just kidding!
December 26, 2010 12:55 PM   Subscribe

i'm meeting the bf's kids next week. what do i talk about?

i'm down in so.cal for the annual holiday extravaganza with the fam, and this year, staying a week or so in even southerner california with the bf. he's got two kids (ages 10 and 5) who he gets every other day so i will be meeting them for the first time. and not just meeting with them, but will be staying in the house on the days/nights they are over.

it's not that i don't like kids. i'm switzerland about them, which some ppl seem to be surprised about because i am often described as having a really goofy sense of humor and a really playful personality. i am just never exposed to them. no one in my close social circle has kids, none will any time soon (and we are all in our 30s), and half never will. the last time i was in the presence of a kid was when i had dinner over at some friends of mine (a couple whom i rarely see), and i didn't really have much to do with their kid beyond bouncing around on the trampoline with him and his friend. maybe it was easy because, according to my friends, their kid and his friend also had little crushes on me? i dunno. i love babies, and i like teenagers. kids…ehhh. also, part of my charm is that i tend to swear like a sailor so the chances of my saying something inappropriate are good if i am not super-vigilant.

so…what do we talk about? how much interacting do i need to do? yes, i know i was a kid once, but i spent a lot of time on my own as a kid, so that's not particularly helpful. i know i should ask a lot of questions, not talk down to them (i don't), and seem interested in their lives but i'm really just kind of…not. yes, i realize saying that makes me a shitty person. i know that when my bf has them, he's just constantly entertaining/interacting with them and by the end of those days, he's completely exhausted. that doesn't interest me. it's part of why i really don't want to have kids myself. i know that sounds awful, and i don't want to be rude or anything, but i would just as soon read a magazine or a book when they are there then mix it up much with them. suggestions?
posted by violetk to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think not feeling head-over-heels over these kids makes you a shitty person, but reading a magazine in anyone's presence as opposed to actually, you know, interacting is a bit rude.

My general guideline is to treat kids more-or-less like I do adults. I ask them questions about their lives, and try to pick up one what they find interesting and strike up a conversation about that. Since it's just after Christmas time, an easy way to keep them feeling interested is to ask them to show you their Christmas gifts and ask what they've named their dolls or ask them to show you how they play with their toy truck. The fun thing about kids is that you can get more imaginative than you would with grown-ups. Like, little five year old is pushing a toy truck around, and you can ask him what the truck's driver is named and what he's hauling. Get the kids to make up stories for you, that sort of thing. Don't be surprised if they arch an eyebrow at you at first--kids tend to treat strange adults with some degree of skepticism until they get used to them.

An easy way to help out your bf but still keep things low energy is to ask the kids to pick out a book or two and read it to them. I mean, really, kids are just like less inhibited adults. They want to feel like other people are interested in them and not jumping out of their skins at their very presence.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:09 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, seconding don't go and here's why.

I'm a single parent and I would never knowingly date someone who would rather read a book than interact with my kids. If someone wants to be with me, then they need to accept that being with me includes being with my kids.

Also, it comes down to kids have huge bullshit detectors, and if you're not sincere about interacting with them or being interested in being in the same room as them, you're going to make them feel really bad. They're gonna wonder why their dad has you around when you're not interested in them. And their parents are already divorced, they're probably sad enough about that and about alternating households; they don't need to see that dad now has an gf who's indifferent to them.

You seem to be very upfront about your disinterest in children (even the ones who have a little crush on you); so I'd not spend time with these kids for your sake, for their dad's sake but especially for their sake.
posted by dzaz at 1:11 PM on December 26, 2010 [14 favorites]

Mod note: comment removed - answer the question, don't be sarcastic to people who are answering your question for free. move on, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:12 PM on December 26, 2010

Best answer: Well, if you want to maintain the relationship, you're going to have to get in there and interact with them sometimes. That's just the way these things go.

You need to find a common interest with the kids. Do they like movies? Video games? Playing music? Dressing up as Star Wars characters and laying waste to Barbie dolls? Whatever, just find out what it is and do that with them.

