My children’s father and I have had an up and down co-parenting relationship since the divorce. Sometimes we cooperate wonderfully, and other times it feels as if we’re at each other’s throats (which we never allow the children to see). A year ago he relocated to our city from about 60 miles away so that he could be closer to the children. I have recently been making much more of an effort to support and encourage a relationship between my children and their father. I often go the extra mile, and out of my way, to encourage the children’s relationship with their father because I know it’s for their benefit.
My son has just started his new soccer season, and he has his first practice earlier this week. Due to heavy interstate construction, his dad was stuck in traffic for over an hour and unable to make the practice. I asked him if he would like to take them out for ice cream after practice instead. He obliged, and we met at a local shop, at which he’d already purchased ice cream for both children and me. The outing went off without a hitch, and I was very pleased that my ex and I were able to remain civil and kind, to engage in conversation together with the kids, and to just plain co-parent together.
The point I’m getting at is that my boyfriend seems to feel threatened by these interactions. He informed me today (in a calm manner) that he felt as if I was being a “family” with my ex husband and children, versus just my children. He states that he understands birthdays, sporting events, school functions, etc., but that for some reason these “extra curricular” times between my children, their father, and me threaten him and make him feel as if there’s a “third party” (my ex) to his and my relationship…
I’ve simply been pleased that, from time to time, my ex husband and I are able to set aside our differences and be there together for our children, even if it is just for ice cream. How worried should I be about my boyfriend’s concerns? Are they warranted, and am I crossing a line with my ex, or is my boyfriend not being understanding of what my children need from both of their parents?
A side note: my boyfriend and ex have yet to meet, and I wouldn’t say that my children and boyfriend have developed one-on-one relationships as of yet, which is something I’m okay with due to my desire to move slowly with involving my children in our relationship. It also doesn’t seem as if my boyfriend is ready, or interested, to be THAT involved in my children’s lives at this point. — Confused Mom and Girlfriend
First, I applaud you for making your kids a priority and realizing that maintaining a civil relationship and co-parenting partnership with their father is essential in maintaining their happiness and their sense of security. You’re also modeling for them what a successful relationship can look like, showing that, even when a romantic relationship or a marriage ends, a relationship beyond that, especially when there are children involved, can be stable, productive, and even friendly. Don’t underestimate the power of the message that sends your children. You are telling them — and more importantly showing them — what a healthy breakup and a healthy co-parenting partnership looks like. You are showing them how important they are to you, not simply by giving lip service to your love for them, but by making their emotional well-being a top priority. Their self-esteem, their relationship with you and their father, and their future romantic relationships will all benefit from the work you are investing now. Good job.
Unfortunately, your boyfriend is not as committed to your kids’ well-being as you are. And why should he be at this point? They are your children. He is merely their mother’s new(ish) boyfriend. But his being threatened by your ex and what he sees as you “acting like a family” with him in ways he deems “extracurricular” could be indicative of someone who is simply not cut out for dating someone with kids. It’s a red flag that I would file away as a warning sign. He’s acting jealous and not terribly compassionate. You also make sort of a throwaway comment that your boyfriend doesn’t seem ready or interested in being involved in your children’s lives, saying you’re ok with that because you don’t want to move too quickly. But… maybe, despite your desire to move slowly (which is totally healthy!), you’d appreciate some more interest on your boyfriend’s part, even if it’s interest expressed as a desire to eventually know them better and be move involved in their lives. After all, if things progress with the two of you, his relationship with your children will have to progress too. Do you have any sense that that is something he would want? Is it something you want?
It seems like taking a temperature of your relationship, and discussing what your long-term desires and expectations are, would go a long way in smoothing some of the feelings you’re both having. His jealousy over your friendly relationship with your ex could be tempered knowing that, if things continue progressing with you, you envision him as part of that family, too (if you indeed do). He needs to understand — and you need to explain to him very clearly — that your ex IS part of your extended family and always will be because you share children together. He will exist, at least as a minor character, in your life together, and, if your boyfriend can’t wrap his head around that and can’t appreciate how maintaining a friendly relationship with your ex — including joining him and the kids or inviting him to join you guys for ice cream after a game — positively affects your children’s well-being (and is the ONLY reason you continue such a relationship with your ex), then you should know that now, before you become more invested in your relationship. Even if your boyfriend isn’t ready to be to involved in your kids’ lives, he should be able to support your dedication to them and, by extension, your commitment to modeling healthy co-parenting for them. It’s your job to explain all of this to him, to help him understand how far you’ve come with your ex and how important it is for you to maintain a civil relationship with him.
If, in 2-3 months down the road, you still feel that your boyfriend isn’t being understanding enough, you might want to consider moving on. You can find a guy who is great in most ways, but simply isn’t a match for your current lifestyle.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.