Is my son jealous? Or struggling to cope with change?
January 31, 2009 12:47 AM   Subscribe

Why is my 7 year old acting like this, when he seems to like my new boyfriend? And what do I do about it?

Oh, this is long & complicated. I'll try to be succinct.

I'm a 40 year old single mum, with a 10 year old daughter & a 7 year old son. The kids' dad & I broke up when I was pregnant with our son, so he has never lived with a male (role model? figure? fatherhead?) in our home, but he is heavily involved in the life of his grandfather, as well as male teachers & sports coaches. He is also in regular contact with his dad. I've never felt that he lacked a male role model. I don't know if that's relevant, but there you go... it's background.

Since having our son, I've had 2 short-ish relationships of a few months which were failures. My son became very attached to the latest guy (which was 2 & a half years ago) very quickly, and his heart was broken too when the boyfriend cheated on me & I ended the relationship.

Late last year: enter the most fabulous bloke I have ever met in my life. We were friends, enjoyed the whole significant glances/eyes-meeting-and-holding thing for a few months, did the cliched NYE kiss after confessing our nervousness & desire, and it's been going forward in leaps & bounds ever since. I am deliriously happy with this guy. My kids like him, my family like him, I like his family, he likes my kids & my family, etc, etc, with all the permutations. It's all going swimmingly.

BUT... my son has started to wake in the middle of the night, come into my room, and insist on sleeping there. He gets put straight back to bed. Then he gets back up again. He only does it when my boyfriend is staying over. He must have walked into my room 10 times last night before I lost patience. My boyfriend could see that I was losing control of my temper, so he took over & told me to go and relax with a glass of wine while he dealt with my son.

I haven't spoken to him in detail about it yet, somehow he got my son to stay in bed in a softly-spoken caring manner, but the 'mood was broken', well & truly. And I ended up in tears. Frustrated, angry, and upset.

As a redhead with the stereotypical temper, I want to put a lock on my sons bloody door so he can't get out. But I know that's cruel & insensitive. I don't want him to feel like the new boyfriend is more important than him. I also want to put a lock on MY door, but I worry about the implications if one of my kids is seriously sick or there's a fire or whatever. Yeah, I'm a drama queen.

I've tried bribes. I've tried threats. And still, once a week or so, my son is an all-too-frequent uninvited visitor to my bedroom. My daughter is coping quite well, she told my mother that she's thrilled about the new bloke because he 'makes mummy happy'. And during the day, my son is the same. Loves my new boyfriend, will happily talk about Star Wars with him for hours, but the late night bedroom visits are doing my head in.

Suggestions? Do I just struggle along, hoping that eventually he'll figure out that he won't be sleeping in my bed no matter how many times he gets up? Do I get nasty & take away the Nintendo/golf lessons/whatever else he enjoys, at the risk of alienating him from my boyfriend?

Disclaimer of sorts: I lived through this situation as a teenager with my own parents (mother & step-dad) and my stepbrother, and they screwed it up bigtime, possibly because they wavered between letting him manipulate their relationship & then getting firm. I don't want my son to turn out like my stepbro.

And just in case this isn't clear, my boyfriend doesn't live with us. He lives right next door, though.

So much for being succinct...
posted by malibustacey9999 to Human Relations (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"As a redhead with the stereotypical temper, I want to put a lock on my sons bloody door so he can't get out. But I know that's cruel & insensitive."

And stupid and dangerous, unless your kid's fireproof, never needs to pee, and has the cash to pay for years of therapy. It's great you're feeling all the rush of a first love with the new guy, but you have serious responsibilities to your kids.

Look, the kid (correctly) sees new guy as a destabilizing influence: maybe new guy will make everything cotton candy and roses, but any change is a change and that frightens people, especially kids. Even in the best circumstances, it means your kid is now competing for your affections. Competing with a stranger who experience tells him will end up letting both you and the kid down.

You note that Grandpa's in the picture; short term, if you want to be a giddy date rather than a mom, have Grandpa come over for the night, and you go next door to new guy's place. Long term, understand that new guy's not just your boyfriend, he's a significant actor in the life of two kids who unlike you have had no choice in choosing him, and that as a mother your first responsibility is to those kids, all the more so because they have little voice in the matter.

I don't want to be harsh, but you need to get it together and realize that once you choose have kids, you have responsibilities that will get in the way of doing what you want to do with your life. "Bribing and threating" a seven year old who is your responsibility to raise is immature and frankly reprehensible. All the more some because you want to enjoy a school-girl wine and lust fueled starry-eyed crush; sorry, much fun as that would be, ten years ago and seven years ago you made choices that don't ethically permit that, Mom. Get some help, before you destroy your kids' lives and their relationship with you.
posted by orthogonality at 1:06 AM on January 31, 2009 [4 favorites]

Seven is old enough to understand basic consequences. (Likewise, 40 is certainly old enough to leave aside this "being a stereotypical angry redhead makes me want to explode" twaddle, which is just you looking for a way to let yourself off the hook a little.)

Let him know ahead of time, during the DAY in a moment where everyone's tempers are cooled and everyone's happy, that when your friend is over your son is not to come to your bedroom door after he's been tucked in UNLESS he is ill or there is some other comparable emergency. Then let him know what the consequence will be (for example, he'll lose Nintendo privileges the following day). Do not negotiate; do not ask if he thinks this is appropriate; do not try to extract any promises; do not bribe or threaten. Just make a calm, clear statement: if he does Behavior A, then Consequence B will result. Full stop.