You'll also need to be develop the ability to listen to them while not really listening to them. The only way to do that is by spending time around them. It may take a while to develop. Grin and bear it.

You're not a shitty person, I went through the same thing with my then girlfriend, now wife and her daughter. It didn't help that the kid was goddamn chatterbox and was more than the happy to talk my ear off when mom wasn't around. So I had to develop some boundaries and explain them to to her, where we'd interact for a while, then I'd go so something else to recharge my batteries. It was a little awkward at first, she didn't really understand (She's an extrovert, I'm an introvert), but eventually we reached a sort of compromise where I could get a little bit of quiet and sanity and we'd bound over watching movies, especially Scifi and horror and video games. That eased things up considerably, because we were both doing something we liked, but with another person.

Talk it over with the boyfriend, express your concerns and thoughts, ask for advice and take it slow. It'll be painful at times, but it's possible to do and eventually you may even like playing with them at times.
posted by nomadicink at 1:14 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm a single parent and I would never knowingly date someone who would rather read a book than interact with my kids. If someone wants to be with me, then they need to accept that being with me includes being with my kids.

i find this a bit condescending. my bf knows exactly how i feel about kids. and i know that being with him includes being with his kids. just because i would rather read a book than interact with kids doesn't mean that i will, and that my interactions with them will necessarily be fake because i'm pretty shitty at faking. i—and i think a lot of people—are put in social situations they would just as soon not be in. and when that happens, i do it, and it's fine, and usually even turns out to be enjoyable. but for me, those are situations with adults, who i know how to relate to. i am asking about kids here.
posted by violetk at 1:18 PM on December 26, 2010

Best answer: Think of some fun things you might like to do all together- baking cookies, going ice skating, throwing snowballs, playing a board game, etc. You can pick whatever you want, you're the grownup! Having an assortment of plans in your pocket could help you get to know the kids and feel more comfortable around them. They're not going to be "kids" once you meet them; they'll be his kids, special little snowflakes for you to get to know as individuals. Try to put aside all you've decided about how you feel about kids and just hang out.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:22 PM on December 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Kids are adults but dumber (sometimes). Be normal and kind. Treat them like you would treat his parents or any other potential in-laws. If you need alone time, take it.

The cool thing about kids is that they're not cynical fucks yet, so you can be a giant nerd about things that you like and they probably won't make fun of you.

One good way to escape is to have out of the home chores/errands/plans. Be the person who goes to pick up snacks. Run to the store to get a forgotten toiletry. Have an art exhibit/movie that you're dying to see. I'm sure your boyfriend will want alone time with his kids, too.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:28 PM on December 26, 2010

Hi, you might be my twin regarding social preferences and lack of exposure to little ones, so I hope there isn't something horrible or contagious about not being innately kid-disposed.

If you're like me and get tired of carrying a conversation (not to be confused with carrying on a conversation) for more than 10 minutes, I also would like to recommend activities, especially early on in the relationship building process. They'll give you both something common to talk about, will pass the time more quickly, and will give both you and the kids something to distract you from the possibly awkward situation. It will also make them associate you with fun things, which can't hurt either.
posted by smirkette at 1:36 PM on December 26, 2010

dzaz: "I'm a single parent and I would never knowingly date someone who would rather read a book than interact with my kids. "

Hell, I would often rather read a book than interact with my kids. They're in the house right now and yet here I am on the computer.

There's nothing wrong with not being into children, especially if they're not your own. Don't feel like a "shitty person."

Five and ten is actually pretty old, often, depending on their maturity levels. The ten-year-old might be reading some books you know. A ten-year-old might be interested in board games you'd like, too: Blockus, Sorry, Monopoly, etc. Card games: War, Spit. Lego of various kinds.

For the five-year-old, I would try an arts and crafts project you could have fun with, too. You could head to Michael's or a similar craft store and get a kit to make stepping stones, jewelry, what have you. Many five-year-olds like Lego, too.

