My boyfriend's kid is here for a month. Should I be a presence?
January 22, 2013 4:58 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend has a kid from his previous marriage, who is now long distance. He'll be coming to stay for a month in a few months, and I'm not sure what to do! (so many snowflake details!)

My boyfriend is divorced, his ex-wife had a son, who became his son! His son will be 12. Around the time we started dating his kid and ex-wife moved across the country back to her home.

His son will be coming for a month to stay pretty soon. Boyfriend and I are serious, though I've never met his son because when he moved away I was still new. We don't live together, and we don't see each other every day, but we generally spend the entire weekend together since boyfriend owns a house In The Boonies. His son has never been a part of our relationship, since he was moved away for much of it, and when he was it wasn't a big deal to skip seeing each other for a week out of 3.

But now I feel like we're building a life together, and it's strange that he has a son I've never met. And I'd like to meet him! and we can be.. friends? I like kids and I like my boyfriend and since he raised him I bet he'll be a cool kid, we can play video games and wax nerd about things, me and 12 year old boys get on fine, in general.

but at the same time I feel like Son is coming to visit with Dad, and "Dad" is not a role I'm used to. it would be easy enough for me to back off pretty far for the month he's here, let them be boys together and drop by for a day on the weekend or something, maybe do an outing or something. This is sort of my natural inclination, since I feel like.. I don't know, this isn't a part of his life I really belong in? I would like to be around a little, since I'm important, and he should get to know me, but...

or am I over-thinking this? should I spend weekends there, cook dinners, stay nights, generally act like his Dad's Serious Girlfriend? and that would be more natural? it feels awkward to me, but boyfriend's approximation of how time will go is a little closer to that. but I feel like he has such limited time with him that I would just be in the way of their father/son time.

(a bit of a side note. after BF and XWife got divorced, he had a new girlfriend move in with him about 6 months later after about 3 months of dating. this didn't go too well, she wasn't too nice to Son and was generally uncool. I don't know the full details, but I feel like this is relevant because that is the last experience Son has had with Dad dating, and while I'm totally awesome and will of course be super nice to him, I could understand him having reservations about me being around too much.)

I guess I'm hoping for anecdotes or thoughts! anything would be helpful. I feel relentlessly nervous about meeting his son (such an important person!) but I'm not trying to get out of that, just figure out the parameters of what's acceptable. I just want to make things as smooth and happy and fulfilling as they can be for their short visit.
posted by euphoria066 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How long have you and your boyfriend been together?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:07 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

What does your boyfriend feel about this? I'd go with what he thinks and roll with it. If he's planning on introducing you to his son, take it from there. If the kid seems resentful of sharing his "dad" time, back off a little and give the kid the attention he needs from his dad, but don't disappear completely.

Also a lot of single parents won't introduce their kids to a bf/gf until they're pretty sure their partner is going to be a permanent place in their life (so kid doesn't get attached to a parent figure and then lose them when a breakup occurs). You say you're serious, but are you that serious? And even if you feel like that, does your bf?
posted by DoubleLune at 5:08 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

This wasn't apparent to me, but, along with how long you and boyfriend have been dating, does his son know you exist?

As the child of divorced parents, I like your first idea best. He could meet you, and the three of you might have some hang out times, but I think you should not spend quite as much time together as you would when it's just the two of you. Let Son adjust, take the opportunity to see Boyfriend as Dad, and let it take a natural pace.

Springing Serious Girlfriend on a kid who had a bad experience so shortly after a parental split is too much, in my opinion, and since they don't see each other often Son may feel resentful of your presence no matter how cool you might be. When you say that "should I spend weekends there, cook dinners, stay nights, generally act like his Dad's Serious Girlfriend? and that would be more natural? it feels awkward to me, but boyfriend's approximation of how time will go is a little closer to that," I feel like (and I am sure your boyfriend knows his son better than I do, obviously) it's not being very considerate of what Son might want. I'm guessing this isn't going to feel natural to him. It didn't feel natural to me.

I think this is much less a "stick to a hard and fast rule about this" and much more a "be cautious and let it flow" thing. Plus, honestly, you don't know how cool he might be and you might find your enthusiasm/patience waning the face of a real life pre-teen visiting his dad in the sticks.
posted by sm1tten at 5:13 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is 100% your boyfriend's decision.