Then do it. Keep calm in the middle of the night. (I know! Insanity! But you're the mother, you're the adult, you are in charge; staying calm is your job, no matter how hard you have to work at it.) Lead your son back to bed -- not angrily, but calmly. Tell him you love him AND (not "but" -- AND) he is to stay in his room. Remind him that there is a consequence the following day that you already discussed. Then make the consequence stick the next day -- without any drama, or berating, or what-have-you. If he's lost his Nintendo, then without comment remove the controls from the living room or whatever you have to do. Repeat every day as necessary.

The point is simply to alert him ahead of time that there will be a cause-and-effect with his behavior. At some point, he's going to finally realize that disrupting you at night is NOT getting him what he wants.

Finally, praise him when he DOES manage to keep to bed at night -- tell him how proud you are of him. This is, after all, a very confusing time for him, even as he wants his mum to be happy. Give him what he really needs: assurances that whatever happens, you're his mum and will always be there for him. You may think that he knows this already, but I bet he'd love to hear it again.
posted by scody at 1:32 AM on January 31, 2009 [5 favorites]

Respectfully, I disagree with Scody; and with you. This is not about what you want or about your "buzz" being spoiled. Its about what your little boy needs, which is reassurance and support. While he may not be ill or it may not be a physical emergency, he needs you. Its an emotional emergency for him and though its tempting to get exasperated and angry it comes down to one thing: he can't handle it on his own and needs your help. He's working through this big change to his family and hes to know that he still is taken care of and still matters in the new family. He needs reassurance during the night - a vunerable time - that only his beloved mummy can give. So first, shift your focus from yourself and your hot new romance to your son.

Now... what to do? You could try the following things:
1. Let him in bed with you. Put back on your pajamas and let your son cuddle you and your boyfriend. Over time he will be reassured that he is not losing you and will stay in his own bed.

2. Hop into his bed! Lie with him pressed to your side till he falls asleep and then go back to your bed.

3. Get him a warm glass of milk and sit by his bedside and hold his hand until he falls asleep.

Over time he will be reassured and stop waking up in the night. However, if you don't take the time to reassure him, rather than punish him, you'll be essentially abandoning him at a time that he reaches out for you. You can then expect the anger and hurt from that abandonment to come back at you - either soon through aggressive and unhappy behavior or later - as an angry teenager. You have an important opportunity. Don't squander it for a hot date, mummy.
posted by zia at 2:10 AM on January 31, 2009 [18 favorites]

Gotta be honest here. If you are saying that the NYE kiss was this past January 1, and that you have been in a relationship with this man for one month, you are expecting way too much, way too fast from a seven year old, from both your kids, actually. As fabulous as this guy is, and i wish you well, you should have phased him in much more slowly particularly given your little boy's "broken heart" when your last relationship broke up. Your son is not behaving this way to cramp your style, as hard as that may be for you to believe. He is upset. He is afraid to count on this guy, he may have heard you having sex and interpreted it wrongly, he may just not feel like adapting to a new male energy, he may be creeped out by something completely unrelated -- I mean, he's seven!!! Do not hyperfocus on what your kid is doing wrong -- cut back on the sleepovers, spend MORE TIME with your son as he adjusts to the new guy. And I would do the same with your daughter. A young child who says, I like him because he makes mummy happy? That sounds to me like she's just repeating what you want to hear. It's time to change priorities for a while, and it sounds like your new man will be happy to support you when you telll him the kids come first.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:38 AM on January 31, 2009 [15 favorites]

Also, maybe your boy is afraid for you! If you're a drama queen (not a good characteristic for mothering) maybe you were so depressed or angry or disconnected from the kids during the last break-up that it frightened your kid and he is trying in his seven year old way to prevent that!! I said 'cut back on the sleepovers," but I should have said 'stop the sleepovers for a while'.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:46 AM on January 31, 2009

I was going to ask why you don't do Zia's #2 suggestion, pretty much for the same reasons Zia stated: it is important to your son.
posted by Nattie at 3:30 AM on January 31, 2009

Some factors you may want to consider...

Was it the most recent New Year's eve? If so, then I'm with thinkpiece, you need to give the kids more time to deal. I have food in my fridge that's older than this relationship.

How distressed does the kidlet seem when he comes into your room? There's a difference between waking up from a nightmare that all his family have vanished and waking up to go to the loo, then deciding on hi way back that Mum's bed is nicer than his. Kids can be manipulative on a level adults find it hard to credit. They can also be terrified on a level that's hard for adults to comprehend. You need to try and work out what's going on here.

When you were single, did the kids ever stay the night at Granddad's? Because if they did, then that's your answer. (I suggest staying the night at his, rather than him babysitting because I have happy memories of staying at my grandparents' as a very young kid and thinking I was omg, so grown up sleeping in another house. They'd both been widowed, so I got to sleep in the big bed with them until I was old enough to prefer the spare room. Plus they'd let me win at boardgames for hours on end and have sugar in my tea and breakfast cereal. Grandparents = win.) Of course, if this isn't something you did before you started seeing Mr Neighbour, the kid may see it as being pushed out of his own house and react badly, so... y'know swings and roundabouts.

