How to successfully merge families as adults?
November 19, 2021 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Advice from those that have experienced the merging of households as adults - what worked best for you? How do you approach differences in parenting styles and how do you do all of this while strengthening your relationship and adjusting to moving under one roof together after both have lived on their own for years?

Mid 30's couple; just moved in together and have been in a relationship for a year and decided we wanted to move in together. I have a 6 year old daughter from a prior relationship. He has a 20 year old that does not live with us and lives with the mother out of state. He is a wonderful man and father; the problem is all we do is "argue" about what feels to me like things that shouldn't even be an issue so soon. My daughter loves and respects him, and from the beginning I told him that I would appreciate him building trust and respect and a friendship with her so that they can establish that as I have been a single mother, no relationships, since she was 1; it has just been her and I. I have done certain things to make our lives easier because of how busy I am working full time, and being the sole care taker/provider of my daughter. I didn't have her dad to help, or family around; so most of the times it was just eat whatever you want wherever you want; I picked up after her. Although she does chores and I do give her responsibility, shes a wonderful little girl without much knowledge of table manners or picking up after herself because as I mentioned. It was just quicker and easier for me to do it. We have a loving mother/daughter relationship, we bicker like adults because it's all we have had. I explained this to him, that I know certain things I need to work on as far as responsibility, picking up after herself, table manners, food habits, etc., but that I wanted him and I to talk if there was ever a concern so that I could adjust and talk to her about it rather then him coming down as the disciplinary or coming in trying to change things so soon. It's been 30 days, and it's an adjustment for her. She's had me all to herself, and although she absolutely adores him, loves that we are all together, and is happy that we have him in our lives - I can tell it's an adjustment. We moved from a home I speant 15 years in and that she grew up in, just her and I and picked up packer a lot, moved in and everything is new.

My question is, it feels like there is always something "wrong," like I have someone watching over our shoulders. Questioning why certain things are the way they are, or questioning how I have parented or things I allow (letting her get up without finishing her plate.) Things to me that I have expressed I pick my battles. She's a great eater, and overall just doesn't eat a whole lot - he says I give her too much leeway and too much candy. To me, although I do not disagree that certain things I need to begin to enstill in her because I Have now; I don't like feeling like instead of enjoying this new little life as a family and getting to know each other and then after a little time coming together to talk about whats working and what isn't - it feels like every day its something. Something so small like she needs to learn to pick up after herself; or constant nit picking of her and me (put your things away, put your shoes away, finish your plate, stop negotiating food, no snack unless you eat.). It feels like a lot all at once and I can't tell if it's just me used to being on our own and an adult; and he has admitted he has done things his way with his son that I don't necessarily do; that it's hard for both but takes time to adjust. I'm going to assume there's a level of this is normal, in that moving in together for the first time is going to be a push pull until things get settled into place and really understand each other? It feels like a different dynamic with my daughter in the middle; like I want to protect her because she's experienced so much. So instead of focusing on what she's not doing up to "his" standard, or what could be "better" why not just focus on how much she loves and respects him already, and how much more love and respect there is, and enjoying these moments rather than picking apart what's not ok or what needs work.

It just keeps happening, once a week there's a discussion that turns emotional and we end up just going to bed and upset. We don't fight bad or a lot. It's just I feel this new in a relationship - is this normal? How do you merge families as grown adults when you have both done things a certain way; when certain things I feel aren't worth the fight or to pick my battles; to give my little girl some room to make errors and for us to get our grounding with him before he instills certain new rules or ways of doing things. I don't know how to say this in a kind way, but we both have to earn a place in a way. Right now, to me, it should just be about enjoying one another, rather than picking things apart.

I'm worried; and because I have not experiences a seemingly "normal" relationship, all of mine in the past have been controlling toxic folks that did not have my best interest at heart - I am hearing his words as criticism and it makes me want to recoil and run away with her.

How do you merge families successfully when both parents do things differently, when there's a new man and role model in the house to my daughter, when I am still learning that love isn't toxic and I am still adjusting to this new normal? When we just moved under one roof?

