What should I be thinking of when moving in with my boyfriend and his daughter?
February 10, 2012 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I am moving in with my boyfriend next month, who has partial custody of his ten-year-old daughter. She and I get along wonderfully, but I still want to make this the easiest transition possible for her (and all of us). What possible issues or problems should I be prepared for?

A little background: BF and I have been together for a year and a half, and we started dating about a year after his divorce. I didn't meet his daughter until we'd been together for six months, and it was a very gradual introduction - I've only been a regular presence in her life for about the last six months.

So far I haven't noticed her having any problems with my role in her dad's life - I just completely adore her, the three of us always have a good time when she's over, and I've even spent a little one-on-one time with her, which has been terrifically fun.

I think, however, that my moving in has the possibility of changing the dynamic somewhat. I've never spent the night when she's been over, so we'll go from me never sleeping over to sleeping in her dad's bed every day. (I asked him if he thought I should stay over before moving in permanently, but he didn't think that would be necessary, and I figure he's the parent, he knows her better than I do.)

I also have the tendency to be the "fun auntie" with my nieces (who are the same age), and that has been pretty much how I've been interacting with her as well. But I feel like now that we are increasing our commitment (we've sort of hinted at marriage but right now are both a little gun-shy after our divorces) and I'll be a permanent member of the household, being the fun auntie all the time might not be the most helpful role. Like I catch myself having a hard time slowing down our interactions when it's time for her to go to bed or do her homework. I've talked about it a little with my boyfriend, and he said that he would let me know if anything I was doing was interfering with his parenting, but he wasn't concerned.

I'm not terribly concerned either because I have such strong relationships with both of them, except that I'd like to be ready and prepared for the hard things that could come up. So far it's been nothing but a honeymoon period for all three of us, but she'll be entering her teenage years soon enough, and I'm sure we'll hit some bumps at some point.

I should also mention that he and his ex have an amicable relationship, and he makes it a point to always support her parenting choices and back her up. I also like his ex a lot, and she and I are friendly when we interact, so hopefully that minimizes a possible area of conflict.

So anyway, I guess my basic question is that even though things are wonderful now, what kinds of changes should I be ready for after I've moved in? I would love to hear from people who have been in my shoes, and also kids of divorced parents who had to deal with a parent's new significant other. How can I make it the easiest transition for his daughter?
posted by Neely O'Hara to Human Relations (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A friend told me once that her biggest problem with her stepmother was that once she moved in, my friend never had any alone time or one-on-one time with her dad. Her stepmother came to every school function, special occasion, day trip, birthday celebration, etc. I'm not saying don't go to her basketball games or whatever, but maybe make sure that she and her dad spend some one-on-one time once in a while or have special traditions that just they share.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:41 PM on February 10, 2012 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like a best-case scenario, with the parents coparenting well, you and your partner communicating already about how roles may change over time, and you having nieces her age. You are right that your dynamic will change. Up to now it's been about developing a relationship, but from here on out it's also about being a role model for her.

Your instincts about homework and bedtime are spot on. Routines are really, really, really important, for everyone but especially for kids. Her routines and choices and attention to the time and all that are the beginning of a lifetime of work habits and organizational skills. She *needs* routines, and she needs to see that the adults around her value them too. So "ooh let's paint our toenails" can now be "Let's paint our toenails if there's time after you're done your homework; let me know if you need help with that essay."

And respect the bio-roles. Let her have time alone with daddy, suggest that she call mom when something notable happens, stuff like that. My (negative) experience with this stuff has been that people think the people in their lives have a finite supply of love and affection. That's really not the case. Everyone can love and care for everyone else, and nobody has to feel slighted.

Good luck! There can never be enough loving, positive adults in a child's life.
posted by headnsouth at 12:47 PM on February 10, 2012

I think that the very fact that you are thinking about this stuff ahead of time is a good indication that you'll probably do just fine. :)
posted by xasp42 at 12:56 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was in a similar situation: BF and I moved in together, and I had only been around his kids (girl and boy, ages 7 and 4, respectively) for a short time before the big move-in. We have the kids most weekends and one evening a week. I, too, had a positive, "fun auntie" kind of relationship with the kids prior to living with them.

The roughest adjustment was the one I had to make as a formerly childless person transitioning into a stepmother-esque role (I actually *am* the kids' stepmother now, as of December). I had been around kids that age in the past, but was unprepared for how exhausting and demanding it can be to care for small children on a regular basis. My stepkids are bright and precocious and adorable. They also are KIDS, which means sometimes they are whiny and loud and picky about eating and generally confounding. The day-to-day stuff kind of ground me down at first, and I honestly spent some time mourning the loss of my relaxing weekends.

What helped me was talking to my partner and other friends who had children, and realizing that what I find difficult or irritating about kids is what ALL PARENTS find difficult and irritating about kids. No one is charming and adorable at all times, and kids are no exception to this rule. It also was helpful for me to talk to my now-husband about what my role would be/what his expectations were regarding discipline, "house rules," stuff like that. We talked about this before we all moved in together, and we still talk about it from time to time. It helps that my stepkids and your BF's daughter are all pretty young, which seems to make a difference in terms of being accepted more readily as another parental figure in the home. It also helps if you and your BF are already on the same page about things like bedtime, chores, schoolwork, etc.

I am still too much of a newb to wax philosophical about how amazing and fulfilling it is to be involved in a child's growth and stuff like that, and I realize that the role I play in their lives will always be a supporting one. But I can tell you that I truly do love my stepkids, and I work hard to do what I think is best for them, and I miss them when they go away. I figure that if your intentions are good (and it sounds like they are), and you communicate often and openly with your BF, you can't go too far wrong.

