About nine months ago Chuck popped in and decided that since he — at 27 years old — had gotten his 17-year-old girlfriend pregnant, he finally wanted to father our child six years after he was born. Naturally, I wasn’t thrilled since he wouldn’t hold a job or put down the booze before, and especially now that my life was going great; it seemed too convenient that he wanted to jump in, at last. After some petty arguing with Chuck, my fiance and I talked it out and decided to give him a chance. In the last eight months, he has asked about our son maybe ten times and has actually seen him maybe six times. He knows where we live, and unless we aren’t home, he is never unwelcome.
He and his girlfriend had “family pictures” taken while the girl was still pregnant, and now that the baby is born, he has a lovely picture of the boys on his Facebook profile picture, but he still hasn’t provided an ounce of support other than popping in once a month or so. He is out of work again and living in a trailer with five or six other adults, a newborn, and two dogs, and he has recently decided to stay in that living arrangement. I got a text last night asking if he could please keep our son so he could spend time with his brother, but I couldn’t bring myself to reply. I know I’m being petty, but I feel entirely justified in doing so. When I ask my little one how he feels, he doesn’t seem excited or himself at all. I’ve raised my goblin from day one, and I just feel really pissed off that my Chuck wants to take credit now. Your input would be awesome! — Co-Parenting Dilemma
I understand your resentment, and I empathize with how annoyed you must feel that Chuck has “popped” back in and suddenly wants to claim some fatherly role, after years of absence and no real trace of taking any responsibility now. However, I’m not sure I’d call the behavior you’ve described as “taking credit.” It seems he’s trying to make the barest of efforts to form some sort of bond with his son and to help foster a relationship between his two kids. You can argue that it’s too little – I think most of us will agree with that — but is it too late? I hope not. For your son’s sake, I hope you will continue to allow him to spend time with his father — and his half sibling — as long as he’s open to it.
Encouraging time spent between your son and his father doesn’t mean giving up control over how and where the time is spent. Your instinct to protect your son is absolutely right. Not only do you have to try to protect your son as much as you can from the potential heartache of his father disappearing again — which you know as well as anyone is a real possibility — you have to protect his safety and well-being while in the care of his father. That means that until you feel that Chuck’s living situation is better – however you define that — you don’t allow your son to stay at his home. He can come visit your son in your home (and bring his baby) or they can meet in public places. This is the perfect time of year for picnics, visiting playgrounds, parks, and splash pads, and other outdoor activities.
You decide what your comfort level is and then communicate that to Chuck. Let him know that if he wants to see your son, and he wants his kids to spend time together, you’re happy to help make that happen, but there are certain guidelines that have to be followed. If he’s not ok with that, he’s not ok with it. Let him take you to court if he wants to fight for a different custody arrangement; with his virtual absence for the entirety of your son’s life, paying zero child support, not holding down a job, and living in a trailer with a swarm of people, he hardly has a leg to stand on.
No, you’re not wrong to feel excluded because you were. And your boyfriend was wrong to agree to give up your spot in the car without discussing it with you first. But is this really the hill you want to die on? Unless this kind of behavior is typical of your boyfriend, maybe consider it good luck that you got out of going to something you didn’t really want to go to without any guilt involved. If excluding you or making a decision that affects you without your input IS typical of your boyfriend, you need to re-evaluate whether you want to be with someone who has so little regard for you.
At any rate, it would be worth mentioning to your boyfriend that while it wasn’t a big deal this time, your feelings were a little hurt that he excluded you from the graduation at the last minute and that this can’t become a habit. Next time, you need him to discuss with you plans or potential change of plans that affect you/your time together. If he isn’t willing or able to do that, it’s time for you to MOA.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.