I am in love with this man, I know he's my forever person and I am his. It is just lately, now that we are moved and settled, little nit picking and arguments happen more frequently than not. It's not necessarily over the same things - but its surrounding my daughter and certain behaviors or things that he feels could be better (which I can't say I disagree, I just don't think now is the time or place for him to be highlighting these already). I do know he has our best interest; he takes care of both of us, and treats us both with respect and really loves her as his own. It's just we are so different and I guess stuck in our ways; how do you work out merging lives while focusing on strengthening your relationship - its like we keep losing that sense of being a team, and it feels like we work against each other at times.
posted by MamaBee223 to Human Relations (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I haven’t merged a family but as a parent with 2 young kids, there are a few things I would focus on. One, letting all the food stuff go. Maybe he has a point with the candy and you can shift towards having healthier snacks available, but things like forcing kids to clean their plate and insisting they eat or don’t eat certain things is really just a recipe for disordered eating. I would stand strong on this and say that he really needs to not comment. As for the chores/cleaning up, I would pick one habit as a family to work on and make sure that it’s age appropriate. Even a 6 year old who has grown up being taught about chores isn’t going to always remember to pick up their things. Maybe institute a 10 min family pickup with fun music, or say you’re going to work on bringing your plate to the sink after each meal. It just really sounds like his expectations are completely out of line for both her age and the survival mode you all have been living in.
posted by brilliantine at 6:19 AM on November 19 [11 favorites]


I’m sorry, but this man sounds like the definition of controlling and toxic. Nit picking your 6 year old daughter who is going through a major upheaval in her life would be a huge red flag to me. If you want to work on certain behavioural issues with her, that’s a decision you should make yourself, and can do it in a positive and nurturing way. But this guy making your daughter feel as though she is not up to some arbitrary standard of his: no, no, no.

It sounds as though there might be some serious re-evaluating that needs to happen. I’m really sorry you’re in this position
posted by JJZByBffqU at 6:21 AM on November 19 [52 favorites]


Apologies for the double post, but if this is the same guy from a previous question who was "taking his anger or upset out towards me or my 5 year old”, then that really reinforces the red flag. This is not ok.
posted by JJZByBffqU at 6:25 AM on November 19 [29 favorites]


I've been through watching a family merger and eventually having the kids from that blended family move out and rely on my support, because of a controlling boyfriend that moved in. So I am biased.

But I have to say, there are SO MANY red flags in your post, please undo this move. ALL of this:

put your things away, put your shoes away, finish your plate, stop negotiating food, no snack unless you eat.

is incredibly inappropriate for a just-moved-in boyfriend. It's also incredibly controlling. There are things on your list that I ask for from my kids (NOT finishing their plate, my god, this is not 1955, listen to your body's signals!!!!!) but it is ABSOLUTELY not okay to change the rules on your 6 year old in the first year to two years of living together. And the fact that he cannot back down and that you feel like you have to be on high alert is an incredibly loud signal.

This is completely unacceptable and that you are arguing on a weekly basis already means this won't work out. I'm so sorry.

If he's your forever person, he will be willing to live down the hall/across the street/a few blocks away until you sort this out - maybe until your daughter is grown, if he can't leave her be.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:41 AM on November 19 [24 favorites]


Your situation is very similar to my mom's and mine, only we were a family of two from age 3-8. When she and my stepfather married, we went from a very loose household structure to an extremely disciplined one, and I was miserable. So many similarities - the food, the neatness, the discipline. I sat at the dinner table for hours, had very little agency to choose what I ate, had my allowance docked for neatness infractions. I was miserable and I hated him for years, and I could not understand why my mother married him. And frankly, their marriage was miserable until I went away to college, because of the constant power struggle on his part to be in control and her feeling torn between us. As he's aged, he's mellowed and we get along nicely now, but I would have preferred a happier home life growing up, and I think in hindsight my mother would have too. Please give yourself permission to live the way you want to, and please choose a happy child over a "good" child, as defined by someone else. Your house, your kid, your rules. Please.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:55 AM on November 19 [19 favorites]


I am struck by the fact that his son is 20 and lives in a different state. If he is mid-30s, it sounds like most likely he has never been in a real parental relationship with his own kid. Meanwhile, you have been the sole parent to your kid for her entire life. You are the expert in parenting here, not him. He really has no business making parenting decisions/demands on your child without your involvement. If he is unhappy with something in your parenting, that should be a conversation for the two of you to have calmly when your kid is not around, in which he should listen to you, not just dictate how things will be. He should not be yelling at her about anything without any input from you. If he isn't able to do that, he is not a good parent to your kid. Period.

And really, no 6 year old has good table manners or is excellent at chores. That stuff takes time, practice, and patience.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:57 AM on November 19 [21 favorites]


I don't like feeling like instead of enjoying this new little life as a family and getting to know each other and then after a little time coming together to talk about whats working and what isn't - it feels like every day its something. Something so small like she needs to learn to pick up after herself; or constant nit picking of her and me (put your things away, put your shoes away, finish your plate, stop negotiating food, no snack unless you eat.). It feels like a lot all at once and I can't tell if it's just me used to being on our own and an adult; and he has admitted he has done things his way with his son that I don't necessarily do

Hang on, why are the two of you expected to adjust to his standards instead of meeting somewhere in the middle? Why does he call the shots on what behavior is “correct?” This should be a mutual decision between the two of you. Is he using this opportunity to tell you that you’re “wrong” about the ways you’ve raised your daughter and making you feel bad about it instead of seeing things from your point of view? That’s not a good sign.