Without the answers to any of these questions, I'm going to say continue as you are, while trying not to let your natural frustration show. Tell the kid that you're there for him and he's free to knock on your door if he ever needs you in the night, but he will not be sleeping in your bed ever, under any circumstances, then put him to bed and stay until he goes to sleep. Reward him with praise every time he makes it through the night or remembers to actually knock before walking in. (A lock is a bad idea for all the reasons mentioned in your post and elsewhere in this thread, but you do need something to stop him walking in on you having sex, unless you want to pay for all that therapy.)

Also, be sure to be consistent in your behaviour whether Mr Neighbour is there that night or not. Praise him for sleeping through, even if it wasn't a date night. Don't let him sleep in your bed on nights when you're unaccompanied. Let him see that Mum is Mum regardless of men, that's the real lesson he needs to take away from this anyway.
posted by the latin mouse at 3:37 AM on January 31, 2009

This relationship is less than a month old. You have added a new person to the mix. That is domestic upheaval for a 7 year old.

my son has started to wake in the middle of the night

Something is upsetting your child for this to be happening. All is not right in Kid Land if this is occurring all of a sudden. Ergo, your kid has a problem and you need to deal with that.

come into my room, and insist on sleeping there.

This is a consequence of the above. It is secondary to, and not as important as, the fact that there is a problem with your kid. Be grateful you have a strong and clear signal your child is having an issue.

By all means, keep up the rapid return. Do not lose your temper. Be gentle and consistent and do it over and over every night it is required.

But during the day time, deal with the actual problem. Talk to your son - not about the getting up, but about the boyfriend. Talk about families and love and how your son is your #1 dude. Then demonstrate this. Take your son out for date night once a week - go to the cinema, go with just the two of you to pick out a film at Blockbuster, take him out for ice cream. Do something at his level that signifies his importance. Work with him long term to help him feel better and calm his underlying anxiety about this shift in your household.

In other words: don't worry about the getting up. Worry about the kid.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:00 AM on January 31, 2009 [8 favorites]

Do/did you allow your son to sleep in your bed when sick/upset? He can't expect to understand why the boyfriend and you are excluding him now when he really needs you. Adult relationships are complicated to children, at seven years old he doesn't permanently break up with his friends because they play with someone else so he can't understand why your boyfriends appear and disappear from his life. I agree a one month old relationship is waaaay too soon to integrate into your children's daily lives (from your questions it seems he is sleeping over at least once a week). Having someone your son has known less than a month put your son to bed is not putting your son first. Bribes and threats are not good parenting techniques. Once you have children you are a mother first, then a a sexual being. The fact that your boyfriend is so willing to pretend to be daddy to a child he has known a few weeks makes me wonder about his maturity too.
posted by saucysault at 4:56 AM on January 31, 2009

If this relationship is only a few months old- overnights at your house are happening too soon for your son. Slow it down for your son! Can you ease up on the overnights at your place and focus on spending family time w/ boyfriend so your son can build trust and familiarity? Remenber, it's your son's home, too, that you are inviting boyfriend into.

Believe, me I can sympathize with your position- I was a single mom for a long time. It sounds as though your mother is in the area and has a good relationship w/ your kids. When you want an overnight w/ boyfriend, for now, drop the kids off w/ grandma.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 5:20 AM on January 31, 2009

a. The kid's disturbed by the change here, and he wants reassurance. There's nothing wrong with that- you should be holding off on the sleepovers for a while so that things can get a bit more settled down and the boyfriend and your son can get to know each other better.

b. The "put a lock on my sons bloody door" outburst doesn't really speak for you very well at all.

c. Your son will always be your son, but this boyfriend might not always be your boyfriend. Think about the kid.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:43 AM on January 31, 2009

I think people are being a little harsh on you about what you said about putting a lock on his door. It's an understandable reaction to have, and there's nothing wrong with acknowledging your feelings, since you clearly realize it would be an inappropriate course to take. There's not a parent alive who hasn't wanted to sell their kids to gypsies at some point, and that's fine.

I was in your boyfriend's shoes six years ago. My now-stepdaughter was a bit younger at the time, but we had the same situation--she'd come in once or twice a week and crawl into bed with us in the middle of the night. Her mom would snuggle her for a few minutes, then get up with her, walk her back to her room, snuggle her in her own bed for a bit, then leave her there and come back. Eventually, she got over it and stopped coming in.

Was it the most romantic thing ever? Nope. But any time a new person comes into a home, it's going to freak the kids out a little bit, even if they don't understand that they're freaked out. He needs reassurance from you right now, and you and your boyfriend probably have to resign yourself to having a guest in the bed every so often.

It sounds like the boyfriend is very patient and has a good handle on this. That's a good sign for someone who may be a long-term father figure for your kids. Good luck!
posted by EarBucket at 7:00 AM on January 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

I was hella jealous of every boyfriend my mom ever had as a wee little one. My dad was never around, and my mom was MINE, and she had to love me best, and if some weird dude came around and they did it (ewwww!) then I wouldn't be so special anymore and where was he when it was just me and her and my siblings, huh? huh?

My mom was my mom, and when I was seven, she was by far the biggest person in my life. I made her bed (and checked for evidence of doing it), I fought with my little brother over who would get to marry her when we grew up, I thought she was the keenest thing since sliced bread. So, yes, I intentionally tried to come between her and every boyfriend she had. Even the nice ones. Even the ones I secretly liked. I don't know if that's what is going on with your son, since he sounds a hell of a lot nicer than I ever was to her boyfriends, but I wanted you to know that yes, even young children can understand that their mom is having sex and falling in love and hatch crazy schemes to keep it from happening.