That being said, if it were me, I would back off as much as possible. I might have dinner with them once a week or maybe go out with them one weekend to the park or movies or whatever 12 year olds do. Other than that minimal involvement, I would keep your distance. Son has so little time with his dad. Let him enjoy it alone. If you are around for the next 1 month stay (next year?) you can think about being more of a presence.
posted by murfed13 at 5:15 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had an incredibly fraught relationship with my father's new girlfriend/wife from the age of 9 (when he first told me they were serious - and by serious I mean "I'm going to ask her to marry me") to about 18. Things that were in my head:

-This means they're REALLY never getting back together (they'd been divorced for ages, had never had a single civil conversation in my memory, and my mom had remarried when I was 4)
-I can't BELIEVE he picked HER (this would have been in my head no matter who she was, but I focused on it intensely)
- Who does she think she IS (every single time she tried giving me advice, setting new rules/procedures, etc.)
- Why can't things just stay the same???
- This is SO DUMB, he's going to change his mind soon and everything will be normal again. (complete wishful thinking - my dad presented the whole thing to me multiple years after they got together, though I literally had no idea whatsoever that it was happening.)

They say that if you want things to be easier introducing a new stepparent into a kid's life, you do it before they're 7 or after they're out of high school. ;)

It would have been nice if there'd been a transition period for me, between her being my random Sunday School teacher and my dad proposing. They kept it really, really, really quiet for me (in retrospect, I believe they must have been using my weekends with my mom for a significant amount of their relationship-building, as I was genuinely shocked at the "I'm going to ask" conversation.)

It would have been really nice if there'd been conversations (that included me) about what everyone's roles were going to be.

It would have been REALLY NICE if my stepmom had stayed out of the discipline/making rules (making them up in the heat of the moment) realm, at least for a while and certainly after they realized how badly it was going.

It would have been amazingly wonderful if all of this hadn't happened in the same year that a ton of other stress happened in my life (I changed teachers for the first time in four years, my mom had a baby and moved out of state, my grandmother died, we moved into Grandma's house...)

It would have been spectacular if my stepmom had been a bit more open-minded about how girls my age are. It turns out I was completely unlike the other young preteens she knew, and it took years for her to realize that. Dumb stuff, like me not being ready to handle sex talks and not wearing makeup and not being the kind of kid who will dash out into the street when she gets upset. YEARS. Unfortunately, stepmom had a lot of experience with kids (she even had a goddaughter a few years older than me,) and she was a Sunday School teacher, and so she had a ton of confidence (though I've recently learned that she's also really good at faking confidence - it would have been nice, now that I think about it, to have seen her less sure about things.)
posted by SMPA at 5:15 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and under absolutely no circumstances say anything bad about his parents, other stepparent/mom's partner(s), dad's previous partner(s), current and former teachers, siblings, cousins, etc. to this child or in his hearing (*).

Just don't even, because no matter how well-intentioned and even necessary, that never ever ever works out the right way when it comes from the proto-step-parent. It took my stepdad thirty years to master the art of not completely screwing it up when saying critical things about my dad, stepmom, etc.

(*) In his hearing = in the same county he's in, or the state if your counties are small.
posted by SMPA at 5:19 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Three thoughts for you... First, 12 is a terrible year vis-a-vis being confronted with evidence that one's parent is a sexual being, so I would lay off the PDAs and never stay over. Second and however, you do need to meet your BF's son so that later, if your relationship endures, he doesn't feel that he was being kept in the dark like a little kid; if he meets you he can form a narrative later that makes sense. Third, another important context is whether the boy's mother is in a relationship and how they conduct themselves around him. All in all, I like murfed13's advice to keep contact light and infrequent.
posted by carmicha at 5:24 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

oh! sorry. a little under a year, but yes, serious serious, eyes on forever and just getting all the paths in place and making sure not to rush things serious. we're both pretty levelheaded and logic-based people and I'm confident on the forever thing and so is he. (if I/we had any doubt I'd completely skip the kid this time at least, I think.)

he does know about me in general, his dad talks about me a decent amount to him so he's more in tune to the idea that I exist even though he's never met me, and he has facebook so he's got a small (nothing annoying, don't worry) window into our life together.

I wouldn't say anything bad about anyone, of course! Neither does boyfriend, he always focuses on the positive of things and I've heard very very little negativity towards his ex, and I've met her and liked her, and besides, I'm not a horrible person! saying something bad about ANYONE's family is pretty bananas! haha.