You emphasize that your daughter “loves and respects” him…is respect something that he is highly invested in, especially from children? If yes, that’s a red flag to consider—in my experience, dudes who insist on respect from children tend to be insecure messes with authoritarian tendencies. Does he respect her? Or you? It really doesn’t sound like he does.
posted by corey flood at 7:01 AM on November 19 [37 favorites]


Oh, this hurts my heart. I'm a long-single parent of a child around the same age, and have also done the same things to make life smoother, and it would absolutely be a deal-breaker for a partner to come in and start nitpicking my child and my parenting like that. It's early days and this is him on his best behaviour, and in my experience, controlling behaviour like this only gets worse. My heart rate actually increased reading your post. This is bad. Please, please protect your child and yourself from this man.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 7:42 AM on November 19 [13 favorites]


I had a shared parenting arrangement with my ex and also my mom married a new person when I no longer lived at home and it still pissed me off.

I wanted him and I to talk if there was ever a concern so that I could adjust and talk to her about it rather then him coming down as the disciplinary or coming in trying to change things so soon.

This is the part that confuses me: Is he coming to you to raise stuff that bothers him (the food, the cleaning up, etc.) and then you argue, or is he raising this stuff directly with your six-year-old?

If he's doing the latter, that's a problem because it is too soon. If he is doing the former, then he is doing what you asked him to. And that explains why ....

it feels like there is always something "wrong," like I have someone watching over our shoulders.

Yeah, it feels that way because you do have someone watching over your shoulders, your partner, and what you have been doing with your daughter all these years feels wrong to him so he is telling you this stuff is wrong. That is a really hard transition.

A former therapist once told me years ago that my relationship hinged on the ability to move forward despite disagreements. But my husband and I never learned how to disagree. When it came to the big stuff, we just got stuck. After we split up and shared custody of our kid, we had fairly different parenting styles and the kid just accepted that the rules depended on if she was at mom's place or dad's place.

Also, I want to nth what brilliantine said. If your new partner has opinions about food and your daughter, consider saying that meal and snack rules are not changing until and unless he presents some evidence-based information about how to do it "right." Because forcing children to eat food they don't want is problematic in a variety of ways. Also, you have a daughter and that makes her especially at risk for disordered eating.

Finally, science journalist and author Melinda Wenner Moyer writes a newsletter called Is My Kid the Asshole? that presents evidence-based parenting tips. Here's a column about different parenting styles. Here is another about table manners, which includes the info below, which was news to me:

quite a lot is required for proper meal etiquette — good core strength, shoulder stability, body awareness, and fine motor skills, among other things — and that these are skills that kids don’t often have yet. Moreover, I learned that when we make kids sit at an adult-sized table and use adult-sized utensils, we actually make mealtime much harder for them than it is for us. Honestly, it’s no wonder our kids are hot messes at dinnertime. But there are things that we can do to make them more successful.

I think it is super challenging to be a loving, effective, and consistent parent and grandparent. Lord knows I have failed to be all those things at the same time. But there are resources available now to help us parent and grandparent based on science rather than our personal preferences or, especially, how we grew up. That's a good thing. I encourage you and your partner to look into Melinda Wenner Moyer's newsletter, upcoming book, and other resources as you explore how to come to agreement.

Also, I hope you are building in fun times for your family together, fun times for each of you alone with your daughter, and independent fun times for each adult. This kind of transition is super stressful. Each of you needs the opportunity to have fun and be relaxed together and separately.

Being hounded about parenting shit every day has got to be exhausting. Your partner needs to chill the fuck out for awhile and maybe just zip his lip about your daughter except for weekly check-ins (or something, when your child is absolutely out of earshot) if your new family is going to be sustainable. I am not saying he is wrong about everything. I am saying y'all need to pace the discussion and stop making the six-year-old the ongoing nexus of disagreement, which has got to be hellish on your kid. Best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:46 AM on November 19 [8 favorites]


I haven't read enough of the post to have a detailed response, but as a guy who merged households with a single mother as an adult, I have to get this part of my chest:

With respect to finances, adult responsibilities, and stuff in the house, you are merging households. With respect to your child, he is joining your household, he is not her dad, and he'd better learn to take his lead from you on parenting your child right quick or kick his ass out. If he has a problem with her behavior it is negotiated through you (not dictated, insulted or insinuated), and you have the final word on that. If he develops a relationship with your kid, and an understanding of your values he may evolve into being her dad, but thats a process of years.
posted by wotsac at 7:51 AM on November 19 [54 favorites]


Frankly this is why I hope to never need to live with another adult again; when I did in my 20s, we were both still very malleable, but now I'm set in my ways and don't want to change.