I'm a lady, and not a mom, so I kind of give you a break on wanting to get banged. Just because you have kids doesn't mean you don't deserve some nookie. However, your relationships seem to be following a pattern. New dude enters picture. Son gets attached very quickly, and if this month-old relationship is anything to go by you move things very quickly. Then, the relationship never makes it past a few months. I can see why he's flipping out. Take things slooooow, girl. Give him more time to adjust.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:37 AM on January 31, 2009

Wait, why must you shoo your son out? He wakes up in the middle of the night and wants his Mom, I don't see anything wrong with that.

I don't want him to feel like the new boyfriend is more important than him.

Well, that's what it sounds like to me. What exactly does "more important" mean? It's not some abstract platitude you can repeat and make it true. When your son wakes up frightened or upset in the middle of the night and goes to you for comfort and support, you're making it very clear to him that you'd rather be with the boyfriend.
posted by losvedir at 9:10 AM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know its difficult, but I would highly suggest not having "sleepover" nights with the new boyfriend while the kids are there. Find a night when they can stay over with family, and then have your own time. But when you have the kids in the home, they should be your absolute number one priority.

As the guy in this very situation 5 years ago, you need to make sure that everyone involved (you, the new guy, and the kids) knows that your kids are the most important people in your life. I'm certain you feel that way, and that the kids know that, but it is very easy for a child to feel that change equals "I'm not loved the same."
posted by shinynewnick at 9:20 AM on January 31, 2009

I think it's a really really really bad idea to have your boyfriend sleep over with your kids in the house. Particularly as you have no idea if this guy will be a permanent fixture in their lives. These kids don't need more heartbreak.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:21 AM on January 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

Maybe since he didn't have a live-in father figure when he was younger, he's just now having some Oepidal-type feelings and feels that the new boyfriend is a rival for your love/affection?
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:22 AM on January 31, 2009

This relationship is less than a month old.

Ah, I misread the OP -- I took "late last year" to mean late 2007 (rather than 2008), which led to me think that she's been with the boyfriend for just over a year, and that the recent change was that he started spending the night. So to me, it seemed legitimate to lay down some ground rules for the son in dealing with the transition as mom moved forward in an established relationship.

But if this relationship is really only a month old, then the whole question is moot, because it's absolutely WAY too early for overnights with a new boyfriend.

Sorry for the late-night misreading.
posted by scody at 10:22 AM on January 31, 2009

I haven't read through all the responses yet, but since this is a topic that's pretty close to my heart, though I should go ahead and give my take on this before I have a chance to overthink it. Sorry, it's a bit epic.

My brothers and I were super close to our divorced mom. Our dad wasn't in the picture, so it felt like we were a team, us against the world. In some ways, that bond is great, but it makes the dating thing very hard. All my thoughts are based on what my mom did well and did poorly when she started dating. Since our relationship nearly fell apart permanently as the result of one guy she dated when I was a teenager, it's pretty personal to me.

No matter how great the guy is, you being in a relationship with someone is very disrupting for your kids. The family unit goes from one thing with one set of rules to another thing with a new set of rules, seemingly overnight and without their input. They are bound to be jealous, at least for a while. Every time you date someone and make him a part of your kids lives then break up, it makes introducing the next guy much harder. Kids don't understand this; they shouldn't, they're kids. It really isn't fair to put them through that over and over again.

The first thing, and I think this is crucial, is to recognize that your children don't necessarily need to meet every one of your boyfriends. People I know who've successfully integrated a romantic partner into their kids lives have done so by waiting until the relationship was quite serious and of reasonably long (some months at least) duration and very serious and committed.

I'm honestly pretty surprised that the previous boyfriend was around enough in a relationship of just a few months for your son to get attached because, from my frame of reference, your son probably shouldn't have even met the guy at that point. Meeting your kids and getting integrated into their lives should be something a guy has to earn. I'd work on separating your dating life and family life for a while. Let the kids stay with their grandfather (or other family for friends where they feel safe) when you want to have sleepovers. Because I've got to say, if my mom had let her boyfriend of a month spend the night in our house (our safe, family space) I'd probably have lost my shit, and I was a rather well adjusted kid.

By letting them be around men so fast, I imagine it feels like a revolving door to them. They don't know who it's safe to love and trust because they don't know how long any new adult is going to hang around. I imagine its very destabilizing for them, if not downright scary. The most important thing is that your kids feel secure. It will, at least for a while, put a crimp in your dating life. It will be harder to spend as much time with the guy as you want. You may feel like you're walking on eggshells, but it can save your children a lot of fear and pain.

Also it's way, way too early for the boyfriend to be taking over and "dealing with" your son. He is not his father and really shouldn't yet be in a position to provide discipline or to parental control of any kind. I promise you, that way lies resentment and a universe of "He's not my dad and he can't tell me what to do!" fights.

Also, work on putting extra effort into spending quality time alone with your kids, together and individually. At some point, they're probably going to get the idea that since your giving love and attention to someone else, that means there's less love and attention for them. That isn't true, but you may have to go out of your way to show them that they are still the most important people in your lives. A little extra love and attention can go a long way.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2009 [5 favorites]

When you send your son back to bed while he's upset and lonely, you're giving him a message of "Son is not important right now, Boyfriend is the important one." Imagine if you were playing cars with Son and Boyfriend came home, all miserable and sad. Would you say:
"Sorry Boyfriend Bill, I'm not going to talk to you right now even though you're very upset and crying. It's my private time with Son Sammy. Please go away, Bill."

