After this post, we received a number of emails from women which all varied on the theme of "What degree of contact is appropriate for my boyfriend to have with his ex?" and "My boyfriend hasn't introduced me to his kids yet." Our position on co-parenting and dating is discussed in part in the interview I (Deesha) conducted with Mike's fiancee and our children's future stepmom, Sherry. But because of the feedback we've received, we've decided to share more of our thoughts about dating and co-parenting, based on our experiences, on the experiences of people we know, and on good ol' common sense.Incidentally, our advice is directed at women dating men because, without exception, these are the folks who have reached out to us. But we believe that the same principles still apply in other dating situations.
It's interesting, however, that men don't seem to have "meet-the-kids-why-are-you-hanging-around-your-ex" concerns to the same extent that women do. If anything, according to some single guys we know, too many women want to rush their dates/boyfriends into meeting their kids, when the guys would rather proceed more cautiously.
This is a serious topic, but we believe laughter can be the best medicine and a little levity can help bring peace to a tense situation.
So, sometimes with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, we present the following Co-Parenting and Dating FAQs:
My boyfriend’s ex spends all the holidays with him and their kids, and it drives me nuts! Am I wrong to complain?*
It depends. Are shared holidays part of the co-parenting plan your boyfriend and his children’s mother established when they split up? If so, then it’s not so much that you’re wrong than it is that your boyfriend is obliged to honor this component of his agreement with his ex. Remember, divorce ends a marriage, but families endure. Sharing the holidays may be one way that your boyfriend and his ex affirm to their children that though they no longer live together, they are still part of a loving family.
What exactly about this arrangement drives you nuts? Are you never invited to attend? Is your boyfriend’s ex rude or otherwise unwelcoming toward you when you do join them? Are your boyfriend and his ex are a little too “joyous” (i.e., intimate) during these holiday celebrations? If so, address your concerns to your boyfriend. The problem is not the joint holiday celebration per se, but rather your feeling excluded, disrespected, and/or his ex’s attitude toward you.
Barring any of the above…it’s perfectly understandable if seeing your boyfriend interact with his children and his ex makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable. We (Mike and Deesha) routinely socialize together with our kids and our significant others, and yet on occasion we still feel something nudge us inside that says “This is a little weird!” Feeling awkward or uncomfortable is part of the growing pains of being part of a co-parenting family. Name the feelings, own them, and give them time to subside. The more secure you feel in your relationship with your boyfriend, the less threatened you’ll feel by his interactions with his ex and kids.
You’re entitled to your feelings about all of this and should communicate them appropriately (and privately) to your boyfriend. If the two of you are forging a serious relationship, and he’s committed to cooperative parenting with his ex, you’ll need to talk about your relationship going forward within the context of putting his children’s needs first…without turning you into a doormat. It’s an incredible balancing act that should only be attempted by mature adults.
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for six months, and he still hasn’t introduced me to his daughter. I told him that if he’s serious about me, he’ll let me meet her, and if not, we’re done.
Ultimatums in relationships are rarely a good idea, especially if you don’t have the wherewithal to carry out your “…or else.”
Six months feels like a long time to you, but maybe not so much for your boyfriend. Perhaps he’s still deciding how he feels about you, how committed he is to your relationship, and if it is serious enough to warrant an introduction to his kids. Some parents rightfully keep their kids away from the revolving door of their dating lives. They are very selective about whom they introduce their children to and in what context.
Before our divorce was even finalized, we agreed not to introduce the kids to our “dates”–people we were still getting to know and not sure if we would commit to long-term. We ended up introducing our children to our respective significant others after a year and two years of dating, respectively, once we believed that these people were The Ones we wanted to spend our lives with, and once we believed the kids were ready for introductions to someone new. Our significant others were introduced to the kids gradually, first as “just friends”, and then more as time went on.