This situation is especially concerning though because it has only been THIRTY DAYS and he's on your case all the time. This should be a honeymoon period when he is extra patient and excited to have you both with him. If it's like this now, I can't imagine it getting a lot better.

Back up. I know logistically it will suck, but move out again and enjoy the sort of relationship you had before. You don't need to break up, you just need to not live together, and you never need to change that. You might consider a duplex or apartments in the same building, but right now, this is NOT going to work.
posted by metasarah at 7:55 AM on November 19 [10 favorites]


> before he instills certain new rules or ways of doing things

He does not get to instill new parenting rules. Nope. Nope. No way. You are her parent. Full stop. If he wants to change how you parent your daughter, he should start a conversation with you. The two of you decide together, ahead of time, through conversation and negotiation. As as her solo parent, you have veto power on anything he requests, parenting-wise. Especially about such low stakes stuff as picking up and manners. You get to decide what changes about your parenting, if anything. And you can be clear about what kind of say he has with your child. Literally tell him things like: "For the next six months, please don't discipline X at all. Please come to me instead and I'll handle it. Here are the rules I have with her. Please model these and support me in these." There will always be moments where he's presented with a new parenting situation in the moment, but those should default to either critical reactions (for health & safety issues) or to something like, "let's do it this way for now and I'll check in with mom about how she wants to handle that in the future."

As a tangential answer, it sounds like you're being flexible to make life easy and pleasant for him so he doesn't get fed up with the reality of life with you and your daughter. As a fellow single mom, I recognize this impulse--to make ourselves so little trouble because the guy might bail. But minimizing yourself and ceding your role is a miserable place to be, doesn't work in long run, and is damaging to you and your kid. I really wish I had not invited a former boyfriend to move in because of this dynamic. He was comfortable "joking" frequently that life with a single mom cramped his style, yet of course he was ok benefitting from all the domestic, relationship and financial support while living together. I tried being more and more flexible, until things snapped and I realized it was a one-way street.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:03 AM on November 19 [23 favorites]


He's using your daughter to control you.
posted by jointhedance at 8:10 AM on November 19 [28 favorites]


Not a parent, but I aspire to be a decent human being, and this situation is raising red flags like whoa. Agree with all others that you get to set rules and boundaries for your daughter, and while you might choose to take input from him, if you want, in general he can go pound sand.
posted by Alterscape at 8:35 AM on November 19 [5 favorites]


I have merged households as an adult, with kids on both sides. We talk about things, but mostly he’s responsible for his kid and the parenting choices for her, and I’m responsible for my kid and the parenting choices for him. We don’t always agree but we are very clear on who has the say.

As a single woman with a kid I was very mindful of retaining agency and well, power in my relationship. My partner moved into my house for many practical reasons, but I would find it very hard to move into someone else’s house. I could do a house that was new to both of us. I work at a pretty high-level job and would never give that up to be a stay-at-home because it is important to me to not be dependent. Basically as much as I love my partner, I want to retain the ability to be independent - my own money, own savings, etc. Anyone who wants to encourage dependence or limit independence is not someone you want to spend a life with.

The bottom line is I wouldn’t accept this from a partner - I would either require it to stop immediately or I would move out. Making changes in relationships is really difficult from an emotional perspective, so it’s very important to make sure it isn’t also difficult from a financial perspective.
posted by jeoc at 9:01 AM on November 19 [5 favorites]


Agree with others that this is a troubling post.

His having a kid doesn't mean much to me here; not only was he incredibly young when his son was born, it sounds like he has a lot of ideas about children that simply aren't grounded in reality or reasonable age-appropriate expectations. How much of a hand did he have in actually actively raising his child? Is he up to date on what respectful parenting looks like (rather than your child respecting him, which you mention several times)? "Finish your food" and instructing kids to override their own body's signals is generally not considered the done thing anymore like it was when we were kids, just as one example.

I'm a couple years and change into a relationship with someone I absolutely adore, who also has two children similar in ages to mine, and at present I will not consider living together because we have a couple pretty critical differences in our parenting and I'm not willing to compromise on mine or subject my children to a few of his methods that I believe to be outdated or not suited to their temperaments and personalities. Of course I wish we could spend more time together, we talk about how nice it would be to have dinner together nightly and wake up together every morning. But my children and their level of comfort and security in their living situation are first priority. They still like my partner a lot. They love his kids. They are always happy to spend time together and enjoy it when they are around. But they are vastly happier living with just me at this time.