This is 100% your boyfriend's decision

I have to respectfully disagree on that one. I am also going to have to be in the situation and I feel like my comfort level is important. also, boyfriend has made what I would categorize as a bad call in this area before, and I am not willing to completely leave this decision to him if what he decides makes me, or his kid feel uncomfortable? or if I feel like his kid might be uncomfortable? He's an amazingly nice person, and he will (I think) worry needlessly that he's making me feel like he doesn't want me to be part of his son's life by drastically cutting down our time. I've tried to stress that I won't mind at all, and I totally understand, but I think he just thinks I'm being generous. and I don't want to stress TOO hard on that point to make it seem like I don't want to be around if he does want me there.

the reason I want to be around a little bit is that he'll be coming once or twice a year, and if things timeline out like we've planned, by his next visit here his dad will have sold his childhood home and we will have bought a house together and he will be thrown into a situation that I would rather us have some previous experience with each other.
posted by euphoria066 at 5:49 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think your boyfriend should tell his son about you. Have a solid week alone and ask him if he'd like to meet you as you're a very serious part of his life. Then do an activity together, if he agrees, where you're not directly looking at each video games or a movie or miniature golf.

Son calls the shots initially, I would say. Then dad asks again for the second visit...don't bribe him with toys, but be prepared to be subversive with ice-cream. And tell son that you're not sure how to proceed, so any feedback he wants to give, you and boyfriend are happy to hear, no judgement.

posted by taff at 5:49 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

I guess the sentence I should have included is: give the boy some control. As a child of divorce, it's all about control. Really. Divorced kids have none.
posted by taff at 5:53 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


can you elaborate on your feelings there a little bit? I'm not a child of divorce and neither is boyfriend, so I'd love to hear a little more on that, things I can be sensitive to.
posted by euphoria066 at 5:54 PM on January 22, 2013

I can do even better than that....The simply divine "smoke" wrote about it really well here, just recently.

He spoke so utterly perfectly as to what my thoughts and needs were from my divorced parents, I did a double take. Only because I've met him did I know it was not a member of my family typing his responses. And he's very sane, kind, smart and outrageously witty. Listen to him. He knows of what he speaks.
posted by taff at 6:24 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you two are serious about thinking forever, he's going to have to meet you and get used to you sooner or later, but I do think some "phasing in" would be appropriate. Not 24/7 this first time. Come over once or twice a week for dinner at first (maybe more later, if you notice the kid doesn't mind) and tag along with them to the movies on the weekend or something. Maybe not staying the entire weekend, but just on Sundays or something.

You mention in the side-note though that the kid's previous experience with Dad's Girlfriend didn't go so smoothly, so make it a point to make the kid understand that you totally respect him wanting to hang out with his dad. I'm not saying that you should sit him down and have a serious talk with him (don't do that!), but something like when you've hung out with them a bit and are ready to leave, say "All right, I'm gonna go, you guys should hang out and have some guy time and talk about boobs or whatever it is guys do when girls are not around". The way I just wrote that sounds super-corny, but the point is to send a signal that you are not there to take his dad away, and that you totally respect them needing their space, especially since it's been a while since they've hung out for an extended period of time.

All that said, it's not just the kid that matters, you matter too. He's building a life with you, and a huge part of that is his son, and it wouldn't be fair at all to you to totally put your relationship on hold for a month just because his son is there. These two parts of him needs to be integrated.

In summary: come over, let the kid meet you, let him kick your ass in some video games, make sure he knows that you respect his relationship with his father, and then back off a bit.
posted by gkhan at 7:22 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

and we can be.. friends?

Ha, well Taff was very flattering up there. I guess, adding to my comment in that thread, I would say, be prepared to take this "friend" thing pretty slow. Indeed, it's better in some ways to be respected than liked in these kind of roles.

I would definitely avoid 1-1 activities with the son, and forcing conversation. 12 year old boys can be very talkative, or very quiet - neither necessarily has a lot to do with you.

I would be very conscious about subverting plans or expectations of things that would normally be "son and dad" and are now "son and dad +1". Obviously, going to the movies is great to +1 on; maybe going fishing or something more intimate is not.

I don't think staying over for weekends is a big deal, per se. You will, after all, presumably be living together at some point in the future. I would just be cognisant that your stepson may have a settled idea of what his life with his dad looks like. Oft-times, because of the turbulent change many children of divorce face in their lives, stability and consistency becomes very important to them. When things have changed so much, and you have little to no agency, you tend to cleave to those things that haven't changed quite strongly. They form a strong part of your identity and attempts to change them will be viewed as attacks on identity.

If your stepson perceives you as a disruptive force in his family (and from his perspective it is his, not yours), then things will be difficult. If he perceives you as a continuance of his life/lifestyle/family, an accretion, then things will be fine.

