I have been dating a woman for four months now, and things are going pretty well except that she shows no interest whatsoever in my kids. I am the devoted dad of two wonderful boys who live with me 50% of the time. Whenever I mention them, she changes the subject, and she has never once asked me a question about them. Do you think there’s any future for this relationship?
A better question might be: do you think there’s any future for this relationship? Even though you say you’ve been dating for four months, I don’t get the sense of how forthcoming you have been with your interest and attention toward this woman. If the dating has been casual — e.g., once or twice a month with little regularity or attention — she may be uncertain about the future of the relationship and hesitant to invest her heart in your family. Even if the dating has been regular, without some clear expression of your interest, it may still be premature for her to feel comfortable assuming any role that assumes a future commitment. When children are involved in a relationship, it is wise to move slowly.
Stepfamilies can work beautifully with the parents and stepparents playing a variety of roles. If the boys have two very involved parents, a new partner of yours would do well to move slowly into any type of role in their lives. However, if at some point it becomes very clear that she is not interested in at least knowing your children, this does not bode well for the relationship. So it’s vital that you get clarity about this before you move toward any form of commitment. You might throw out a future possibility to test her interest, such as: “At some point down the line, would you like to meet the boys?” Or, “I was thinking it would be fun for the four of us to take in a movie.” Make sure that you plan a lighthearted event that’s fun for the boys for your first encounter. If she says no, this is the time to ask: “Do you ever see meeting them as a possibility?” If her answer is no, cut your losses and move on.
My ex-husband and I have decided to stay in the family house with our kids until the youngest is 10 — which means another two years. I want to do what’s best for my children, but I also want to move ahead with my life. My ex and I don’t get on very well, so we try to avoid each other as much as possible. Are we doing the right thing for our kids, or would it be better in the long run for us to make a clean break now?
Let me first tell you what research says in answer to your question. Overwhelming evidence shows that the best environment for children is living with both parents. The only occasion where divorce makes children better adjusted is when there is violence and/or overt fighting on a continual basis. Of course, the ideal situation would be for the children to be living with two parents who get along and want to be together; however, when that’s not possible, the next-best scenario is for the children to have unlimited access to both parents. This may or may not mean living in the same house.
Regarding whether you should split now or wait two years, the truth is that divorce is tough on kids at any age. Even when they’re grown it isn’t a cakewalk. However, waiting two years might bring you unexpected advantages. A lot can happen in this period of time — especially when two people get along as well as you and your ex have thus far.
One point to consider as long as you and your ex are living together is that the children will think of you as a couple. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it may cause problems if one or both of you starts dating. This can be a tough transition — especially if one of you is dating and the other isn’t. But, given that you and your ex have managed to navigate the first stage of your divorce more amicably than many people, chances are you’ll handle this well too.
I do commend you for putting the children first in your decision-making. It’s a common misconception to believe that children have a big investment in their parents being happy; the reality is children want their parents together more than they want them to be happy. It’s a child’s job to look after his/her own happiness until they reach a more mature age.
I’m engaged to a great single mom with a 13-year-old daughter, “Kim”. Kim and I get on very well, but recently, I’ve been a bit troubled by her behavior. She seems to be competing with her mother for my attention. When we’re watching TV, for instance, she will squeeze in between her mom and me, or she will sit down on my lap and throw her arms around me. I don’t want to discourage her from being affectionate, but I think this is very inappropriate. I’m not sure Kim understands what she’s doing, and I don’t know how to talk to her about it. What should I do?
A stepfamily comes with its own set of challenges as well as blessings. You didn’t mention how long your fiancee has been a single mom, but one of the temptations of a single-parent family is for the child to take on adult status. Since there are added responsibilities, the child’s inclination is to expect more privileges — more like those of a grown-up. Just the fact that Kim interrupts you and her mom while sitting on the couch indicates that she is in need of some correction. Interrupting is rude and disrespectful. When Kim does disrupt in this way, ideally her mother would say, “Sweetheart, it’s impolite to interrupt. Come sit here and let the two of us sit like we were.” The problem with you making this statement (although it’s better than no one drawing a boundary) is that you may be stepping in as a parent figure too soon, and this is a formula for disaster in most stepfamilies. If you have to be the one to say anything, use the sandwich approach — two slices of positive information with the meat in the middle. For example, “Kim, I am interested in spending time with you, so let your mom and I finish our time together, then perhaps you can tell us about your day.”
One of the not-so-obvious issues arises from the fact that you and Kim are not biologically related, thus there is no built-in incest taboo. The fact that you are uncomfortable with her behavior speaks well of your clarity about boundaries and healthy propriety. She and her mom are fortunate to have you in their lives. With time and loving re-alignment, she should come to see you more as a parent figure — and her mother’s partner — as opposed to a peer or love interest. The issue you raise has several aspects. If Kim is a product of the US culture, she has been taught to use her sexuality to command attention. Again, the person to address this is Kim’s mom rather than you.