One year together is really not much time and even if you weren't cohabitating and just hanging out together a lot, it still wouldn't be appropriate for him to be interjecting himself in that way so early on. Moving in together does not give him carte blanche to start acting like her parent and it's concerning that he seems to think that he has authority in this area already. He should be looking to you for full direction. There are a number of great questions on here regarding what excellent and appropriate step-parenting looks like. You might go read several of those for better guidelines on how a second adult in the household should expect to be involved and better yet, how he can support you in your parenting, not doling it out himself.

But if things don't improve fast, I would move out and into separate but proximate residences and continue working on your relationship if it's as good as you believe in other ways. I'm sorry that sounds like a nuclear option but this shouldn't be minimized or accepted. And when you say you're hearing his words as criticism, that's because they are probably are. Parenting may be the only thing my partner and I get into strong discussions about but they're always conducted from a place of openness and curiosity and striving to understand, and more often than not, minds are changed or softened on both sides whenever we talk.
posted by anderjen at 9:16 AM on November 19 [9 favorites]


Did you move into his house? It sounds like you left your own place and are in his space. That is a bad start, as he feels territorial about his space, and you will always feel like a visitor in his home. This should be about building a home and family together, and creating 'rules' together, not letting him dictate everything. It sounds like you're in a rough spot, and I hate to say it, but I really think that moving in with him was a bad idea. I think you should get out before it becomes even more difficult to leave. Keep dating if you like, but it sounds like he doesn't understand what it's like to date a mom with a kid. PLEASE keep prioritizing your kiddo over him.
posted by hydra77 at 9:28 AM on November 19 [8 favorites]


I don't think you are ready to move in together. Like, AT ALL. Like others have said, the red flags here are bright enough to see all the way across the internet.

For the sake of your daughter's emotional and psychological health, for the sake of the sanctity of the relationship between you and your daughter, and in order to protect the trust she has in you, you need to un-merge this family immediately. Then seek family counseling to figure out a more respectful and collaborative way to merge your family before you live together again.

I'm not being hyperbolic. I am a divorced mom to two kids and what you are describing is making my skin crawl. I would never, ever, ever allow my partner to interact with my children this way, because I know that would not only harm my children but also harm the trust my children have in me.


> I have not experiences a seemingly "normal" relationship, all of mine in the past have been controlling toxic folks

I suspect this is the reason why your relationship with this guy seems normal to you. Your calibration is way out of whack. This is not your fault. However, please pay attention to the people who are telling you that this man is controlling and toxic. Even if he is better than everyone else you have ever dated, this is what he is. You deserve a normal, loving, respectful partner, not just a partner who is slightly less controlling than the previous ones. Your daughter deserves actual safety, not just a home that's not as bad as the one she might have had with your previous partners.
posted by MiraK at 9:38 AM on November 19 [18 favorites]


I just wanted to add, it is the food things that made this a hard no for me. I can see disagreeing on things that are kind of mutual space issues like tidiness or jumping on the couch shrieking late into the night.

But having to clean your plate, earn snacks, etc. - that's not really a parenting issue in the same way. Having to finish your plate before getting up is either archaic -- and by archaic, I mean I am 50 years old and it was on its way out at that point in a North American context -- or I suppose it could be cultural but if so, there needs to be respect for both cultures.

The reason this screams to me is that my niblings' step-whatever was the same way, and particularly focused on table manners, being a "male role model," whatever that is. How it ended was him dragging my 10 year old nephew up the stairs by his hair. The damage to all three of the kids is extensive - emotionally, psychologically. They have all really struggled as young adults, not just with the amount of control they had to deal with as children and the emotionally and in some cases physically abusive behaviour.

But also with the sense of abandonment that their mother gave over the rule of the household and the parenting rules to him.

I cannot think of a case where a sensitive, respectful adult male joining a household would be having weekly emotional upset about a 6 year old leaving food on their plate.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:46 AM on November 19 [24 favorites]


This situation is especially concerning though because it has only been THIRTY DAYS and he's on your case all the time. This should be a honeymoon period when he is extra patient and excited to have you both with him. If it's like this now, I can't imagine it getting a lot better.

My instinct tells me that the first 30 days would be the roughest or at least expected to be rough. It's a big adjustment to live with another adult, it's an even bigger adjustment to live with a child, doubly so if you perceive that child to not be particularly well behaved. The reasons for why the child behaves the way is immaterial to the fact that living with that is a big adjustment. No guarantee things get better after, just feels like you'd be the most on-edge and most aware of all the myriad changes in the household since it's all new and fresh and happening right now and that ain't how things used to be, and probably not how you imagined.