I recently was entertaining three children ranging from four to eleven. They had fun for at least two hours with presser (AKA Perler) beads. They'd make the shapes, I would iron them. We were all in the same room and talking, but I didn't feel like I had to entertain them. The little kid did sort of abstract designs, while the older ones got fancy. These are also easily found at a craft store, Target, a large drug store, etc.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:37 PM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can also ask your boyfriend if it's all right if you take an hour or two to "nap" before dinner (or whenever) ... you can go read a book and recharge privately, he can spend some time alone with his kids, which is important, and then you can all do whatever it is you do for dinner.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:59 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I would not stay with them. I know that's not what you want to hear, but as someone who has been through this from the kid side, I think you should get a hotel room. And this has absolutely nothing to do with your feelings about kids, or about his kids. I would advise anyone who is meeting a significant other's children for the first time to keep the meeting short and to stay at a hotel. You have no idea how these kids feel about the idea of you. Your boyfriend might not even know. For your first meeting, have lunch with them in a restaurant that they like, then go someplace else. The best way to ensure that they like you is to make it clear to them that you're not a threat. Sleeping over on the first visit doesn't help you.
posted by decathecting at 2:26 PM on December 26, 2010 [11 favorites]

Seconding corpse in the library - there is nothing wrong with not wanting to interact with kids you don't know or preferring your own adult activities - if anything, that is probably the norm for most adults. Unfortunately, kids don't care what adults would prefer to do. When you're the adult in their lives, you can only opt out so much. Have a talk with your boyfriend and find out what activities he has planned - since it's your first time meeting them, it's up to him to do the planning. If he's just planning to wing it, that's fine - you can follow his lead. But if he's looking to you to be Julie their cruise director, I would take that as a major red flag, and reconsider going. This is a great opportunity to see how you all interact, and there's nothing wrong with bringing a favorite age-appropriate movie or game, but he is the father and you are the guest - the way he handles this will tell you a lot about how easy or tough living with them as a family would prove to be. It is NOT your job to be in charge of whether or not they have fun. There's also nothing wrong with taking time out to yourself while they're having family time - going to your room and reading or taking a nap or whatever you need to recharge. But when you are in the room with the kid, be present. If they have a question, answer it. If they're being silly, try to appreciate the humor. When the inevitable tantrum comes, step back, grab your magazine, and get out of the way - even if they're trying to pick a fight with you or acting up intentionally to get a rise out of you, it's Dad's job to lay down the law. Look for common ground, the same way you would do with new adults you want to have a relationship with. Kids generally do give back what you put in, and you can learn as much as you can possibly hope to teach. So don't let your fears get in the way of being yourself. And at 10 and 5, stupid jokes go a lot farther than you'd expect - here's a great place to start.

Having said that, speaking as a stepmom of 4, I think you really need to give a long hard think about where you are hoping this relationship will go. Every other day is a very significant amount of time for a custody arrangement (or is it only that often over the holidays?), and if you are hoping/planning to become a permanent fixture in his life, that means that they will become a permanent fixture in yours. If there is any part of you that is certain (not unsure, it's smart to be unsure, but dead-set certain) that you are not cut out for that, I would suggest not coming for the visit. Being a stepmom is without question one of the hardest roles a woman can play in life (feel free to memail me for more info there), and not something you can opt out of the way you can on a weeklong visit. It's not fair to expect them to welcome you into their lives as a possible Important Person if you already know you're not planning to stay.
posted by Mchelly at 2:33 PM on December 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Try not to freak out if the kids get a little overwhelming. Their moods/excitement level all that stuff comes and goes quickly. Don't come on too strong or try too hard, just be a part of what's going on and take breaks whenever you feel like it. It shows in your question that that you are very aware of your own comfort level, just try not to stretch that too far. Good Luck.
posted by boatsforshoes at 2:54 PM on December 26, 2010

Read Mchelly's answer. Then read it again.