My guess is that you'd feel weird talking to Boyfriend like that- but that's how Son is interpreting being sent back to bed. Given that Son is your son, and you've known him much longer than Boyfriend, I think he deserves more compassion.

Put Boyfriend aside and comfort your kid. And spend more time alone with Son so he feels comfortable that he's your priority at least half the time (I think it should be more). Let Son see you choose him over Boyfriend. Imagine if Son overheard this phone conversation:

"Oh hi Bill, thanks for calling. I'd love to go see a movie but I can't tonight, Sammy and I have plans and I've been looking forward to playing Star Wars with him all week, and then we're making cookies! I know, fun, right? So can we take a rain check?"

Imagine how good that would make Son feel! Mom chooses him over Boyfriend. And not in a "oh crap, I have to take Son tonight, what a drag, but it's my job" kind of way-- but rather, "Son and I have plans and he's my favourite person so I'm really looking forward to spending time with him. Son is fun to play with in a way that you will never understand, Boyfriend, and my private fun time with Son is so great that I don't want to share it or defer it. Wait your turn, Boyfriend!" If your kid hears you do that a few times, I guarantee things will be easier.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:36 PM on January 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

I showed this to a friend: [husband]'s mother had serial boyfriends -- live in -- and it was very very hard on him...She was self-centered and physically abusive, and kind of emotionally cruel. We call her on obligatory holidays and her birthday. But we haven't seen her since 2001...I'm just grateful, and proud of him, that he's chosen to not raise his kids like he was raised, and to focus on the kids' needs. He's a very good father to them.

Re-read mostlymartha's answer. I'm not saying you're abusive or emotionally cruel, not at all, but this is really serious stuff. You're a mother first.
posted by 6550 at 1:55 PM on January 31, 2009

Best answer: I hardly got through the first response when I choked on orthagonality's patronizing comment, I don't want to be harsh, but you need to get it together and realize that once you choose have kids, you have responsibilities that will get in the way of doing what you want to do with your life.

Jesus H. Christ, she's been a single mother for the last seven years. By virtue of the fact that her offspring are still breathing, I strongly suspect she, um, understands this in the kind of visceral way that a guy who posts way too much on MeFi to have children of his own would ever understand.

OK, now that I've got that off my chest: you know, it's perfectly possible to love your kids, be there for them, acknowledge that a new love in your life can feel destabilizing, etc, etc, and to have a reasonalble, LEGITIMATE need for adult company, relationships, love, and sex. Every parent worth his or her salt knows that the kids are the bottom line AND ALSO that you can go completely fucking stir crazy if you don't have adult relationships (friendships and otherwise), adult conversation, basically keep yourself grounded in the world of grownups.

So I say, as a parent of young kids myself, I think it's totally fine and reasonable that the OP has a boyfriend. And I think it's totally fine and reasonable that it's freaking your younger out a bit. Yes, you should help him cope; great if you can arrange to have overnights while the kids are in grandpa's or a sitters care; but I think that it's also totally all right to have your own grownup life to live.

As far as the actual issue asked, I think this is the kind of thing that will work itself out in time. I'd be frustrated as hell, too, but yeah, locking the door isn't going to be a good solution. Talking about it in the daytime when your BF will be there that evening is probably a good strategy. Seven is old enough to start realizing that Mom has a life of her own and sometimes that takes priority over kids' wants and needs.
posted by Sublimity at 6:12 PM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a roommate who dated a woman with a child. He was the type of dude who would shack up with a chick and I wouldn't see him for days at a time. it didn't happen when he was dating the woman with the child. I asked him about it and he said something like "Yeah...bitch is all about putting her kid in front of me, so I can't be over unless we get really serious."

Umm yeah, the definition of "bitch" changed for me right then and there. Its new definition was:
intelligent mother who cares more for her child than her boyfriend, or her needs/wants to have a man.

Just because you use the term "late last year", it doesn't mean that you have been together for a year. It means you have been together for about 5 weeks. I KNOW your son (and daughter) are more important than ANY dude you have been together with (even though you knew him longer) for 5 weeks. Act like it.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:49 PM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Put a lock on your door.

When I was seven, I could lock my door and my parents could lock theirs. And if I knocked on their door in the middle of the night, it didn't kill me to wait a minute while they opened it.

Seriously, what is wrong with people?
posted by tejolote at 12:35 AM on February 1, 2009

Response by poster: Whoa. Can we hold back on the vitriolic you-are-a-selfish-mother thing for a minute? I am upset not just on my own behalf, but because my son appears to be having trouble coping. Believe it or not, I'm stressed enough about this to ask you for advice... does that make me a bad mother? Because I want to make this transition easier for him, so he doesn't wake me up, which leads to a cranky sleep-deprived mother? This does boil down to 'I want my son to be happy, because I'm happy & his sister is happy, & there's no reason that he can't be happy too'. End of story. And blunt advice that I'm a bad mother & should remain celibate & lonely for the rest of my life is not warranted, needed, or useful.