Every family is different; the “right” time frame for introductions depends on the status of the new couple, the health of the co-parenting relationship, and the children’s specific needs and concerns. It’s a huge step for children to be introduced to their parent’s significant others. It may conjure fears of being displaced, concerns about having to “compete” for dad’s (or mom’s) attention, and it kills the fantasy many kids have that their parents will get back together. For these reasons, timing can be everything when introducing kids to the new someone in your life.
Ask your boyfriend if he has a time frame in mind for introducing you to this daughter. What are his concerns? How does he think the introduction should take place? Where? How much time will you spend with his daughter at the first meeting? Does the child’s mother have concerns about the child meeting you? These should be addressed as well.
If you are committed to a serious relationship with your boyfriend, let him know that you are also committed to doing what’s best for his kids. Let him know that you honor the fact that his kids come first, but that you would like some reassurance about your presence in his and his children’s lives going forward.
My boyfriend and his ex sleep in the same bed sometimes when he visits his kids. He says nothing happens and it doesn’t mean anything, but I don’t like it.
It’s time to introduce Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” Rules for Dating a Co-Parent:
“You got to know when to hold ‘em….” So it’s been two months, and your boyfriend hasn’t introduced you to his kids. Sit tight. Hang in there. It’s early yet.
“…know when to fold ‘em…” You’re dating this guy, and every night he calls to say goodnight to his kids. He spends about five minutes talking to the kids, and then 30 minutes talking and laughing with his ex about non-kid stuff and the inside jokes they shared as a couple. As they chit-chat, you sit next to him twiddling your thumbs while watching Dancing with the Stars.
“…know when to walk away…” You’ve dated this guy for three years. He hasn’t introduced you to his kids, and he shushes you whenever his ex calls (which is often), saying, “She’s still raw from the breakup. I haven’t told her about you yet.”
“…know when to run…” Your boyfriend and his ex sleep in the same bed sometimes when he visits his kids. He says nothing happens and it doesn’t mean anything.
If your gut tells you that your boyfriend isn’t over his ex, you’re probably right. Listen to your gut, and move on. If he really is over his ex, and he really is interested in committing to you, he will make it his business to make both crystal clear to you. You shouldn’t have to wonder.
My boyfriend’s babymama won’t let me meet his kids. She says that if he brings the kids around me, she’ll go to court to take away his visitation. Can she do this?
The short answer is, “No, she can’t.” Unless you pose some danger to the children, your presence is not legal grounds for ceasing his visitation.
Sounds like the ex wants to punish your boyfriend for moving on (or other crimes), and thinks that his visitation is fair game. There are few co-parenting matters that infuriate us more than when adults use children as pawns to fight their personal battles and demons.
Hopefully your boyfriend can have a calm conversation with his ex, letting her know that his visitation and your presence in his life have no bearing on each other. He should affirm to her that the kids are and will always be his first priority. Has he offered to let her meet you before you meet the kids? Perhaps that will allay her concerns. But experience tells us that anyone who would threaten to take away visitation to grind their own personal ax isn’t inclined to be so congenial. All you (and your boyfriend) can do is try and to treat her with respect, regardless of her irrational threats.
When you do interact with the kids, your conversation about their mother with them and in front of them should exist along the continuum of neutral to nice. Even if she bad-mouths you and your boyfriend around the kids, the two of you have to be the bigger persons, for the sake of the kids.
Keep in mind that the kids may feel wary or conflicted about meeting you because they know their mother is against it. Respect their position, and don’t be overly chummy or try too hard to get them to like you. Treat them kindly, but give them space. In time, hopefully, the dust will settle between their parents, and the kids will feel free to get to know you.
My boyfriend spends too much time with his ex. How can I get him to see that this isn’t fair to me?
This is a tough one because how much time do you consider too much time? Some women think that their boyfriend shouldn’t spend any time with his ex because if it’s over, it’s over, right? Well, if they have kids, it’s never truly over. They may no longer be a couple, but if they are committed to cooperative parenting, they will have to interact for their kids’ sake. As someone dating a co-parent, part of your adjustment is making peace with this reality.