Simply put: Follow their father's lead. And act like a normal human being.
posted by kirstk at 3:33 PM on December 26, 2010

I have found that whether it is with my kids or someone else's kids, doing something messy and gross in the kitchen is usually a winner. I made tie-dye rice when I was required to babysit my nephew who was 7. I had no kids of my own, but my brother had to take his wife to the hospital (all ok in the end) and I had little Jerry overnight. We made white rice and separated it into 5 bowls. in four of the bowls we added food coloring and mixed it all up with our hands to get a consistent color in that bowl. The 5th bowl stayed white. After that, we took all the rice and put it back into a big bowl and mixed again with out hands until there was tie-dye rice like uncle August's shirt! There was rice every where, but so what? I do advise that you let the rice dry in place for easier vacuuming. In the morning, I made green eggs and ham (bacon). Food coloring is a great thing! Stains though.

If the 10 year old is a girl, I would consider doing her nails or listening to whatever music she likes. Ask to see her iPod. Likely she has something with a bunch of downloads on it.

As for tips on interacting, I always found that saying, "Really?" in response to anything a kid says will keep the conversation going from the kids point of view. Set them off to do tasks. Ask them to color you a picture. That will take 20 minutes while you can read a book. Create a treasure hunt on the property. Have them look for various items. (A left shoe, an egg slicer, a blue crayon, a ball, etc.) That will also keep them busy. If it is nice outside, go for a hike to look for bugs or something like that.

Ask to read the younger one a bed time story. That will put you in good graces.

Over time, you will develop a relationship with them that will require no pre-thought about what to say.
posted by AugustWest at 4:22 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ten and five are massively different ages. The five year old may still need help putting on a seatbelt. The ten year old can do easy babysitting in a year or two and probably has friends who have boyfriends. So put them in entirely different categories in your mind. The older one will want to relate to you as the more adult of the two, whereas the little one will have less self-consciousness and still be a silly little kid.

How to relate to them? Play easy card games like War and Go Fish. Crafts are also a good idea. When you meet the little one, ask her what Santa brought her or compliment the thing in her outfit that she picked out herself. Getting to know her better may involve reading stories or listening to her creative tales. When you meet the older one, ask her adult type questions like how her Christmas was. Getting to know her better may involve talking about her friends or her music. You probably can't remember the interior life you had at age five (kindergarten), but ten means she's in the fifth grade, about to go to middle school, so you can remember what that was like. They're both young enough that even if the ten year old wants to be cool herself, adults still fall into categories of nice vs. mean rather than hip vs. uncool, and "nice" mostly means "interested."

Fun activity: bring one of those water bottles with a sport nozzle and then you can use it to make pancakes in the shape of their initials.
posted by salvia at 4:41 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't stay there.
posted by lakerk at 4:46 PM on December 26, 2010

I think it'll be fine. I'm kind of neutral on kids myself - I enjoy their energy and silly things they say but I am not a natural with them at all and spend very little time around them. My cousin had her little brats over for christmas yesterday and we played with plah doh it and they loved it to death. I didn't notice any bullshit detecting.

I agree with card/board games with them and the bf as an idea.
posted by MillMan at 5:05 PM on December 26, 2010


How are you.

How old are you two?

Where do you go school?

What do you like to do after school?
posted by Ironmouth at 6:29 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

This isn't really a special snowflake kind of problem; you can probably peruse the archives for other people's interactions with their new partners' kids. That said, the degree of interaction you need to have with them is variable based on your boyfriend's level of interaction and how much they seem to want to talk to you. Just like everyone else, kids like to talk about themselves. If you want to interact, ask them some basic questions about themselves (do you like robots? for example, works just fine), then sit and listen and try not to swear too much.
posted by booknerd at 7:08 PM on December 26, 2010

While you and your boyfriend are probably on the same page in a lot of ways, you should realize that his kids are going to be his top priority, even while you're there, and you need to be okay with that. It's not that he loves you less, it's that they need him more. Yes, he will be exhausted after being with them. You can help by being as independent as possible when he wants some time with the kids, and by entertaining them and helping him care for them when he needs you to do that. It's a tough balancing act.

As far as what to talk about, his kids will probably have a lot of questions for you. Be honest and straightforward and you will be okay.

