Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend Doesn’t Want to Include My Son’s Dad in Birthday Festivities”

I’m a mother of a soon-to-be 5-year-old boy. His dad and I are not together, and we haven’t been for a couple years now. When I first gave birth, the relationship between us was pretty rocky. He was still young and not ready to be the consistent dad he needed to be. I then became a single mother months before my son turned 1. Soon after, I met a guy who was well aware of my having a child and my relationship with my child’s father; we talked for a year before making things official. He and my son then formed an amazing bond, and he became the closest thing my son had to a father figure. Now we have been living together for almost three years and it has never been an issue. However, my son’s biological father has come back into the picture. After so many tries of not getting it right and the constant arguing, he is actually playing his part as a FATHER. I can now depend on him, and I’m actually happy that my son and his dad will now have a healthy relationship. But this is where things start to get stressful on my end…

My son’s 5th birthday is coming up. My boyfriend and I always take him out to do something every year on his birthday, and my son’s father has asked me if he could be included this year because he’s missed a lot. I ran it by my boyfriend and he didn’t seem too into the idea, so I told my son’s father he can just do something separately for now. He’s planning a small birthday party for his son at his mother’s place, and he invited me. I had all intentions of going because, at the end of the day, that is my son’s birthday party. However, my boyfriend says he feels left out because he wasn’t invited (keep in mind he has yet to meet my son’s father). What do I do in a situation like this? My boyfriend is making me feel as if I should not have a healthy relationship with my son’s father, and this is leaving me in a distant head space. Any tips and advice are appreciated! — Confused Mom

Your boyfriend is clearly threatened by your son’s father’s sudden interest in being a dad, and the best way to navigate this is to focus on what’s best for your son in a way that doesn’t compromise your own sanity and well-being. You know your son is going to have a great time with you and your boyfriend doing something special for his birthday, right? Would he be happier if his dad could join? Probably. But then your boyfriend would bow out, and that would make your son unhappy. So now your boyfriend is having a party for your son, which will likely make your son very happy. Would he be happier with you there? Maybe. But maybe not significantly enough to warrant compromising your relationship with your boyfriend. Maybe doing something solo with his dad and his extended family on his dad’s side, whom he probably doesn’t know well, would give him an opportunity to deepen his bond with his dad. And it would give you a chance to show your boyfriend that his feelings matter to you.

This is all new, and I don’t think your boyfriend is necessarily over-reacting or being selfish in his resistance to your son’s dad’s sudden re-appearance. After all, for the past three years, your boyfriend has been the father figure. It probably feels a little weird that this other guy who’s been completely out of the picture is now ready to take back the father-figure mantle. That doesn’t mean your boyfriend has any right to stop him – or to stop you from joining anything you’ve been invited to – but he has a right to feel what he feels. In a show of loyalty to him, you could, just this once, politely turn down the invitation to your son’s birthday party and explain to his dad that you want them to have some time together without you, to get to know each other better. And then you could let your boyfriend know that your absence from the party is also for his benefit because you understand that this new dynamic in your lives will take some time to adjust to. But also let him know how important it is to you to have a good co-parent relationship with your ex – that this is something you didn’t think was possible and, now that it looks like it could be, you want to work on achieving what you believe will be in your son’s best interest. For you, that might mean introducing the two men and making it known to both that you would like to be co-partners in raising your son together. Let your boyfriend know that while you are willing to give him time to adjust to this idea, you do want and expect a willingness from him at some point to form an amicable relationship with your ex.

If your boyfriend continues to resist sharing the role of father figure with your ex to the point that it interferes with your emotional well-being, your relationship, or his relationship with your son, you’re going to have a tough decision to make. You’ll have to decide whether you want to continue a relationship with a man who is emotionally unable to prioritize your son’s well-being. If he’s not able to, that gives you a pretty clear idea what kind of father-figure he would be long-term. And if your son’s dad is stepping back into the picture, eager to take on the role of dad, your son may be better off without a man who feels too threatened to share him.

