(The Root) —
"My 6-year-old told her father that my boyfriend stayed over the last two nights. I told her not to talk about what goes on in my house with her father, especially since my boyfriend and her dad don't get along, to the point that they don't speak. I also discovered that her father has been bribing her to get information about me and my boyfriend. What do I do?" —J.E.
Your daughter isn't the problem here, but your unrealistic expectations of her are part of it. She's 6, and she's doing what children her age do: Observe and talk about it. A young child should not be responsible for guarding her mother's secrets.
No matter how you may feel about your ex, he's an active participant in your child's life, and you should encourage your daughter to have an open and honest relationship with him. By asking her to keep secrets from her father, you are implying that he is somehow outside of the family circle of trust. She may not live in the home with him or see him on a day-to-day basis, but she should be comfortable speaking with him about whatever she wants, including your business. It's selfish to erode the relationship between them to serve your own best interest.
To makes things clear, your ex is also wrong. He should know better than to use his daughter as a pawn to get intel on you and your boyfriend. Even if it doesn't take much to get good information from most 6-year-olds, bribing her and turning her into a spy is manipulative.
The quick fix here is to make sure your daughter has no grown folks' business to tell your ex. And you can only make sure of that by keeping your daughter in the dark about the juicy details of what you're up to. Have your guy spend the night when your daughter is visiting her father or other times when she is out of the house.
If those occurrences happen too few and far between for your desires, you can invite your partner over after your baby girl has gone to bed and send him home in the early morning before your daughter wakes. That's not so convenient, or romantic, but it does address the surface issue.
Since this situation has already devolved to the point that the guys don't speak, it's in your best interest to get a therapist or professional mediator involved and wrangle the men for a sit-down. A neutral professional will make sure the guys can hash out their conflict, and you and your ex can get to the root of this bribery business in a solutions-oriented environment.
If cost or phobia of professional help is an issue, this situation may be harder to sort out, but it's not impossible. Since you may have the most leverage with your boyfriend, start by explaining to him that his conflict with your ex is affecting your daughter, and you need him to (at least try to) work out his differences with her father. They don't have to become besties, but if they can get to being cordial, that could be a big help in defusing this situation.
Calmly ask your ex about what your daughter told you about the bribes. Ask him what it will take for him to knock it off, and see if you can get to the underlying issue of why he wants to be all up in your business.
Of course, the go-to assumption is that he's jealous of your new relationship or bitter about the split and wants to make your life hell. But he could also just be skeptical of the new man in your life with whom he doesn't get along, and that same man is spending more time with his daughter than he does. Another person having more access to your child than you do is a hard pill for most parents to swallow.
Because your ex is at the point where he's bribing the child you share, I actually don't expect this conversation to go all that smoothly. I encourage you to focus on problem solving instead of a power struggle, just as the therapist or mediator would. It's not about being right or wrong; it's about having peace and getting your ex out of your business.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at email@example.com.