A couple of clarifying points: we've known the new boyfriend for a long time, well over a year in fact. My kids knew him before I did, they used to chat over the back fence long before I met him in person. I told them that I thought something might be happening between us, when the whole significant-glance thing started. I treat my children as equal participants in our household. I involve them in decision-making, I ask their opinions, and this is why this situation is causing me grief. They know they come first in my life, I tell them every day. Yes, EVERY DAY. The new boyfriend knows they come first in my life. I have done all the right stuff, preparing them for the possibility of a relationship, he gently became friends with them as neighbours long before he & I hooked up on NYE. He doesn't discipline them, he doesn't force a relationship with them, he waits to see how far they go with friendship & then meets them there. I honestly believe that he & I are doing the right thing. And that is why this sleep-thing is driving me mad. Because we are doing what we should.

The new boyfriend doesn't sleep over all night. On occasion, possibly once a week, he & I spend some time in the bedroom late at night, after the kids are asleep, but he goes home before the kids wake up. I have an issue with single parents whose kids wake up to a new boyfriend for mum or a girlfriend for dad 3 times a week. I'm not one of them.

And the previous boyfriend, the one who cheated on me, the one who my son became attached to... he was also a long-term family friend, so saying something as simplistic as 'oooh, bad-mummy-Malibu, he shouldn't have even MET your son at that stage' is rubbish. He worked for my stepdad, I worked with him too, he knew my kids before any relationship developed. I don't hook up with blokes at a club. I tend to become friends with a guy, and then it develops further in time.

And my kids are my priority, so if I meet someone who interests me, I tell them.

Hell, I thought I'd written enough of a thesis in the question...

I thank those people who have not judged me to be some sex-mad slut, just dying for an opportunity to trade my children in for a Chippendales dancer. (WTF? If I'd had 20 boyfriends in 7 years, the criticism might be justified. But 2 guys in 7 years? Hell, I've got friends who've had more husbands in less years than that!)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:04 AM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wow, defensive much? Interesting that you favourite the one comment that re-enforces your prejudices and assumes no one posting is also a mother with dating issues and relevent experience.

Since you treat your children as equal participants in your household your son is clearly saying he doesn't want the boyfriend you have been dating only a month to sleep in the one place in the world he feels safe. Please respect what he is repeatedly trying to say to you.

Nobody here suggested you become celibate or that you were a slut, just that you are putting your needs and the needs of your boyfriend ahead of the needs of your very young children and maybe you should re-think on how you are acting on your priorities. It is entirely possible to have a rich adult love life without involving the children. You seem to say one thing but act another way entirely which is giving your children mixed messages.
posted by saucysault at 8:03 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Okay, I meant best answer, not favourite, in the second sentence but my children called me away from the computer and I hit post without re-reading.
posted by saucysault at 8:11 AM on February 1, 2009

I understand your being taken aback at the harsh tone of some of the comments, but honestly, I think you needed to hear that. The impression you've given the readers is likely the impression you've given your son--that YOUR needs ARE more important than his. The fact that you say "over a year" is a "long time" speaks volumes imo. Sorry, a year is NOT a long time, it's just not. And you've only been dating the guy for a month, which makes his sleeping over (or whatever you called it in your post) even more problematic. Sounds like you are searching for a way to in-validate your son's feelings, as if he doesn't have a right to feel that way. But clearly, he does have an issue, else you wouldn't need to write this post, so instead of trying to figure out what's wrong with your son, better to think, "There's a problem, my son is anxious, how can I fix it?" The issue here is not for your son to fix something, YOU are the one who will have to adjust. Even though you think your bf and you are "doing the right thing," I think you should heed the advice of previous commenters and hold off on the sleepovers. At the very least, it will show your son who is REALLY your priority and give you time to better handle your relationship with him (ie establish boundaries, make sure he feels secure, etc.) Delaying the sleepovers should not be a big deal since you and bf live next door for goodness sake! Just try it, for another couple months or so, your kid is screaming out right now.
posted by GeniPalm at 8:45 AM on February 1, 2009

They know they come first in my life, I tell them every day. Yes, EVERY DAY.

Again, what does this mean? Because from your anecdotes you gave us in your post, it's simply not true. You can't just say something and make it true. You "tell" them everyday. Big deal, that's easy. You need to show them. Because when you chase your upset son out of your room, you're not putting him first. Maybe you just left out all the examples where you choose your son over you and your boyfriend?
posted by losvedir at 11:27 AM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

treat my children as equal participants in our household. I involve them in decision-making

I know you mean well, and your heart is in the right place, but they are too young for this. Especially your son. AT that age he needs to feel you are in charge and taking care of things-at the ages your children are, I think this puts too much pressure on them. You are their mother, not their roommate, you are their security figure. Yes, as you are a single parent this is incredibly stressful for you, but they need the security of knowing YOU are in control. So really this is probably bigger than the boyfriend being over.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:59 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know you mean well, and your heart is in the right place, but they are too young for this. Especially your son. AT that age he needs to feel you are in charge and taking care of things-at the ages your children are, I think this puts too much pressure on them. You are their mother, not their roommate, you are their security figure. Yes, as you are a single parent this is incredibly stressful for you, but they need the security of knowing YOU are in control. So really this is probably bigger than the boyfriend being over.

Quoted for truth, 100%.
posted by scody at 2:20 PM on February 1, 2009

OK, so let me be make sure I've got this right: the consensus view is that, upon becoming a single mother, a woman completely abdicates any right to new romantic relationships until her children have reached full maturity/adulthood?