From the forums:

I’m heading back to work part-time in a few days after a maternity leave. My in-laws will be watching my baby two days a week. Over the course of the past year, they’ve accepted whatever Covid precautions we’ve set in order to get together – wearing masks when we were able to gather indoors or sticking to outdoor visits when restrictions changed. But a few times we’ve caught them breaking rules. For example, during a lockdown, we arrived for a surprise outdoor visit and found my SIL’s family in their home, maskless. Also, my MIL let it slip that she’d had her hair done in someone’s basement during a period when salons were closed. My in-laws are high risk, so each time my husband had a conversation with them to express his disappointment and fear for their health.

My province (I’m in Canada) has been under a stay-at-home order since Boxing Day, and my in-laws have really been looking forward to watching my baby, since there’s an exception for childcare. My husband had a conversation with them recently reminding them not to see other people for at least 10 days before I return to work. Yesterday my BIL and his girlfriend dropped by for an outdoor visit and the girlfriend let it slip that they’d just been at my in-laws’ for lunch and had been visiting regularly during this lockdown because my in-laws are so lonely and isolated. I know they’re not taking the pandemic as seriously as we are, since they told us they attended a NYE party.

I feel sad, frustrated, and scared. My husband called his mom, who apologized and said she’d wear a mask the whole time she’s watching our baby. But she’s talked about how unpleasant it is to wear a mask for a long time, and my daughter constantly grabs at masks, so I can’t see it staying on properly the whole day. My husband is struggling with having told his parents not to see their other kids and grandkids, especially since they’re doing us a favor. Even if his parents see some people, he feels it’s still safer than daycare. He’s been working from home, and my maternity leave encompassed the entirety of the pandemic, so we’ve been fortunate to have had a very low risk of exposure so far compared to essential workers and people with kids in daycare or school. We wonder if we’re expecting too much.

I don’t know how to feel or what to do. My husband suggested I could delay going back to work, but that would create a whole new set of stressors (financial, delaying future family planning, probable job loss). For context, my province has a population of around 14.5 million and we’ve been reporting around 2K cases daily lately – things are not as serious here as they are in the US. My in-laws and my BIL and his girlfriend live in regions where numbers are worse than where my family lives. Any advice or insight is appreciated. — Worried Mom

 
You can’t dictate to your in-laws how they live their lives, especially since they would be doing the favor of babysitting (for free, I’m assuming, right?). You have to accept that they will live in a way you don’t think is safest, exposing themselves to Covid, and indirectly exposing your child and you as well. You’re probably right that this is still likely safer than sending your child to daycare where your child would be exposed to everything all the other kids are exposed to outside of daycare, expanding your bubble a lot more than it would be by just including your in-laws.

At the same time, beyond safety, you have relationships to think about here. How much will it destroy your relationship with your in-laws knowing that they are not being as safe as you’d like them to be between babysitting visits with your child? How resentful are you going to feel every time it slips that they did something you don’t approve of? If the stakes have already felt high, they will feel even higher when they are in charge of your child’s care two days a week. Feeling anxious about whatever your child is exposed to at daycare won’t affect your relationships in the same way resenting your in-laws will. So you have to weigh safety vs. relationships in a sense, considering the risk to both with either decision you make (daycare vs. grandparents babysitting). There may be other factors to consider as well, like price of daycare, safety measures the daycare employs, vaccination distribution, and the likelihood of Covid cases increasing as the new variant spreads (like we’re seeing in Europe, which is a few weeks ahead of North America on that trajectory).

It’s a hard and personal decision to make. None of us can tell you what to do. But I can say that if preserving a relationship with your in-laws is important to you, then you have to accept that they are not going to live by the Covid precautions you wish they would and you have to just be ok with that. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you or their grandbaby. They’ve simply assessed the risk and reached a different conclusion about it than you have. It’s frustrating, I know. But there’s literally nothing you can do about it. Knowing that, you have to decide how willing you are to be exposed to what they’re exposing themselves to and whether the exposure from daycare, which is likely even higher, would be worth preserving a relationship with them (assuming it would, and even that is an unknown). I wish you and every other parent in this boat could be spared such a difficult choice.

