L., This sort of thing has happened with my daughter and grandaughter who is now 6. My daugter has been dating the same man for about 3 years. Their relationship has gone slowly and it was several months before he stayed overnight. From the beginning Destini has told her daughter that he is a friend and even tho they have discussed marriage they have not included her in the idea that that is a possibility because at this point it is only a possibility. When Monet makes statements or asks questions, my daughter answers keeping in mind Monet's age and ability to understand. And she tells her it's OK to wish for something but that doesn't make it so.
Monet, sometimes cries because she doesn't have a daddy that she can see. (Her brother's father has him overnight 2 nights a week but only includes Monet in a small way. At the time of the divorce he insisted, even to Monet, that he was no longer her daddy.) When she cries I hold her and am sympathetic, acknowledging her feelings and allowing her to express them. After awhile I introduce a diversion such as putting in a movie or picking up a book or toy and Monet is OK. Sometimes we talk about her Daddy. The focus is on her, her feelings, who her Daddy is, and the fact that he lives far away. I never say anything negative about her daddy. I try to be neutral. I acknowledge how she feels but never suggest how her father might feel except that he loves her. I think that he does. I think he doesn't know how to show his love but I don't say that at this age.
These feelings are painful for all of us but I think it's important to acknowledge them when they come up and to allow them to be expressed. I also think it's important to emphasize that you and your boyfriend are friends. And since your daughter's father is sometimes around to talk about how he is her father. Say that it would be great if you had a new family but we're not that family now. Not even suggest that as a possibility until you know for sure that it is. It's important to clarify the facts some of the time but it's helpful if the focus is on how we're feeling and what do we do with those feelings. For example: sometimes we cry, sometimes we distract ourselves but we always admit, perhaps only to ourselves, how we feel and what we'd like but can't have right now.
My granddaughter wants to have a family like "everyone else." Reality is that a large number of kids do not have that family. As a single parent, I adopted my daughter when she was 6 and so I emphasized the different kinds of families with her and she and I have continued that emphasis with my granddaugter. I think that helps.
Both my daughter and I have been concerned about the effect on Monet of her boyfriend sleeping in the same bed. I've been concerned that she will think it's OK to sleep with anyone that she's dating. Over time we have become more comfortable with the idea that we'll have to deal with that issue when Monet brings it up. In my day, one did not sleep with someone without being married but once I decided to sleep with a man before I married him I realized that doing so without marriage is more of the norm now. Monet will be faced with that complicated issue from different directions. I will give her information based on her age and what she's able to understand. At 6, where one sleeps and it's implication is of no importance to her.
As to becoming too attached too quickly you cannot prevent that once he's in your lives. It is good that you've waited to introduce him to her. You can perhaps moderate her attachment by reminding her that he is not her daddy from time to time and to not let her call him daddy. Be casual. Emphasize friendship and what that involves. Talk about friends in contexts other than hers and your relationship with him.
She will become too attached because she misses having a daddy and because she's young and doesn't understand all the implications of attachment. She can't protect herself. You can't prevent the pain that she'll feel if your boyfriend leaves your lives. You can try to make the possibility of pain be less by being open to discussing realities and feelings.
Recently I've been trying to think of ways to get more loving relationships into my granddaughter's life so that she isn't as focused on what she doesn't have. I'm wanting broaden her awareness of different kinds of love and giving her opportunities to feel more love. She's going to stay overnight with one of my married cousins from time to time. I've asked my daugter's father to take her on outings but he's chosen not to do that. My grandson's grandparents are going to have her visit without her brother from time to time.
Here is another approach. My boyfriend at the time I adopted Destini became her pops. He called her his kid. We didn't stay together but he is still her dad and she is his kid in many ways. This was easy because my daughter does not know her birth father and I didn't date after breaking up with her father substitue and we were able to eventually build a friendship.
Perhaps you could give your boyfriend a sort of name like pops and she could be his favorite kid, still acknowleding that she has a birth father. Perhaps she could call him a special name that's not even related to being a father. They are developing a special relationship and perhaps she's wanting a way to verbally acknowledge that.
I hope that this helps. M.
Later. I've just read the new responses and I agree that if you're as certain as you can reasonably be that you're going to marry that it is OK for her to call him daddy. You do have to trust your gut feeling about that.
She would then have 2 daddies. The way that I handled having 2 of someone in the relationship is to have Daddy (his name) and Daddy (his name). Usually the only time we use the first name is when there is the possibility of confusion over who we're talking about.
And I definately agree that you cannot go back and start over by cancelling your trip or reducing time together with your daughter once she has come to expect that. It's important to protect her from as much loss as possible as well as to help her deal with loss when it happens.
And I would add that if you're uncomfortable with your daughter's response or you feel especially anxious about how to handle this, that professional counseling, even just a session or two, would be helpful.