'Cause guess what? At ANY AGE it is disconcerting to children that a parent has a new romance. I knew peers in college who had a hard time with this. Doesn't take much looking on MeFi to find people older than that who struggle with this.

saucysault writes: you are putting your needs and the needs of your boyfriend ahead of the needs of your very young children. No. Seven is not "very young". Preschoolers and younger have very little ability to understand that other people have needs, feelings, etc. but seven year olds certainly can and do. Seven year olds are already wading deeply into the thick of social dynamics at school and have started having independent lives of their own. Of course they're still very dependent on parents, but they are not "very young children" incapable of dealing with parents' new relationships.

Gee, you know, it would be really great if it were possible for every person in a family to have their needs met perfectly at every moment. Sadly life is not perfect and it is by definition impossible to do everything "absolutely right". The vast majority of the time parents compromise to make things as good as possible for a kid. I think it's totally reasonable to occasionally make the choice in favor of oneself and find a way to help the kids cope--which is what the OP is looking for.

Again, I think good communication and tincture of time will take care of it.
posted by Sublimity at 4:52 PM on February 1, 2009

sublimity, that is not what people are saying. And even if it was, children's needs have always trumped adults' desires.

Those on this thread who were children who went through this are the real experts. Listen to them.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:08 PM on February 1, 2009

the consensus view is that, upon becoming a single mother, a woman completely abdicates any right to new romantic relationships until her children have reached full maturity/adulthood?

No one has said anything of the sort.

The general consensus seems to be that when single parents DO enter into a new relationship -- as, obviously, millions do, as is their right -- it should be in a way that's mindful of the impact that those relationships will have on one's children, and to proceed from stage to stage of the new relationship in a way that gives careful consideration to what the children need as much as what mom (or dad!) needs.

You can read OMG SEXUAL OPPRESSION OF SINGLE MOTHERS into that all you want, but it's a straw(wo)man.
posted by scody at 6:32 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Those on this thread who were children who went through this are the real experts. Listen to them.

Actually, in point of fact, I did "go through this" as a child. And no, they are not the real experts, *because they're looking at it from the child's point of view*, which is not the only point of view in the situation and generally never the most fully informed.

The general consensus seems to be that when single parents DO enter into a new relationship -- as, obviously, millions do, as is their right -- it should be in a way that's mindful of the impact that those relationships will have on one's children, and to proceed from stage to stage of the new relationship in a way that gives careful consideration to what the children need as much as what mom (or dad!) needs

And the original question does not do this in what way? The woman was (a) having a problem with her kid, (b) not finding a resolution that worked for her kid, and so (c) came looking for advice about it. How is this not giving careful consideration?

The responses were practically all variations on the theme of "stop what you're doing for the sake of your child", and I call bullshit on that.
posted by Sublimity at 8:06 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I call bullshit on that.

And I called bullshit on your characterization that the majority of people in this thread suggest, imply, or directly assert that single mothers should be forbidden from having romantic and sexual relationships until their children become adults. There is a vast spectrum of choices between A) "let kids meet guy mom's sleeping with in the first month" and B) "put on chastity belt until youngest goes to college, YOU WHORE." To object to position A does NOT therefore mean taking position B.
posted by scody at 8:53 PM on February 1, 2009

Talk about calling bullshit, Sublimity,
Seven is not "very young"
, right back atcha. A seven year old boy is very young and very vulnerable and needs guidance and protection. He is not able nor should he be expected to 'understand' his mother's emotional/sexual/adult needs. Nor should he be required to 'just deal' or cope with her anger. He can comprehend mommy-time and be asked to respect it, but can not be expected not to act out when she is intimate and exclusionary in his own home.

I'm probably one of those the OP was offended by, with Sublimity following on. I was a single parent, I am extremely sensitive to 'adult time' and boundaries for kids, and I had an active dating life when my kids were teenagers, so I certainly speak from experience. I went very slow introducing a new man -- the right man with whom I now live -- into my bed at home. And even though they were no longer young, it was a delicate operation with sharp tuning in to the kids to see how they were adapting, changing the schedule if one of 'em was having a bad week at school or was particularly needy. That doesn't mean I wasn't able to carve out a satisfying grown-up sexual social life with a variety of partners. No one suggested she stop having sex, stop having adult time. My suggestion was she put the brakes on sleepovers when the kids are there, particularly since her boy is showing signs of stress.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:44 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: just bringing in the idea that the 7-year-old coming in to your room after he's fallen asleep earlier in his own bed may have absolutely nothing to do with the boyfriend and everything to do with him being 7. Give it some thought.
posted by agentwills at 11:29 AM on February 2, 2009

Seven year olds can understand the idea about friends, guests, and privacy. They can understand about staying in bed when it's bedtime and when it's OK to get out of bed in the middle of the night. Of course he can't fully understand his mom's emotional/sexual/adult needs. But that doesn't mean that they don't exist, or that she's got to deny having a life of her own while her kid is adjusting to learning that yes, mom's life is rather more multidimensional than he had previously understood.

Scody, sadly, the logical consequence of "be exquisitely mindful of your kid's feelings before date" is "never date". A brief search of AskMe turns up threads like these:

The last one is from someone who's dad was in his 80s. I mean, really!
posted by Sublimity at 1:49 PM on February 2, 2009

Scody, sadly, the logical consequence of "be exquisitely mindful of your kid's feelings before date" is "never date".