***************Follow along on Facebook,  and Instagram. If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

17 comments… add one
  • avatar

    brise January 28, 2021, 2:30 pm

    LW1: yeah, Wendy is right, give your BF a pass on this one, as he doesn’t even know the father and did all the work for years. But he does have to understand that the father will be in the picture and that it is a good think for the boy. Next year, you will either celebrate the son’s birthday all together or you join your ex’s party, but the BF can’t go on ignoring the father and wishing he doesn’t have anything to do with him or you, that is just immature. You have some work to do, here. Explain to the BF that normal, happy kids have their both parents and their respective partners at their milestones: their birthday parties, school shows or music/sport shows, church events (if you are practising), graduation, and so on. If he can’t figure himself in such a picture, and it may take him a while to accept it, then he has to bow out, not have you bow out.

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    brise January 28, 2021, 2:34 pm

    LW2 doesn’t have many other options. Day care presents more risks, she said she has to work for career and financial reasons… She has to accept the risk and hope the in-laws do take seriously their task. She and her husband can have again a serious talk with them and their brother-sister-in-law. The grand-parents accepted the care responsibility, which is kind and generous, but responsibility goes with duty. The parents have to put their foot down and at least ask for precautions and honesty. Then, they can’t control more. They can only hope the in-laws will soon be vaccinated. Time is running in their favor.

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    anonymousse January 28, 2021, 3:12 pm

    There is a distinct possibility that your boyfriend is feeling pushed out a little, but also that he’s worried how this will all play out, which I would be too. Your son needs his father as deserves that relationship, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent this- but what if he disappears again?

    I’d be prudent, open and hopeful about it but also careful about trusting this new relationship with his bio father. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope he stays in his life and things are great, but I’d still exercise caution.

    The thing about the day care vs grandparents risk assessment is with daycare- you know the risks. The grandparents have been lying and deceiving Lucidity and her husband. They promised they’d quarantine for ten days, and didn’t- and didn’t tell them, either. They were busted. So the element of trust is gone. If I was in a pinch, maybe I’d ask the in laws to watch my kids but if this was a long term thing, I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable with them watching my 18 month old.

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    Bittergaymark January 28, 2021, 4:29 pm

    LW1) Okay, I strongly disagree with Wendy on this one. I think the boyfriend is simply %100 wrong and giving him a pass here will only encourage more of this not so great behavior. It’s fucking pathetic how many stepparents (wannabe or legit) always make EVERYTHING about them. It’s NEVER about the kids. Nope! Instead it’s ALWAYS about how they feel and what they need and wah, wah, wah… Frankly? It’s fucking lame ass bullshit. NEWSFLASH: The boyfriend is being a brat. He refuses to invite your Ex but then acts all suprised the Ex fails to invite him? Oh, shut the fuck up already. It baffles me more parents don’t just stay single. This constant drama all seems like a needless headache to me. Put YOUR kid first, LW. For once! And attend both birthday events.

    LW2). Okay… grim truth. I’ve worked SEVEN days since March and been exposed twice — meaning 24 days of fabulous quarantine… so perhaps I am biased here by my own bad luck. But the real danger of being exposed to the virus will simply not be the grandparents — but the LW as she will be going to work three days a week. Coming into contact with wayyyyyyyyyyyy more people than the grandparents. So yeah — I wouldn’t go to war with this.

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      CurlyQue January 29, 2021, 12:34 pm

      100% agree with you on LW1. Boyfriend is definitely allowed to have feelings, but he shouldn’t be allowed to have those feelings dictate the son’s events or the co-parenting dynamic that is being established. What should happen is dad should be invited to the activity LW and her boyfriend are doing, and boyfriend should be invited to the birthday party dad is hosting.

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      Guy Friday January 30, 2021, 4:06 pm

      100% in lockstep with you on LW1, BGM. Not only that, but in reading between the lines it sounds like LW1 WANTS to be at Dad’s party to show that she is trying to put forth a good faith effort to move forward and co-parent. And why shouldn’t she? If Dad really is going to be back in the picture, so is his family, and she needs to rebuild lines of communication with them too because they’re going to be part of their son’s life as well.