Ask them questions, too. Like what they got for Christmas, and what they are looking forward to over the holidays, etc.

Do NOT tell his kids, or make them feel as if, you would rather be somewhere else! It's natural to want to get away when you are overwhelmed--but imagine what they are going through! You just have to worry about how to ingratiate yourself with his kids. They have to worry about their Dad dividing up the only time they have with him with a total stranger, and maybe having to listen to you and do what you say even though you aren't their Mom, and by the way is this stranger going to replace our Mom, and what if we get scared in the night and want Dad and now we can't climb in his bed because she's there and do we tell Mom about this girlfriend and will it hurt Mom's feelings if we tell her how happy Dad is with her and and and...!

So I also think you shouldn't stay in Dad's place when the kids are there, at LEAST not their very first night.
posted by misha at 7:12 PM on December 26, 2010

I met my dad's wife at age 9 and my mom's husband at age 4. My stepdad watched movies with me, let me climb stuff, told me Army stories, and gave me stuff to color, bought little plastic stuff when we went to the zoo, etc. My stepmom talked about hair and makeup and what she did at her job, and helped with homework, and took me to French restaurants and other exotic stuff.

BTW: At 4 I mostly felt like "this new dude is my mom's friend and he has a car and we get to have donuts and Coke for breakfast!" At 9 it was "OMG this WOMAN is STEALING my Daddy and RUINING EVERYTHING." My stepbrother at 8-9 had similar issues with my mom, and few, if any, with his stepfather (who he knew by age 5.) You may see more "who are you and what are your intentions here" stuff from the older child. The only way out is through; it took a decade or so for me to be OK with my stepmom.

I'm 30 and I still have relationships with these people, by the way. If this is a long term relationship, these kids are going to be a core part of it. "Stepmom" isn't a temp job.
posted by SMPA at 8:37 PM on December 26, 2010

I had 4 stepdads and one stepmom. Later, as an adult I was the stepdad. A and E were 5 and 10 and I had met them twice for a few days each time when I moved into their home in 2000. Instadad. I've seen the dynamics from both sides. The relationship that initially informs the kids feeling of you is the one you have with their parent. You could be Disneyland or an eternity of broccoli but what eases the kids tension is seeing their parent happy and at ease with you.

As an adult you are largely exempt from their concern. Children only loathe mean adults and quirky peers. While they might prefer one or the other type of adult they really only dislike mean adults. A parallel for this dynamic might be when you see an odd kid and think "that kid is weird" but when you encounter an odd adult you feel a need to shun them. Children are mean to other children that seem odd to them or their group but accept adults as confounding. They might think "That grownup is weird" but they don't feel a visceral need to ostracize. As long as you aren't actually mean then you should be fine. The one danger: If you start off behaving differently from who you actually are then when you do eventually (and you will) act like yourself they might wonder why you are acting differently. They might wonder if they did something that made you disappointed in them. Avoid this.

I was scared and then utterly surprised to find I really liked being a dad. I haven't spoken to their mom in over 5 years now but me and the kids still nod at each other across the internet when their mom isn't looking.
posted by vapidave at 7:18 AM on December 27, 2010

Everyone here has good advice on dealing with them for the initial meeting, but if this is the same guy you're talking about marrying, the next step is bonding with the kids sufficiently, and learning to like being around them. You will be their stepmom and will see them as much as your boyfriend sees them now, and will probably have to parent them to some extent. That's the reality of being in a serious relationship with and/or marrying someone with kids, particularly joint custody of them.
posted by elpea at 10:58 AM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: hi everyone, thanks for the great advice. i'm happy to report that things went really well :) (in fact, my bf's daughter declared that i was her new best friend): the bf reported that the kids told him after i had left that they liked me a lot. they were both really into puzzles so we spent a lot of time doing that. we went to the park, watched movies, and while my bf spent time with his son (they were training for baseball tryouts), i ended up spending a lot of time with his daughter, playing tag, having "tea,", playing bingo, and other games—all of which were her requests, so that was—as she likes to say, "easy peasy."
posted by violetk at 2:17 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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