Respectfully, it's not the "logical consequence." It's your characterization of the the opinions of some people, the comments of whom you've cherry-picked in order to try to prove a vast generalization. (And a couple of those threads are pretty disingenous to include, anyway; for example, in the second-to-last thread, the OP was evidently in a toxic relationship that would have been unwise to be in, even without kids. You also include threads posted by adult children who were uncomfortable with their parents' dating; those threads generated a significant number of responses along the lines of "back off and let mom or dad date who they want," which actually undermines your argument.)

Anyway, there are countless other folks on Metafilter who have been single parents and have successfully entered into relationships while they still had young children; many more of us who haven't been in the same position have witnessed first-hand friends or family members who've done it in real life. I'm sure you can find those comments, too, if you go looking for them.

There is a vast range of opinions on the topic, some of which you obviously disagree with and find offensive. However, drawing from the opinions you don't like to make the claim that there a "consensus" in this (or any other) thread that "upon becoming a single mother, a woman completely abdicates any right to new romantic relationships until her children have reached full maturity/adulthood" is both hyperbolic and demonstrably false.


posted by scody at 2:36 PM on February 2, 2009

oh, and lest I sound too argumentative, I should say that I've observed that there tends to be very little consensus on Metafilter about much of anything. Which is perhaps part of the site's charm.
posted by scody at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2009

Response by poster: I thank you all for your input. Even those I don't agree with. I asked here to get opinions, and I got them, even if I didn't agree with them. I think some commenters need to step back & not be so judgemental, there was a whole bunch of detail that I didn't go into because I wrote too much already - but some of the 'gentler' judgemental comments gave me pause for thought.

I've realised that it was a combination of factors that was making my son sleepless. The new school year has just started, and he's in Year 2 now. He's not academically-inclined, so the thought of moving further up the school 'ladder' has been stressing him. The current once-in-a-century heatwave conditions here in Oz make sleep almost impossible. And, add to that the upheaval of mum having a new boyfriend, and with the benefit of hindsight, there would have been something wrong if my son didn't show signs of stress.

FWIW, things have been fine since I wrote the question. My son has slept well, and stayed in his own bed. My boyfriend drops in every night for a drink or a coffee, sometimes he arrives before the kids are in bed and sometimes it's later. We've intentionally stayed out of the bedroom, just in case. And it's all working out well. In fact, we're planning a family weekend away in March & my son is quite insistent that I ask the boyfriend to join us.

Oh, so many other things I want to say in response to various commenters: I ask my kids opinions on household decisions, but they don't make the decisions! I take their opinions into consideration when I decide, but it is MY decision ultimately.

And I've also been a child who has been in this situation, and it was horrific, although the fact that my mother & now-step-dad were married to other people at the time made it worse. It was very badly handled by my parents and I was worried about inflicting the same pain on my children, despite the fact that I am doing everything I can to make it comfortable & natural for them.

And to the commenter who sniffed that my 10 year old daughter must be simply repeating what she's heard when she says 'I'm happy because mummy is happy'? I guess you don't have a child who is in the Opportunity Class (gifted & talented students) at school. She has always been scarily adept at gauging people. And if mummy having a boyfriend means that mummy laughs more, jokes more, smiles more... it makes her happy. She told a family friend, unprompted, that mum is happy because of Dave. She still remembers the physical, emotional & mental abuse her father inflicted, and how miserable I was then. And I am very proud that she has such empathy for others.

And now I'm down the bottom of the page, reading the 'Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer'. Hmm. To those who gave constructive advice, and sometimes blunt criticism too, I thank you. To those who have a problem with me not wanting my 7 year old son to sleep in my bed every night? Um. Enjoy never sleeping a full night through again. I can't do it. More power to those of you who think that's a healthy way to raise a child.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:03 PM on February 2, 2009

Response by poster: Just in case anyone ever comes back to catch up, my man and I are now almost 6 months into the best relationship of my life. My kids absolutely ADORE him. My son worships the ground he walks on. And my heart overflows at the sight of my babies excitedly running to greet him when he drops over to visit. He makes all 3 of us very happy.

He is an amazing man, honest and sincere and funny and caring, and I'm delighted and thrilled that he will (hopefully) influence my son into being a man like him. (Why is he single, aged 45, you ask? His wife left him for another woman.)

We're not moving in together for the foreseeable future. It WILL happen one day, we've agreed, and we've even discussed marriage in the long distant future if we're both still happy and sure, but he wants to stay a little more distant now for the sake of my kids, he doesn't want them to feel that an interloper has intruded. He is far more sensitive than I. And far less prone to stress. And far less prone to drama, come to think of it...

And when I said in the original post that 'he dealt with my son', that sounded a little harsh. I knew that there was no disciplining or stern talks or anything like that. I doubt that my man is capable of stern talks. I learned later that he just did the chatty thing. Calmed my boy down and got him to sleep discussing Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, while mum sobbed tragically in the kitchen. And the problem stopped right then and there. My son has not woken and come into my bedroom once, since that night.

So, despite those who insisted that I'm ruining my sons mental health by having an adult relationship instead of just being 'G & D's mum' fulltime, it appears my man and I might have done a fabulous job of integrating mum's boyfriend into the family dynamic.

Dontcha love a happy ending? I do. Thanx to all who contributed.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:16 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

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