Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend is Threatened By My Ex-Husband/ Father of My Kids”

I am a single mother of two children. Their father and I have been divorced for two years. I have been dating a wonderful man for over a year now. We’ve moved very slowly over the last year to introduce him and my children to each other (we waited six months before the initial introduction of “Mommy’s friend”), and the four of us currently get together about once a week for a meal or activity.

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.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

14 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Christy September 4, 2014, 8:25 am

    Wendy, you have really been killing it with the advice lately.

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    • avatar

      ktfran September 4, 2014, 8:49 am

      Agreed! I don’t really think there’s anything more one can say, but only to reiterate that what this LW is doing for her children is beyond healthy and if I were in her position, I would want a similar relationship with my ex.
      .
      I wish people could just get over all these jealous, insecure feelings and realize adults of the opposite sex or adults with a past can have non-threatening relationships.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy September 4, 2014, 8:57 am

      Thank you!

      Reply Link
  • suzyinthesky

    suzyinthesky September 4, 2014, 8:47 am

    As the new partner of a divorced man with children, I kind of get the boyfriend here.
    To be clear, I don’t agree with him, but I can understand where his feelings of jealousy and insecurity come from. I have those feelings from time to time, too.

    The thing in Wendy’s advice here that really stood out to me, and which I recommend the LW make very clear to her bf, is this (specifically the last part, in parentheses):

    “maintaining a friendly relationship with your ex […] positively affects your children’s well-being (and is the ONLY reason you continue such a relationship with your ex)”

    I will take that advice with me and remind myself of it the next time I feel a pang of insecurity/jealousy of my partner’s relationship with the ex. They have a very long history together, after all, which we (and the LW and her bf) don’t YET.

    I think that the bf’s jealousy/insecurity will probably lessen with time and as his relationship with the LW progresses and they build their own history. I know that’s what’s happening with me.

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    • avatar

      csp September 4, 2014, 1:07 pm

      I was thinking this same thing. I don’t think that the LW is out of line but that doesn’t invalidate the feelings of the BF. I think they need to have a state of the relationship conversation. Talk about where this is headed and where the boyfriend fits. He approached the LW calmly about it which I think sounds like a good stable man who is connected with his feelings and feels safe enough in the relationship to express them.

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    • avatar

      escapehatches September 4, 2014, 6:57 pm

      As a stepparent, I can chime in here. Those feelings do get better. It can take a very long time until you feel less like an outsider trying to learn a dance that started years ago, and more like someone who can introduce a few new steps that add to the flow.

      Patience!

      Reply Link
  • FireStar

    FireStar September 4, 2014, 8:47 am

    Wendy is right. You ARE a family. There isn’t a predetermined list of acceptable activities parents can do with their children. Even post divorce. You aren’t having intimate dinners with your ex under the guise of talking about the kids. You need to talk to him about where he got those notions of what activities are acceptable and which are not. You can tell him you are always going to act in the best interest of your children. That included not raising them together in a home with their father and it will include making sure they have a solid relationship with both their parents. You are always happy to discuss things and answer his questions and eventually include him more if that is what he wants but this is something he needs to sign on to…or not.

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  • avatar

    KMJ September 4, 2014, 9:35 am

    I think Wendy’s advice is great!

    I am the (35 year old) child of parents who divorced but remained cordial and I can attest to what a blessing that has been. My parents (dad, mom and stepdad) all attend important family events. Some people think it’s odd. I think it’s awesome. Their kids have never missed out on having all our parents there for birthdays, wedding, graduations, etc, because they handled things like adults who put their children first, just like this LW is trying to do.

    The man I am now dating (also around a year and a half) is totally comfortable with me being around my ex, the father of my child, because he is adult enough to realize that it’s not all about the grownups. It’s about what’s best for the kid/s.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. September 4, 2014, 10:42 am

    Wendy’s advice is great. There’s just one thing I’d like to add: the LW says she’s OK with the boyfriend not taking more of an interest in her kids’ lives, and he says he feels excluded. (That’s what I’m getting from what she wrote.) I’m all in favor of taking things slowly where kids are concerned, but are you sure that part of his feeling threatened isn’t because he is being made to feel like the third wheel? We are asking the BF to be understanding, but I think the LW should also be understanding of what it might be like to date someone who has kids that aren’t yours. Is this the first serious relationship she’s had since the divorce? If so, the last time she got seriously involved with a man, the playing field was more even. (There were no kids involved.) A little more empathy on both sides is called for, I think.

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  • avatar

    mertlej September 4, 2014, 11:24 am

    This letter was so refreshing! What sounds like a thoughtful, mature LW and the kind of real world issue/conflict that plenty of people can relate to. *golf clap*

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    • avatar

      csp September 4, 2014, 1:09 pm

      I think we need more golf claps.

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  • avatar

    Vathena September 4, 2014, 12:58 pm

    WWS – nailed it.

    One big point in the boyfriend’s favor is that he was able to calmly discuss his feelings. It sounds like they are both acting like mature adults in discussing the issue (as in, they don’t end up in screaming fights over it). I agree with what suzyinthesky said above – it’s tough to feel like an odd wheel in a pre-existing family unit, even when that unit consists of two divorced parents. You may just need some time to allow your relationship with your boyfriend (and his with the kids) to become more established. It’s not a deal-breaker unless he tries to “forbid” ice cream outings, or pouts every time you talk to your ex about the soccer schedule.

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  • avatar

    thatgirl September 4, 2014, 6:34 pm

    Totally WWS…although I agree with an earlier comment that maybe a little more effort on LW part could help ease the transition. Trying to maintain a healthy relationship with an ex is hard enough, and I can relate. But trying to foster a relationship between your kids and boyfriend is important too if there is going to be eventual acceptance of his place in your new dynamic. You get to decide the definition of family as it applies to you and your relationships.

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  • avatar

    Tone March 19, 2017, 3:51 pm

    I don’t agree with none of that your confusing the kids let the dad get the kids and when he is done drop them off period plus if it’s over it’s over your not a whole family anymore mommy has moved on all that sitting for ice cream and stuff with the mom is threatening to the boyfriend and it should be how could y’all say it’s about the kids if it’s about the kids here go the kids dad and when your done bring them home period y’all sound crazy

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