      I honestly don’t get viewpoints like the boyfriend’s. Does he honestly think his relationship is going to disappear with LW because she starts talking to her ex again? Can he really not accept that a small child, yes, may love his bio dad more while he’s too young to understand the nuances? Is he a part of the child’s life for the gold stars and pats on the back or because he actually enjoys being around the child? I mean, seriously.

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      • avatar

        allathian February 2, 2021, 7:49 am

        I’m actually a bit surprised at Wendy’s answer to LW1 here. How well does the boy know his father? If he was 6 or 8 months old when his dad disappeared from his life, he’s going to need time to get to know his dad again. In the LW’s shoes, I wouldn’t want to let my kid go and visit with his dad and paternal grandparents he probably doesn’t remember at all, at least not for a first visit. The ex needs to prove that he’s serious about coparenting, and that’s more than just a birthday party.

        I think it’s time for a come-to-Jesus talk with the boyfriend. If he really cares about the LW and the kid, he’s going to have to get over his discomfort and support them, and not make a fuss when she goes to the party organized by the ex.

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        Bittergaymark February 2, 2021, 2:02 pm

        Yes, I thought the boyfriend was being cut wayyyyyyy too much slack.

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    Teresa January 28, 2021, 7:50 pm

    LW1, I agree with Wendy’s advice. If the BF can’t learn to put your child’s emotional well being above his own, then you’ll have to have some hard conversations and/or decisions to make.

    About 6 years ago I was dating a guy, Ray. My daughters were about 3 & 4, their father had been gone for about 2 years. After about 4 months of dating Ray, I introduced him to my kids, and within a couple of weeks, he started telling them to call him “Daddy-Ray”. I protested because I wasn’t ready to share the parenting of my kids yet, but he insisted. About a month later their father actually comes back around. He starts asking to see the kids and leaving gifts for them on my porch. Ray was disproportionately furious, going on and on about how those are HIS kids, and went so far as to throw away their gifts! Ray demanded that I deny him any contact with the girls; I MOA’d immediately. Who throws a kid’s teddybear and scooter in a dumpster to soothe their own ego? I didn’t bother giving Ray time to “come around” – he’d only been in my kids lives for 2 months.

    However, your guy has been around a lot longer, and the bond between him and your son is surely much deeper; and presumably, he has provided support for your son emotionally and financially over the past 3 years . I understand his insecurity, to a degree. I think, assuming there are no other major issues in your relationship, you should give him a chance to adjust to the new dynamic. Give him time to develop the maturity needed to handle the situation in the best way possible for your son. But I would also suggest setting an end date in your head – maybe 6 months – that if your boyfriend can’t reconcile with the fact that your child’s father is back in the picture, then it’ll be time to make some serious decisions in prioritizing your son’s long-term emotional well-being over your boyfriend’s ego.

    And before I get chewed out – I learned to not introduce my daughters to any guys I’m dating until they’ve been around for more than 6 months – which has meant they’ve only met 1 other guy – and as far as they knew, we were just friends.

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    Sylver January 29, 2021, 11:06 am

    LW2) The irony here is that if anyone is in danger here, it’s the parents. Statistically speaking, should anyone in the household get Covid, the parents are way more likely to have a negative outcome. Considering the few people they do see, a more likely scenario would be you or your husband catching it, passing it on to baby, who would then infect the parents. They’ve assessed the risk and are willing to take it. It’s up to you at this point.

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    Fyodor January 29, 2021, 12:56 pm

    Regarding LW2 is it true that day care will offer more risks? It seems like a professional day care might have much more careful adherence to safety protocols even if there are more people coming in and out.

    LW2, if is financially feasible, consider buying some portable electric air filters for your house or at least the rooms they’ll be using with the baby, they can reduce transmission risk.