“Too much time” also depends on the circumstances. Are they spending time together dealing with kid-related concerns (school problems, health or behavior issues, e.g.), or are they just hanging out enjoying each other’s company? The latter is an eyebrow-raiser that you should certainly address with your boyfriend (and see the Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” Rules for Dating a Co-Parent above).
In our culture, we are so accustomed to nasty divorces or to custody arrangements where kids barely (or never) see one parent, that we question how “normal” it is for ex-spouses to get along, much less spend time in each other’s company. Remember divorce ends a marriage, but families endure. Children need reassurance that they are still part of a loving, caring family. Co-parents who interact in civil and cordial ways and minimize conflict–these parents make life much, much better for kids after divorce. When a new girlfriend (or boyfriend) comes on the scene, it’s important that boundaries between “the old” and “the new” be respected, but the children remain the top priority.
Ask yourself if the real issue is inappropriate contact between your boyfriend and his ex, or if the real issue is your insecurity about your relationship. Do you feel that your boyfriend and his ex are crossing boundaries and not showing you (and the new relationship) the appropriate respect? Your boyfriend should be able to demonstrate his commitment to you in definitive ways that do not require his ex to be used as litmus test. His interaction with his ex (or lack thereof) isn’t a reliable gauge of his commitment to you. Share your concerns with him directly–but take the focus off his ex, if the real issue is concern about your relationship.
The more secure you feel in your relationship with your boyfriend, the less threatened you’ll feel by his interactions with his ex. It’s easy to think, “I’ll feel better if he didn’t spend so much time with her”, when truly what will make you feel better is clarity and reassurance about his commitment to you and your relationship.
My boyfriend vacations with his kids and his ex. Is this normal?
Is it typical? No. But among those committed to cooperative parenting after divorce, it’s not unheard of. Ever summer since our divorce, we have vacationed together with the kids. Our respective significant others have accepted this as part of our commitment to affirming to our daughters that they are still part of a family. One lament that children of divorce have is that they spend all or most of their time with one parent or the other. Many children crave times when everyone can be together “like old times”; some parents sacrifice to give them such times.
Co-parenting (parenting in general!) involves lots of sacrifice, including continued interaction with one’s ex, forgiveness, and getting along for the sake of the kids. By dating (or marrying) a co-parent, you are signing up to sacrifice as well: time, attention, and your comfort zone.
We’re not saying it’s easy knowing that your boyfriend is away with his “old” family. But keep in mind, the kids aren’t “old”–they are very much a part of his present reality. Get on board with his commitment to meeting their needs.
That said, consider the specific circumstances of your boyfriend’s family vacation in light of the Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” Rules for Dating a Co-Parent above.
My boyfriend won’t insist on boundaries with his ex. She shows up at his house unannounced, interferes with our social plans, calls constantly, bad-mouths our relationship to the kids, and always uses the kids as her excuse for her behavior. Should I put up with this?
No, you shouldn’t. Is your boyfriend worried that insisting on boundaries will anger his ex? If so, he may have to suck it up, have a conversation with her, and deal with the fallout. She may initially chafe at his insistence that she respect his boundaries, but hopefully his calm, matter-of-fact presentation of his expectations will temper her reaction.
Your boyfriend should also reflect on why he’s been so unwilling to insist on boundaries. Are there issues from their relationship that he still needs to heal or resolve?
Finally, as for what you should do, consider your boyfriend situation in light of the Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” Rules for Dating a Co-Parent above. Perhaps you should give him some time to work out this kink in his relationship with his co-parent. But if the handwriting is on the wall, and he refuses to insist on boundaries, it may be time to fold ‘em.
Well, that’s the gist of the dating and co-parenting concerns folks have shared with us. Don’t see your situation reflected in the FAQs above? Leave a comment or email us!
Happy dating and co-parenting!