However this reaction could well be many signals that he isn't ready to live with you and the kiddo. It could be hard to see home-life improving after suddenly there's a new little kid after you'd just finished working on and sending off your own kid. Realistically if y'all want to continue this relationship long-term, he's signing up to live with this kid for at least XX years. He really needs to figure out and communicate if he is excited to have you and this kid around for essentially forever, because if not, then that's basically a forever of tension and fighting and fundamental disagreements. Everyone is worse off in that situation.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:52 AM on November 19


How do you merge families successfully when both parents do things differently, when there's a new man and role model in the house to my daughter, when I am still learning that love isn't toxic and I am still adjusting to this new normal? When we just moved under one roof?

My opinion is that you don't. If you are still learning that love isn't toxic and adjusting to not hearing disagreement as full-on criticism, you actually aren't ready to be sharing a household yet. I also hear that what you value as important or appropriate for your child are not aligned. I don't hear compromise or mutual respect, I hear excuses and bickering. While some adjustment is to be expected, things that just magically work themselves out over time -- these are conversations about how to move forward together that it doesn't sound like you had enough of before you moved in.

As the now-adult child from a similar situation, please reconsider merging your household.
posted by sm1tten at 9:59 AM on November 19 [5 favorites]


I have not experiences a seemingly "normal" relationship, all of mine in the past have been controlling toxic folks that did not have my best interest at heart

I'm sorry to say that you are currently in a relationship with a controlling, toxic man. Your partner sounds just like my father--my actual, biological father. This type of controlling, nit-picking parenting is damaging and this man is not even your child's father. Ask yourself how your daughter's life looks in 5 years, 10 years if she's not able to conform to his precise expectations. Ask yourself what it will do to her if she is able to conform, the damaging mental and emotional energy of walking on eggshells, constantly trying to please this man. He needs to back way the hell off or you need to move out.
posted by Mavri at 10:47 AM on November 19 [7 favorites]


Okay, so in the big picture:

One year together is not that long. That's still a pretty new relationship, even though I know it doesn't seem that way.

I'm wondering how much time he spent in your space, with your daughter, before you all moved into his place. Was he around during meal times, for example? I'm wondering why so much of this is new information to him (if it's new). Ideally you would have spent a fair amount of time together with the kid, in an everyday sort of way, before moving in together.

Also, it's a big deal to move into someone else's space, even if you're just two adults who aren't even in an intimate relationship. Moving in together as a romantic couple is a HUGE step in a relationship -- maybe more significant than getting married -- because then you can't just break up easily. Moving in with a kid is an even bigger deal. Living together isn't a small step in a relationship but a gigantic one. Ideally, a two adults merging households would move into a new home together, where you make decisions about how to live and be in that space together. It's much harder when you move into someone's space and their routines there. That seems doubly true with a kid.

And, the best way to approach this would be to talk about these issues in advance. It sounds like you are a more casual, laid back parent. I hear you being defensive about this. There's nothing wrong with your way of parenting. It does sound like it's pretty different than his way of parenting, and he has certain expectations of how kids should be, and that's not how your kid is. That doesn't mean you all have to change to accommodate him. You can't know everything in advance, but it's so much better if you have conversations about parenting styles and such before you combine households.

But, in the even bigger stepparent picture: I think it's pretty much conventional wisdom that the parent, not the stepparent, parents the kid. The stepparent should not be making the rules, scolding, correcting, etc., and especially not so much so soon. It sounds like he's also setting all the rules for you, too? Like you all live in his house and he's the stern, correcting teacher? Yuck yuck yuck.

I agree with everyone else: this sounds super controlling and unhealthy. I'm really sorry. I'm sure it must feel awful to have disrupted your life like this and be having these problems already, but I don't see this getting better. I think the sooner you move out, the better.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:52 AM on November 19 [6 favorites]


Agreed that this isn't a healthy environment and your instinct to take your kid and run is spot on.

Did you move into his house? It sounds like you left your own place and are in his space. That is a bad start, as he feels territorial about his space, and you will always feel like a visitor in his home. This should be about building a home and family together, and creating 'rules' together, not letting him dictate everything. It sounds like you're in a rough spot, and I hate to say it, but I really think that moving in with him was a bad idea. I think you should get out before it becomes even more difficult to leave. Keep dating if you like, but it sounds like he doesn't understand what it's like to date a mom with a kid. PLEASE keep prioritizing your kiddo over him.

