I’ve been dating my boyfriend for six months and it’s pretty clear to both of us that we are in love, highly compatible, and enjoy each other’s companionship. Even though it’s only been a short time we can both see a possibility of a long term relationship — marriage, moving across the country together, etc. He’s 23 and a mechanical engineer with a masters, so he is very focused and dedicated, and when he makes a final decision after much analysis he sticks to it. I’m 23, as well, with one year till I graduate from college. I already have a job lined up, and have accomplished many things already such as owning/operating my own store, and purchasing my first home. I was in a relationship for four years before this one and learned what it means to be a girlfriend or wife, and what I ultimately want out of a life partner.
Here is the issue: I have a six year old son. While I have had the time to mature and accept parenthood, my current boyfriend doesn’t know if he’d want to take responsibility for another person’s child (the biological father is highly involved in my son’s life). My boyfriend has many goals and didn’t plan on having children till his mid to late 30s. He doesn’t want to give up his current lifestyle, and he is worried about future responsibilities, such as paying for a child’s college tuition. Also, he said that if he became a father he wants to be able to go to every game and coach every team, and he knows he couldn’t and doesn’t want to do that at this point in his life.
So, what can and should I do? Do I give him a time limit to make a decision? How long? What could I do to make him more comfortable and realize that a child doesn’t end your ability to have goals? — Mother Load
Before you “give him a time limit to make a decision,” you need to be very clear about what you’re asking him to make a decision about. Is it whether he wants to marry you eventually? If so, when? Are you asking him to decide whether to have biological children with you? Again: if so, when? Or, do you want him to decide if he can handle the responsibility of being a stepdad one day. If it’s the latter, which I suspect it is, it sounds like you definitely need to have some heart-to-heart discussions about what, exactly, those responsibilities would be.
From the way your boyfriend describes things, step-parenthood sounds an awful lot like being a regular parenthood, from coaching sports teams to paying for college tuition. It can be these things, of course, but if your child’s father is “highly involved” in your son’s life, then your boyfriend could very well be over-stepping some boundaries by assuming all these responsibilities. Of course, if you have full custody of your son and you marry your boyfriend eventually, then parenthood will become a major focus of his life. Hell, even if you share custody with your ex, your boyfriend will take on a role of parent in some aspect or other. There will be sacrifices and adjustments, but they wouldn’t be the same as if he were raising the child as his own.
You need to sit down and explain these things to him. Tell him, as frankly and honestly as you can, what life will be life if you two were to move in together and/or eventually marry. Don’t just tell him — show him, too. If you’re so serious as a couple that you’re discussing long-term plans, then begin incorporating him more and more into the life you share with your son so he gets a better sense of what that life is like. If you are on some sort of plan to give your son siblings in the near future, then obviously, this is also something you need to discuss with your boyfriend.
It may very well be that you’re compatible in most ways, but if he can’t handle the idea of being a step-father — the reality of being a step-rather, not his fantasy of coaching the kid’s every game — or you want to have more children in the near future and he isn’t ready for that kind of commitment, then you lack compatibility in a very important aspect of your lives, and this relationship likely won’t work out in the long-run. When do you need to figure this stuff out? What’s the “time limit” on these decisions? Well, only you can say for sure. If having more children is a huge pressing concern, then obviously, you need to make some decisions earlier than later. But if, at 23, you recognize that time is a little bit of a luxury at this point, I’d take things slowly and enjoy where you are right now. It sounds like you’ve been on such a fast track in your life — you’ve made some wonderful accomplishments at a young age. But sometimes the biggest accomplishment of all is learning to slow down, enjoy yourself, and really soak up the lessons life gives you before moving on to the next challenge or project.
What are the lessons in your life right now? What can you and your boyfriend teach each other in this stage of your relationship? Take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and let the answers come in their own time instead of forcing them to develop.