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      Redgirl February 1, 2021, 10:41 am

      In most circumstances, I would say that daycares are less risky than home caregivers in things like cleaning protocols, facility childproofing, training of the staff, etc. However, in terms of communicable diseases they are pretty much a petri dish. It’s simply unavoidable. It’s 100% impossible to enforce the kinds of safety rules needed to stop the spread of COVID when you are talking about infants and toddlers and their caregivers. You can’t maintain 6 feet of distancing from a hurt or sobbing toddler. You can’t make them wear masks (it’s not safe for children under 2, even if you could get them to keep them on). You can’t get them to stop pulling at your mask, or picking their noses and then touching everything, or putting toys in their mouths, etc. I used to work in a daycare center and on my very first day my boss told me she expected that I would be taking a lot of sick days because “you just catch everything.” She wasn’t wrong.

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        SM February 2, 2021, 2:17 pm

        The actual daycare facility might be less risky, but the daycare can’t control what those employees do outside of working hours, or what all the other kids and their families are doing. That’s why I would think the daycare is more risky. At least the in-laws seems to have a bubble of family members they are seeing, and it’s limited. The daycare bubble is massive if you include all workers and their bubbles, and all kids/their families and those bubbles.

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    Fyodor January 29, 2021, 1:01 pm

    Also, regarding the in-laws, consider that if you have caught them a few times, it’s very likely there’s a bunch of other dangerous stuff that you don’t know about.

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    Salli January 29, 2021, 1:20 pm

    LW1, barring any safety concerns, I think it’s important for a kid to develop a relationship with each parent independently, even for parents who are together. So, if your son is comfortable and knows his father well enough, it would benefit him to have that birthday time with his dad without you there. If he doesn’t know him well since he’s back in the picture, it would be in your son’s best interest for you to attend as a safety figure kind of in the background. This is irrespective of your boyfriend’s feelings. A strong father figure wants what is best for their child, and is able to manage their own feelings in the child’s best interest. If he cant do that and isn’t putting what’s best for your son over his own insecurities, he needs to get there quick or get gone

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      Miss MJ January 29, 2021, 2:00 pm

      I was going to say this as well. LW, since your son is 4 (almost 5) and his biological dad’s return to his life is new, if you’re not certain your son will be comfortable with him and his family without you, then you need to go to this party for your son’s sake, and your boyfriend needs to understand that.
      However, going forward, you should encourage your son’s involvement with his biological dad so that he can be comfortable with him alone.

      That said, it will greatly benefit your son’s life for the adults in his life to get along or at least be able to be civil and in the same room with each other for important events. While I feel for your boyfriend and that he may feel out of sorts with the new arrangement, he needs to deal with his feelings and get with the program or get out of your life. You have to chose your son’s happiness over a boyfriend who makes life miserable because your son’s father has shown an interest in him and he feels threatened and jealous.

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  • avatar

    Buttery January 31, 2021, 1:50 am

    Gotta say I disagree on the advice to LW1 as well. Wish there were a little more detail though, particularly about timing and how well she knows each guy and the child’s fathers family because that all plays into the how good you can feel about sending your child off alone without you. But why should you have to, why should a guy who isn’t the father of the child nor is he your husband have some say in so much? Not that he shouldn’t be respected – have your discussions with him or whatever but the bottom line is he doesn’t really have a say, just like he doesn’t really have an obligation to the child.
    Some of LWs working is interesting too- he’s the “closest thing” to a father figure. Why wouldn’t she just say he is a father figure to my son. As for the kids father she says “after so many tries and not getting it right” he now is getting it right. So this sounds like there’s been contact over the years which should mean he’s not just all brand new as a thought to the boyfriend, so why is boyfriend so in shock that he’s around. This is why I’d love so much more detail.
    That said, BGMs comment about why don’t single parents stay single brought back a huge memory for me – as much of a nut my mom was I can honestly say that the one thing I always said about her was that she didn’t have boyfriends after my parents divorced when I was about 4 years old, thereby not exposing her children to a bunch of her own relationship bullshit or the dangers of abuse which is a huge risk. I can’t even say I would’ve done the same, truthfully, but I’ve always appreciated that she kept us safe in that way. The bottom line is that YOU are your child’s protector so you better make damn sure you don’t do anything that you’ll regret. You obligation is to your helpless child, not to kowtow to some grown ass man throwing a tantrum. Good on him for being around for 3 years but you’re a parent for life and part of that is putting your child first, particularly in the early years of their life.

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