keep you a secret, I weigh in on the side of introducing you to Mom. After all, you will be interacting with this child and have a huge influence on her.
Second, your child: This is a reality. If Dad is trying to "normalize" his relationship with his daughter, why not act "normal"? One-on-one time with Dad is important, but you have to get to know her, as well. Dad's child is not "just visiting," nor is the unborn child — they will be siblings, which brings us to the third red flag, the visitation schedule.
I understand why the parents want to go slow with the unification process, but young children do not perceive time as we adults do. It's difficult for a young child to build a bond with two-week breaks between visits. Rather than visit every other weekend for a day, courts usually look to "frequent and constant contact" with both parents, especially when reuniting a parent. I would suggest a plan that incorporates more frequent short weekday visits for the child to get to know Dad, perhaps two or three hours in duration, slowly extending the alternating Saturday visits to all day, then to overnight on Sunday, and once the child gets used to the overnight, extend the alternating weekend from Friday to Sunday.
Finally, to protect everyone concerned, my suggestion is to get a court order validating any agreed-upon visitation schedule, and for Mom and Dad to take a co-parenting class. If these parents are going to share this child's time, they have to learn to work together in her best interest.