Whatever you do, do not attempt to parent him in literally any way whatsoever. Perceptions that you are trying to replace mum, or simply assuming a role of authority you have no right to, will be received super poorly and may leave a taint to your relationship that could take years to recover from.

I guess, thinking for myself, what I valued in my parents' partners were people that behaved somewhat like my much-older sisters - they were friendly to me, but not obsessed about my feelings for them; they were advocates for me with my parents, but rarely vice versa; they listened to me, and advised me. They did not tell me what to do, or make me conform to their desires for me; they championed good behaviour but neither insisted on it nor catastrophised its absence. I think if you think of yourself as mentor/carer, rather than a friend or a parent, you will be fine. Don't bribe the kid, though, or be a doormat, lol.

Also, don't be too hard on yourself: teenagers, hard stuff. It's rough being a teenager, might not have anything to do with you. Just be nice, and understanding, and "professional", if you know what I mean. It's unlikely to happen, but if you can't control your emotions and words around a 12 year old, it's highly unlikely they will be able to control theirs. Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 7:54 PM on January 22, 2013 [17 favorites]

I knew it! Pitch perfect as always, smoke. What he said, euphoria.
posted by taff at 8:00 PM on January 22, 2013

Chill out! If I were in your shoes, I would more-or-less go about things how you normally do with your boyfriend, in regards to cohabiting. Don't make it wierd. It's up to the dad to carve out male bonding time during the month. If he wants to take the kid to pro wresting/hockey/shooting range/strip club, maybe that can be your queue to get lost. You can help that along by scheduling a small amount of "you" time, but don't obsess about not being around.

It's okay to try to win the kid over some by baking something good, or whatever. Might work.

Don't be crushed if he's kind of like, "meh" towards you. If that's his reaction, congratulations, you've qualified as an adult parent-like figure.

I spent years 5-18 living with my mom pretty far away from my dad. I visited a week or two a year, and he had the same girlfriend (now my stepmom) most of that time. I have always gotten along great with her. I was 12 when my mom met my stepdad. We didn't get along great at first, but in hindsight the key dynamic was me being a surely teenager. Things are fine now.
posted by eelgrassman at 8:42 PM on January 22, 2013

Sorry, but I think less than a year + "eyes towards serious" + a previous bad experience = too soon. Unless the kid actively asks to meet you, you should give him his time with his Dad. Forcing this IS rushing things.
posted by animalrainbow at 9:16 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who has wound up in a semi-step child situation (boyfriend had a 7 year old when we met, had child (now 14) every 2nd weekend), I would encourage you to give them some space for at least the first week of this visit. If your boyfriend is interested in introducing you and son agrees to it, ok, go do something together like miniputt - a positive, "doing something together" experience. Then back off for the next week/ rest of the visit.
Add a little more interaction time each time son comes to visit (eg. summer vacation), if it seems to be going well.

For your own sanity, Do NOT attempt to parent in any way. Inevitably, regardless of the amount of time your boyfriend has spent actually parenting this child (a # of weeks out of the year, whatever), he will see himself as having more knowledge and authority over children than you do. Whether or not his parenting outlook coincides with yours, you are going to have to bite your tongue for quite a while - not your kid, so any criticism/input you have may be dismissed as invalid.

It's a dangerous tightrope - attempts to give instruction/provide "help"/voice your opinion on an issue may be read by either your boyfriend or his son as you being bossy or intrusive. Your boyfriend may have a "white picket fence" notion of you and his kid getting on like a big happy family - idealistic, to say the least. If the kid is unhappy during an interaction with you, you may get blamed (unfairly).

Be cautious of any situation where your boyfriend puts you in a position of power over the kid (eg. making dinner to feed them, getting kid to brush his teeth, whatever). Redirect the control back to dad (eg. "oh, maybe you two would like to cook together! I am ok with whatever you choose to make"). If kid is driving you crazy, quietly pull dad aside and ask whether this is behaviour that should be encouraged. Leave it to him to sort out.

Taking the hands-off, professional approach has worked well for me - I treat my boyfriend's daughter (now 14) with the aunt/teacher approach, and it really works well. When she is around, I may facilitate activities to get them actually doing something together (apart from watching movies), such as suggesting they make dinner together (which is now their favourite activity, and has killed off any picky eating issues). I give them a lot of space, but try to still remain friendly and interested. I will not deal with any discipline issues that don't directly impact me - doesn't matter if kid hasn't brushed their hair, not my job... kid cusses at me, I deal with it firmly and clearly. Smoke's comment just above mine is bang on the money.

