My son is 7. For the most part, he and my fiancé get along well. However, there are times when they will argue about useless stuff. My son is very bright, and he likes to over-explain things to make sure people understand what he’s talking about. My fiancé takes that as arguing, so he gets mad. Example: This past weekend my son came up with the idea, “What if they made a Batman video game that was like Mortal Kombat, but only with Batman characters and less violent?” My fiancé then proceeded to pick apart my son’s idea and told him that there were already games that were similar to that and that his “Batman only” game wouldn’t do well in the market. My son didn’t think he understood what he was trying to say, so he explained it again, to which my fiancé, once again, picked apart his idea.
I turned to my fiancé and simply said, “Let him have his idea. The only thing that needs to be said in this situation is ‘That’s a great idea!’ and leave it at that; even if you think it wouldn’t actually work.” My fiancé then got mad at me for “jumping on him and not taking his side.” Later that evening, we talked about it. That talk turned into a huge argument, and the words “I don’t feel like I’m a father… hell, I don’t even know if I WANT to be a dad” came out of my fiancé’s mouth. I was shocked. I asked him what he meant, and he said that he doesn’t have that “fatherly feeling” when he looks at my son. He just sees a “buddy” and thinks he doesn’t have to take a part in helping raise him. Granted, my son’s biological dad is in his life (we switch off every other week), but for my fiancé to just say that he doesn’t feel like he needs to help raise him is, in my opinion, pretty shitty.
He feels like he shouldn’t have any part of that since he’s not his “real” dad, but he continues to argue with my son and get mad at him when he doesn’t do something right. He says that my son is a “spoiled brat who always gets what he wants at his dad’s and grandparents’ houses.” I tried to tell him that I cannot control what goes on when he’s not here and that I don’t spoil him. He told me that the way I raise my son isn’t the same way he would raise a kid. I tried to explain that it’s rare when two parents have the exact same parenting styles. He replied with, “Well, then I just won’t say or do anything.” I tried to tell him that, if we get married, it becomes even more of a partnership and that there is a happy medium but I need him to be involved. I don’t know what to do.
During this argument (and I should say that this isn’t the first time this topic has been brought up), my fiancé brings up the fact that he’s had anger problems since he was a teen. He refuses to get help, and he can hold a grudge worse than my mother (who once refused to speak to my brother and my dad for eight months when my brother was still in high school). He said that he’s always had an anger issue. But he handles it by leaving the room, or leaving the house completely for hours, and then, when he comes back, he STILL won’t say a word to my son or me. He treats his parents the same way. His parents say that he’s “changed a lot” since he met me, but they don’t see what’s really happening. Most days are good, but the days that are bad are BAD. He went to see a psychologist ONE time, and he refuses to ever go back. He didn’t like the person he had the appointment with and so refuses to ever see someone similar again. He admits that the way he handles his anger is childish, but he refuses to even CONSIDER changing how he handles it even if it is negatively affecting everyone else. I do everything I can to help with his levels of stress (his job is extremely stressful), but it doesn’t seem to be enough.
I just want my son and fiancé to get along and like each other. My son LOVES him — he even started calling him “Dad” after we told him we were getting married (my son even ASKED my fiancé if it would be ok to call him that and my fiancé said yes), but my fiancé seems like he doesn’t want anything to do with him. He said, “Maybe we shouldn’t get married. Your son will get over it after a while.”
I feel like shit. I will ALWAYS choose my son’s side if I think he’s right. I will ALWAYS choose my fiancé’s side if I think HE’S right. I feel stuck. Do I give up? Do I try to go to family counseling? Do I leave the relationship? I love him, but I can’t continue feeling that, if I stick up for my son, I’ll have to spend the next 3-4 days walking on eggshells because my fiancé will be mad at me. I’m desperate for help. — Caught in the Middle
You’re engaged to a man who has told you (repeatedly, it sounds like) that he doesn’t agree with the way you parent your child, that he thinks your son is a “spoiled brat,” that he doesn’t think he wants to be a father, that he definitely doesn’t think he should have to help raise your child, and that, oh yeah, he has serious and life-long anger issues, ones even his parents have commented on, for which he refuses to seek help despite your asking him to. When he does interact with your son, it’s in a disparaging way, shitting all over his (cool) ideas. And! He has even suggested that you two not get married and that your son will get over it eventually. And your biggest worry in all of this is that, if you stick up for your son, your fiancé will get mad and you’ll have to walk on eggshells for a few days?
The thing you should be worried about here is not about pissing off your fiancé; the thing you should be worried about is the irreparable emotional, psychological, and potentially physical harm you are exposing your son to every day by continuing to engage (in all its definitions) with a person who is… well, abusive, really. Unloving. Unsupportive. Inflexible. Intolerant. These are not qualities you want in a life mate, let alone in a stepfather for your son.
Your fiancé is telling you over and over and over who he is, and that person is one of the last people you should want as a parent figure for your child. And, like it or not, when you HAVE a young child that you have partial or full custody of, the person you marry WILL be a parent figure to that child. If he doesn’t want that role — and he is literally telling you every chance he has that he DOESN’T — you cannot in good conscience marry him. You cannot. Frankly, you shouldn’t even be exposing your child to him at all. That your son has developed what he thinks is a relationship with this person–enough to call him “dad”–is very sad. But your fiancé is right about two things: you shouldn’t get married, and your son will get over it eventually. (And the broken heart he suffers when you end the relationship will be nothing compared to the damage he could potentially suffer if you don’t).
There must be qualities you love about this man, and I’m sure it will be hard to walk away. But when you are a single parent to a young child, one of the qualities you have to make a top priority in a partner you are seeking is the ability to be loving and nurturing to your son. This man does not have that quality. In the future, don’t agree to marry someone who hasn’t proven himself to be worthy of your son’s love. It’s one thing to risk your own broken heart, but to introduce your son to someone you haven’t fully vetted–to tell him you’re going to marry him and that he can call him “dad”–is so irresponsible.
If you won’t do better by yourself, do better by your son. When you think about what “side” you’re going to be on and whom you’re going to stick up for, the answer isn’t whoever you think is right. The answer is always your son. When your son makes mistakes, you guide him to the right direction; when he’s wrong, you explain why and tell him how to correct himself. But as his mother, you must never, ever NOT be on your son’s side. You must never, ever NOT stick up for him.
Pick your son’s side. Aim higher. Make better choices. And kick this guy, with his anger issues he refuses to get help for–this guy who calls your son a spoiled brat and says he has no interest in helping to raise him–kick him to the curb. Even if you don’t think you deserve better, you have to believe your son does.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.