That's only true if the person is problematic to begin with. I know people say it's best to get a new home together for this reason but it's possible to make it work (and not always possible to pick up and move), but the grown-ups have to have the right attitude. My 6 year old and I moved into my boyfriend's place, where he'd lived for over a decade first (we were in our mid-30's) and he never pulled shit like this, he painted and helped decorate my kid's future room, and reinforced that his house was now our house, and it's been working for all of us going on 4 years now.

My kid is a selective eater and again my partner hasn't imposed his rules or anything around his eating, he's learned how to work with it so we can have enjoyable meals together. He mainly played the role of a "fun uncle" until the past couple of years where he's had to step up with some parental obligations like packing lunches and doing bedtimes due to us having a baby. It takes so much time to build a relationship where there's more of a parent-child dynamic, a year is a drop in the bucket, so agreed to all the posts saying a step-parent shouldn't be calling the shots.
posted by lafemma at 11:09 AM on November 19 [7 favorites]


"Stop negotiating food" feels like such a red flag to me in particular. It is ABSOLUTELY OKAY for anyone to negotiate food. That's part of having basic levels of consent over what goes into our bodies, and it is good to make sure kids have control over their own bodies as appropriate. This man doesn't seem like he has much, or any, appropriate knowledge of what it means to parent a child.
posted by augustimagination at 12:28 PM on November 19 [11 favorites]


I, who have no children, started dating my partner when his son was four and I would never have thought to tell him how to parent his child, even when I silently thought to myself, "I wouldn't handle things this way," or "Gee, your a pushover."

Now, after many years of dating, I do assert/advocate for some things in regards to table manners, help with chores, some ways of doing things when we're at my house. But that happened much later.

He should be supporting your parenting choices and approach, not imposing his on you.

It would be a different thing if there were serious behavior issues, but that is clearly not the issue.
posted by brookeb at 1:53 PM on November 19


Your daughter sounds like a loving and independent person. The fact that you say she adores him (even though you’ve also previously said that he took out his grief on her when his father passed away, and he’s clearly nitpicking her now) makes me think she’s a people pleaser whose conflict style is to fawn.

Imagine her at age 16 if she doesn’t ever manage to conform to your boyfriend’s expectations. How would her self-esteem be? Will she like herself? Will she believe herself to be smart and capable? What kind of romantic relationships would she feel she’s worth and gravitate towards?

Imagine her at 16 if she does manage to conform to your boyfriend’s unreasonable and controlling and confrontational expectations. Will she like herself? Will she believe herself to be smart and capable? How stifled and insecure and hyper-vigilant will she be? What kind of romantic relationships would she feel she’s worth and gravitate towards?

Either way, whether she does or doesn’t become a meek little robot to please this man, I think a decade with him will set her up to have extremely low self esteem and extremely high anxiety.

How do you want her to feel in her own home?
How do you want her to feel about herself?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:14 PM on November 19 [23 favorites]


Nthing that this man sounds controlling, this post is troubling, and you should leave now. Every single minute that you don't, as far as I'm concerned, you are choosing your attachment to your "forever person" over your daughter's well-being, and that might well have consequences.

You don't just need to worry about how she's going to feel about herself, though. I think you should think about how she's going to feel about you, too.

My mom and her "forever person" fought very frequently, too. There was a time when I cared about them both and worked extremely hard all the time to keep them in the best moods possible, around your kid's age.

By the time I was in my early teens, that had stopped, and I had resolved to tell them as little and interact with them as little as I possibly could.

Perhaps, like many people, including me, your daughter won't develop problems severe enough for mental health diagnoses and medications until late high school or college.

Maybe she'll stop speaking to either of you in her early twenties, and the kindest word she'll be capable of using for you as an adult is "enabler."

Hey, it happened to my mom, it could happen to you, is all I'm saying. And that route starts with not packing your stuff and leaving tonight, or leaving for a few days and then going back to this person or someone like him.

Get your child away from this situation, or look forward to a long life of many, many holidays with no vists, no phone calls, and no texts.
posted by All Might Be Well at 7:16 PM on November 19 [10 favorites]


My mother married my stepfather when I was just a little bit older than your daughter. I was excited at the idea of having a dad since I never knew my biological father. And even though my stepfather was a horrible, toxic person, at that age my mother would have also said that I seemed to like and respect him. I was desperate to gain his approval and love. It wasn't until I was almost 30 that I realized I never was going to get any of that from him.

The worst thing my mother ever did, and the real defining turning point in my life, was her decision to marry my stepfather. On her own, my mother would have been a flawed but fundamentally loving parent. But she couldn't stand up to my stepfather, though they did fight a lot.

I sometimes think about how different and how much better and easier my life might have been if she had the wisdom and strength not to marry him, or to leave him when I was young. (She did finally divorce him, but I was in my late 20s by then.)

