His daughter comes over every other weekend, and he is a fairly present dad with her. He plays video games with her, lies with her to watch movies, etc. — normal stuff I assume a parent would do if he didn’t see his child often.
A few things stuck out to me as different “treatment,” if you will. For example, when I was pregnant, I said I wanted a girl so I could experience girly things with her, to which my boyfriend’s reaction was, “We already have ‘Maddy’ (his daughter, who has a highly-overbearing mother as is). You can do girly stuff with her.” Then a few months later, when we found out we were having a boy, he was ecstatic and said, “Man, I’m going to be able to do so much with a boy!” In my head, I was thinking, “Well, we already have a boy (my 7-year-old) and you can do boy things with him.” Seemed like a double standard.
Another example: if the daughter starts to “wrestle”/play with him, he’ll play with her, but then, when my son tries to join in, my boyfriend says, “Alright, y’all calm down,” and the playing stops. My boyfriend will play a kid video game with the daughter — one that my son also loves to play — but never invites my son to play with him, even when his daughter isn’t with us. He doesn’t help my son with his homework, and he doesn’t offer to listen to him do his nightly readings. But he will help his daughter with weekend homework.
One night it really made me sad when we were all watching a movie in the living room and the daughter got on the couch to snuggle with my boyfriend, and then so did our 18-month-old, while my 7-year-old son kind of just looked at them and lay back down on his own couch. I don’t think he felt strange, but I did. It’s weird having a kid with someone and seeing them (obviously) show affection and love toward their own children and not to my son. I know my son’s young, but I fear one day he will ask me why my boyfriend doesn’t do things with him as he does with his own kids.
I’ve taken his daughter with me to get pedicures, taken her (and my son) with me on all errands, I’ve bought her things, I’ve made plans to go see a Broadway play with her in mind. She is not neglected — she obviously has two parent/parent figures who love her and are present with her here, and two loving parent/parent figures at her home with her mother. When she comes over, she tells me how her mother’s boyfriend picks her up every day and helps her with her homework, how they all have dinner together, how they all go to football/basketball games, etc. She even came over one time with with a scrapbook of her “childhood” which included pictures of the mother and my boyfriend and the daughter only. She is shown she’s loved.
Basically, not only does my boyfriend not engage in fun activities with my son, but he also doesn’t help me out with daily things with him. He only speaks to him to say, “How was your day?” And that’s it. Sometimes my son, my 18-month-old, and I will have dinner at the table while my boyfriend is in our room playing video games.
My son’s biological father is not a good father. He doesn’t have a job, he is thousands of dollars behind in child support, he doesn’t call him on the week days, and he doesn’t discipline him.
My son is a tough little guy, I will not lie. He is rather bratty at times, and at times he doesn’t listen to my instructions or he back-talks me. I do discipline him; however, I know his behavior is my fault. Being a young single parent at 18, I did not discipline him early on like he needed. His father wasn’t in his life either until he was three. I also believe him to have ADD. He is an active boy in a little apartment, and I think it annoys my boyfriend, as my boyfriend has only ever known his calm daughter, whom he only has every other weekend.
The tipping point was today when my son was outside and was throwing the football with another man while my boyfriend was inside. I casually said to my boyfriend, “Get out there and go play with that boy — he’s playing with someone else’s dad!” To which my bf replied, “Well, that’s what he does- he goes up to people and randomly asks them to play with him.” I said, “Maybe he does that because he doesn’t feel like he can ask you?” And my boyfriend got mad that I said that. Not offended – he made it very clear he was not at all offended or upset by what I had implied — just mad that I had the audacity to say it.
What do I do? Watch the days pass by where they have no connection? Watch my younger son grow up with a hands-on dad and my 7-year-old wonder why was he never is that way with him?
He’s already asked me why the daughter and my younger son have the same last name and he doesn’t. Please advise. — Desperate for a Real Dad for My Son
Reading through your letter, I am struck by all the examples you’ve given of the way your boyfriend interacts with his bio kids and ignores your son, as well as the examples you give of how you make an effort to bond with his daughter. You also share examples of the daughter’s relationship with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend — about the activities they do as a family (“how they all have dinner together, how they all go to football/basketball games, etc”). But only once in ten+ paragraphs do you give an example of something you’ve all done as a family, and that was watching a movie together in your living room. And in 10+ paragraphs you don’t give one single example of something you do with your son. Of course, that doesn’t mean you DON’T do things with him; I’m sure you do. But you seem hung up on this idea that dads do “boy things” with the sons and moms do “girl things” with daughters. You’re so hung up on this idea that, when you felt sad watching your son play ball with a random neighbor guy, rather than go out and play with him yourself, you yelled at your boyfriend to go play with him. Here’s an idea: model the behavior you want your boyfriend to display.
And when I say model the behavior you want him to display, I don’t just mean the interactions you wish he’d have with your son. I mean, start treating your family of five as a true unit and not simply a collection of disparate relationships. Instead of feeling jealous or sad or whatever that your boyfriend’s daughter has family dinners and family outings with her mom and mom’s boyfriend, start taking your own family on outings like that. You say you take your son out on errands, but that’s not the same as getting your whole family together and going out and doing something fun — spending true quality time together. You want desperately to feel like a family and, yet, it doesn’t seem like you’re doing that much as a family. You’re putting the onus of responsibility on your boyfriend to bond with your son when what really needs to happen is you all need to bond together.
To that end, maybe it’s time to move out of your dad’s small apartment and get a home for you and your boyfriend and your three kids. Maybe it’s time to discuss long-term plans. Is marriage in the cards eventually? These kids need some stability, and the stability comes from more than just your boyfriend helping your son with his homework or playing ball with him outside. Stability comes from feeling secure as a family unit. Stability comes from feeling at home.
I’d also suggest you and your boyfriend attend some couples/family counseling together. You need help — more help than I am qualified or able to give you in a single advice column — for working together as a team, as co-parents, and as two people who need to set goals and discuss steps toward reaching them. What do you both want? When do you want it? Are you on the same page? These are really major questions you need to answer sooner rather than later, and then start formulating some solid plans to reach your shared goals (and if you don’t have shared goals, then that’s a red flag).
You wrote asking advice regarding your boyfriend’s relationship with your son, but your issue is so much bigger than that. At the root, this is really about YOUR relationship with your boyfriend. Make sure that’s super-solid. A branch of a family tree doesn’t grow strong if the roots and trunk supporting it are weak.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.