Good luck - this can be a real challenge for everyone involved - took about 3 years for us 3 to really sort out things to the point where visits go smoothly.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 11:22 PM on January 22, 2013

Thanks guys! some really great, really reassuring and helpful answers.

I know that for some people it will seem fast, but I really feel that this is one of those "you just know" situations, and nothing about the speed our relationship has moved has felt fast. it's felt positive, and natural, and I feel 100% sure that when this kid comes back in a year things are going to be all changed up, and I think it's important to meet him now when I have the chance to be the one coming into HIS home, meeting him on HIS terms, in a place he feels comfortable. Putting him in the position of power, as it were, and while he's still young enough to maybe accept me as a person who was pretty fun and nice while he was here.

I feel pretty strongly that him coming home next year, to a new house, in a really different neighbourhood, to a live in girlfriend he's never met, with no neighbourkid friends for escape and support is going to be WAY worse than if I meet him this time. I think trapping a bored kid in a strange house with a stranger after taking away everything he knows seems like a recipe for resentment towards me for "making" his dad do all that stuff. I want to try my best to make him feel at least a little sure that me and his dad are happy and want him to be happy, and want him to be a part of our lives. (I'm obviously not going to have a big talk about this, ew, just a feeling I want to.. project :P) I know a lot of that responsibility is on boyfriend, and he'll do a great job, but it's hard to tell someone that someone they've never even MET wants them to feel at home any time.

I'd love the luxury of time, but it's just not here.

I will definitely not try to parent! good point! to start with, I'd have no idea how to even. Boyfriend seems like a great dad, and I'm sure he'll be able to handle all that stuff. I will generally try to stay out of their lives, give them lots of space, but try to be present a little. (mostly for fun stuff because that behooves a positive impression :p) and I won't try to get into their life together. I think it's super important that that stays the same. maybe I'm going to try for what I remember the role of "babysitter" to be like, kind of fun.. but a grown up, so not a friend. but not a parent. Aunt was a good role too.

Boyfriend and I definitely decided that it wouldn't be like he came home to me being there already or anything, we'll give at least a full week for him to be settled and back in the swing of things, before it's even brought up, and then the first couple times small things, movie, bowling, that kind of thing.

thanks for all your insight. it's great to know the things about divorced children feeling out of control, and having that information will really change the way I look at things going forward.

you guys are great! (like always!)
posted by euphoria066 at 11:49 PM on January 22, 2013

I'd love the luxury of time, but it's just not here.

Does the dad not talk to the son in between visits? I mean, you can just meet him in passing, casually, on this trip and then if things do continue on the path they seem to be on, the dad ought to presumably be emailing or talking or skyping or whatever and saying "euphoria066 and I went skiing this weekend," and "it's euphoria066's birthday today" and "how about next time you visit, we go spelunking? euphoria066 is big into caving and I think you'd love it since you love bats" or "post a video of your Broadway Revue performance so we can watch it, euphoria loves showtunes and I love you!"

Don't think of it as either 1. you meet now and establish your presence or 2. he'll be shocked when he comes back next year and you're living there. Near-constant communication is pretty ordinary these days even for people in different time zones. Whether or not there's a girlfriend in the picture, Dad should be involved in kid's day-to-day life and be keeping kid apprised of his own.
posted by headnsouth at 4:50 AM on January 23, 2013

I used to spend summers with my dad, and I loved having his new wife around. Dad and I would always go on a special trip just the two of us, but I loved having her at the house and it feeling like a family.

Then he divorced the nice wife and got a nasty one. That was awful.

Then he divorced the nasty one, and I was thrilled to have his new, very sweet girlfriend around. The nasty wife did not make me wary of future girlfriends. YMMV.
posted by whalebreath at 5:57 AM on January 23, 2013

You have some great answers - and I'm late to the conversation. But my ex's new girlfriend, whom he later married, did a great thing: she invited herself to lunch with my dad and me. We were naturally very surprised but it was the best. She assured us that she understood I was the mother, and she was in no way going to compete or take over. (At the time my life was still a mess after divorce etc.) It became the start of a great relationship, where they were generally invited to all our family events and we were at theirs. Even those not specifically child-related. Unfortunately, they divorced this year, but the good relationship lives on in all ways.
For our daughter, this was so good. She felt so happy and comfortable from that day, and even now during the tough divorce, I've been impressed by her confidence that we (the adults) will eventually figure everything out.
posted by mumimor at 1:04 PM on January 23, 2013

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