You've only been dating a year. In the first month of living together, you are already having all these issues.

Please, leave this man. For your daughter, if not yourself. Think about how you want her to view her childhood. If he's this critical now, what about when she's older? There will only be more battles.

There are so many red flags here. I know mefi can jump to DTMFA too quickly in some cases, but so many people are telling you to leave him because this is so clearly problematic. He seems toxic and controlling, and it will only get worse from here.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:19 PM on November 19 [10 favorites]


I’ve been in your shoes and know what it’s like to not have firsthand experience of a healthy relationship. And I have been alone because I don’t know if I trust my radar anymore. But I do know that my child and I share a deep bond. And if there’s anyone in my life who diminishes me in any way, which in turn diminishes my capacity to care for my child, then that’s not energy I want in my life. It has been a journey to get to a place again where I have agency to take my own space. I am privileged to have the means to live a frugal life of my own without financial help. Do you?

Your nervous system is being activated for a reason. Please trust your gut.
posted by sunrise kingdom at 4:20 AM on November 20 [8 favorites]


My kids are a decade older than you. I was a single parent for many years until I got involved with a seductive charming interesting adoring man and it turned out to be a big mistake. Fortunately my kids were old enough- teenagers- to stand up for themselves and they encouraged me to DTMF, which I did. One of my grandkids is the same age as your daughter, kids that age cannot stand up for themselves, and they're much more easily manipulated and charmed.

If you were my daughter I would tell you in no uncertain terms that this man is not as loving as you think he is. He is a controller, he wants to control you and your kid, it's a form of emotional abuse. Please listen to everyone above and get out of this relationship. You're better off raising your kid alone than you would be staying with someone who expects you to make all of the compromises and gaslights your parenting decisions.
posted by mareli at 6:38 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]


And another thing: my kids eventually told me that he was not nearly as nice to them when I was not around. This is something your child is likely to young to make sense of, too young to complain about to you. Please, at the very least, talk to a therapist.
posted by mareli at 11:43 AM on November 20 [4 favorites]


I was childless when I married someone with 4 children who were 4-11 at the time. I would never have expected what this man is expecting of you and your daughter. I am not the replacement parent. I am more like the cool aunt. If there's ever a rule that I want enforced, depending what it is I usually go to my husband and have him assert authority about it. He's super lackadaisical and passive generally so they probably know it's coming from me, but this imo is a healthier way to blend a family. His way is going to cause resentment.

I would take care OP, moving into his space he probably has a sense of dominance for lack of a better word. You guys need to redistribute the power, or he needs to recognize that he does not actually have primary power over his stepchild. He is acting like he should. If he does not respect that you are the primary one in power with your bio child, and does not cooperate around awareness raising of power/redistribution or acknowledgement of more equitable distribution, then take him to a family therapist and they will make him see.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:08 PM on November 20 [5 favorites]


If he does not agree to therapy together, please move out. Right now it's all about what you and your daughter have to do to change and nothing about what he needs to do to adjust. Love is not control. Love is not nitpicking. Love is both adults trying their best and accepting each other as is or parting ways if that's impossible. If I disagreed so much about how a partner was parenting their child, I simply would not move in with them. I'm not saying your relationship is doomed but it likely will be if you all continue on this path. Your daughter's school counselor surely has resources for family counseling and the like. They can help connect you to other local services, too.

There are many men in this world who could be your partner but you only have one daughter. Please put her needs first. If this guy is truly your forever person, he will understand and want the best for you even if he can't provide that himself.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:54 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]


How do you merge families successfully when both parents do things differently,

He is NOT her parent by virtue of y'all moving together. YOU are her parent.

Controlling her food is a huge red flag.

I'm going to be very blunt here: I would be very concerned here about future physical and emotional abuse. In fact, I would argue that the abuse has already started. He is wearing you down.

You have an obligation to protect your daughter not to bend over backwards for this man.

He's going to damage her self-esteem and mess up her relationship with food at the very least. He does not respect her bodily autonomy. Think about that for a second.

Are you able to stand up to him and set boundaries with him about this? Or are you and your daughter going to tiptoe around on eggshells around this man?

You are the adult your daughter relies on, her advocate, her rock. She should feel safe and protected in her own home.
posted by M. at 9:11 PM on November 20 [5 favorites]


RE: controlling kids’ food

Growing up, at every meal I had to join the “Clean Plate Club.” To this day, no matter how delicious the meal is, I always leave a bite or two on the plate.

I agree with brilliantine, tendencies toward disordered eating start very early.
posted by bendy at 12:10 AM on November 22


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