Oh, and I found this book helpful: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Him-His-Kids-Stepmothers/dp/159869894X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328907675&sr=8-1

Best of luck to you all!
posted by little mouth at 1:01 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to some of the great advice you're getting above, it might be worthwhile for you, your boyfriend, and his daughter (and maybe even her mom, if that relationship is friendly) to sit down and talk about this new transition. She's moving into a time in her life when hormones and stress can make emotions hard to handle, and she's had a lot of change in her short life, so it might help to give her an open forum to talk about her feelings and to get some input into what she'd like your role in her life to be. Obviously, she doesn't get final say, but she should get to express what she thinks about house rules and how they're enforced, and about changes you might like to make to your new living space, and about quality time with her dad with and without you. So, as in many relationship questions, my advice is to talk earnestly with the other people involved in the situation and plan together for how to live harmoniously.
posted by decathecting at 1:08 PM on February 10, 2012

I'll be a permanent member of the household

Is this permanent? Since everyone gets along so well, and is so attached to one another, the biggest pitfall may be the possibility that you'll be brought into your boyfriend's daughter's life as a maternal figure and then will go away again -- a tough outcome for a child whose home has already been broken up. I guess it seems a little funny to me to be "gun-shy" about getting married, when getting this involved in a child's life would give me an even stronger sense that I had a moral commitment to stay in the relationship. You can't really see moving in together without getting married as "trying things out" under these circumstances, as you would if you were both single and childless.
posted by palliser at 2:00 PM on February 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

You sound great. Kudos for taking this seriously. I was about this girl's age when my dad moved in with my stepmom, kicking off a decades-long disaster, so I'll make a couple suggestions from experience:

1. Communication: open among all three. Three is a hard number - very political. It's almost like the default is a two-against-one situation. Be aware of this and fight it.

2. Food and other household commodities: in our house there was a default assumption that the kids were #2 citizens when it came to a number of commodities -- somehow my dad got the idea that the kids should/could have lower quality stuff, food especially. Like there was the "fancy" cheese for my stepmom to eat; and the kids got generic brand. I hope this bizarre behavior was unique to us, but just in case, I'm mentioning it, because it sucked SO MUCH. If you shop at more expensive stores than where you buy her clothes; if you use higher quality shampoos or whatever - be aware this can be a big deal.

3. I agree with the poster above who said that allowing kid to have 1:1 time with dad is important. 1:1 time with you is also important for bonding.

Good luck and thanks for being a caring and decent stepparent!
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:02 PM on February 10, 2012

Best answer: Lots of other good advice here.

In my experience, the primary thing that will change after you move in is that the occasion will arise where you have to be a firm disciplining parent, not just "fun auntie." And it will be tricky because the minute you aren't 100% fun any more, the child will begin to push back and the really strong relationship you have with her now will change.

What worked for me in my similar situation was not to force myself into the parent role. I hung back for a long time, with the support of dad. We agreed that in the early months or years, whichever it took, he would be the Boss and I would be the Passive Enforcer. If he was out and kiddo and I were home alone, I took on almost a babysitting role: "Okay, you've watched a few extra minutes of TV but it's time to get in the bath now, remember your dad said bedtime was 7:30 pm." Then if that didn't work, I wouldn't try to discipline myself, but would relay to dad what happened, and he would handle it the next morning.

It let her understand that I'm not trying to be her mom and dad, but I am still in fact an adult, who needs to be respected just like a teacher or doctor or soccer coach or other grownup who has permission to be authoritative in absence of bio-parents.

I also eased into the affection. I didn't try to force myself into the parent role with loving hugs and kisses, "call me Mom", or any of the other intimate parent things that she previously had only experienced with a bio-parent. This was one place where "fake it till you make it" seemed the wrong path, and that letting the relationship evolve organically was preferable.

And by hanging back, then it let the child come to me and "opt in" for that experience. The first time I got invited to bedtime tuck-in ritual was a big deal! It was permission-based step-parenting, essentially. We credit it largely with the great trust-based relationship we have now.
posted by pineapple at 2:20 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am reluctant to go against the positive tone here, but your boyfriend may want to look at his divorce papers carefully to look for legal implications of moving in together. Here in GA, at least, it is fairly standard for parenting plans to include a stipulation that neither party may have a romantic partner spend the night in the children's' presence, and I have seen ex-spouses cause problems over this issue. Even is the ex says she is OK with this, just make sure there is nothing in writing that may cause problems later.
posted by TedW at 3:48 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, check out the divorce provisions. Also, some people go to their lawyer and get things written up...all it takes is a judge who feels living in sin is not something children should see or that is potentially upsetting to children whose parents only recently divorced.

Also, check out child support laws where you are. Where I live, if you live with your partner's children for 2 years, you can be made to pay child support if the relationship ends. You may prefer to have a marriage in place, in that case.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:10 PM on February 10, 2012

I agree that the biggest problem will be the discipline role. Pineapple has it right. My mom was dating a nice enough guy, but the one day he took a "fatherly" tone with me was the end. Instead of "do this because your mother said so" it was "do this because *I* say so", and it was none of his business.

And yeah, the legal thing could rear its ugly head. Even if the mom/ex-wife says she has no problems, should it ever come to pass that there is some other legal challenge going on (change in support or custody arrangements), the mom/ex-wife's lawyer will likely use that as a leverage tool.
posted by gjc at 6:12 AM on February 11, 2012

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