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SuperMouse's avatar

Help! My son feels disloyal to his dad for liking my boyfriend.

Asked by SuperMouse (30738 points ) June 21st, 2010

I have been divorced for almost two years now and I have been seeing my boyfriend from awhile. I have taken it very slowly introducing my kids to this guy for all the reasons the books say. He is a good guy and I think the kids are finally starting to warm up to him. The problem I am running into is that their father has made no secret of the fact that he hasn’t had much luck with the ladies and is lonely, especially when the kids are with me. They all (especially the oldest) worry about him and want to be able to help. I am realizing that their loyalty to their dad, and his lack of a regular lady friend, might be keeping them from really warming up to my boyfriend and seeing him for the good guy that he is. Any thoughts on this conundrum?

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13 Answers

ETpro's avatar

You might want a good marriage and family counselor to talk with you and the kids. The counselor may even want to meet with all parties involved. It sounds like your ex honestly cares about his kids, so he might be an unexpected ally in sorting this sad situation out. I wish you all the very best in dealing with it.

Merriment's avatar

Of course it would be ideal if your Ex wouldn’t burden the kids with his lack of dating success and loneliness (beyond the “sure I miss you kids when you aren’t with me).

Since you can’t control that all you can do is damage control. Reminding the kids that it’s not their jobs to take care of the adults is a start.

Beyond that allowing your kids to fall in love with your boyfriend at their own pace and while honoring all their own loyalties is the best you can do.

dpworkin's avatar

In my opinion your husband has an obligation to start under-informing your children about his adult problems. If he can’t stop burdening them with such things, perhaps he should be spending less time with them.

Seaofclouds's avatar

You can try talk to your children about it. Explain to them that their Dad with always be their Dad and that your boyfriend is not trying to replace him. Explain to them that liking your boyfriend would not take away from the love they have for their dad.

I would also talk to your ex-husband about the affect his words are having on your children.

SuperMouse's avatar

@dpworkin I realized right after I finished composing this question that the ex doesn’t have to actually say anything negative about me to hurt the kids. All he really has to do is walk around like a sad sack (an art in which he is particularly gifted), and call them when they are with me and tell them how hard he is trying to keep himself busy.

@ETpro I think that somewhere deep inside he cares about his kids, but honestly right now getting back at me seems to be his top priority.

JLeslie's avatar

@SuperMouse I also think children will be in tune with their father’s emotions without him even having to say much. But, also, I knew a dad who used to tell his kids how much he missed them and loved them, and it seems the children interpreted that as they should feel badly that they were not with him more often. The children, who were very young at the time, did not really get that he agreed with the custody arrangement, and the father was not trying to get the kids to be more loyal to him than their mother or her boyfriend. It was his way of expressing his love for them, and the children twisted it around in their heads a little.

Children want to please their parents, and so if they perceive him as lonely they will feel a responsibility to make him happy I guess? It is an awful burden, but tricky at the same time, because we want our kids to know they bring us happiness, but not burden them with feeling they are the one source of happiness. If you speak to your x and tell him your concern would he be willing to be congenial with your new boyfriend in front of the children? Maybe if they witness their dad shaking his hand and making some small talk for a few moments, the kids won’t feel guilty.

ETpro's avatar

@SuperMouse I am sorry to hear that. If you can do so, getting an independent third party involved might really be a good idea. Sounds like there is a lot of emotional charge clouding sound judgment. And when it comes to rearing kids, sound judgment is a must.

dpworkin's avatar

Just don’t let yourself feel guilty. It’s entirely normative for you to have a boyfriend, and as long as he doesn’t try to act like a parent, but just continues to be a friend to your children, all this touchiness will subside.

fightfightfight's avatar

I don’t think it’s disloyal at all, that’s normal for anyone to do so there’s nothing wrong with it. Besides, even if he does like him, it doesn’t mean he likes him better than his own father.

MaryW's avatar

You have recieved great advice so far and you seem to be doing the correct things. Kids do want to please everyone in a triangle. Cooperation is the key and your X does need to take responsibility for is aloneness but he probably will not as that is so hard to do.
I do think it would not hurt at all to have the kids talk with you whenever they want to about this as you can in different ways say that he says he’s missing them to let them know he loves them and enjoys them not that he needs them.
Also they should be loyal to both of you as their parents and it would be wrong to expect less without comparing the two fellas to the kids which is a no no. The kids will do that on their own as they grow. If they are not pushed or cornered.
You really sound sincere and loving and this is a hard situation. Do not tell the kids x is getting back at you, do not put them in the middle. If this gets hard you may want to get support from a counselor, someone who does not know the parties involved.
Continue to introduce the boyfriend as you have and the kids will see his qualities and make their own progress. The boy friend could offer some mentoring projects (with you involved if that is happier) with the kids if this is a serious relationship but not parent stuff as the situation is too tense and he is a “parent” when they say he is and certainly not while he is a boyfriend. Sports, reading, school/craft projects, not playing up to the kids but genuine.
I wish you strength and energy and happiness.

Pandora's avatar

Both of my brothers went through this with their kids and its sad to say that I did not see this resolved and only made the children feel helpless in helping their parents. I hope you are on friendly terms with your ex and can talk to him openly about what the children may be going through.
Explain to him that his loneliness and saddness will only make the children feel guilty when they feel some happiness and that you know him to be a good father and would not wish for them to feel guilty over something they have no control over. They are children and deserve to live as normal a life as possible with as many joys that they can get. As a parent he should not wish them to feel miserable for one second because of him.
Maybe also suggest he get some counseling if he is in a depression. There is always that possiblity that his problems extend further than a lack of family.
Tell him he will never be lonely. The children love him and you are not looking to replace him as their dad.
To give them some feeling of doing something to bring dad joy by being with him, perhaps you can allow more visitations with day provided it doesn’t seem to make them feel worse for not being with him all the time.
Heck if your on really good terms with him and know him to be a great guy maybe suggest some on line dating. And if he needs to date when he is suppose to have the kids, offer to make up the missing weekend for another weekend so he has time to date.
I know one of my brothers blew a lot of date opportunities because he was occuppied every weekend with his daughter. He didn’t always want to introduce his dates to his daughter right away and they began to think he was married because he would never have a free weekend.
I hate it when parents put a guilt trip on their kids for their own screwed up life.
This may sound crazy but I’ve actually seen some divorce parents plan day trips with the kids and take their new spouse and do things together as an extended family trip for the sake of the kids. This way they could have a totally happy moment knowing they are not missing out on the special day with one parent. Of course this only works with two adults who are on good terms and put their childs joy before their own wishes.

But unfortunately talking to your kids and tell them they are not responsible for a parents joy is usually a waste of time. I tried telling my nephew and niece but all they ever saw was dad or mom was lonely and needed them to be with them for them to be happy.

The rest with your boyfriend will work itself out once the kids feel secure in both your happiness and see your boyfriend as an uncle or something of the sort.
Then they will be relaxed enough and give you grief over normal kid stuff.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

You and your ex may be divorced, but the children still have both of you. Unless there is some type of abuse involved, most kids secretly hope that their parents will get back together.

However, have you considered that these two things might not be related? Maybe they are just keeping some distance from this guy until they are sure you two stay together. A lot of children have become attached to a parent’s new partner, then lose them, too, when a break-up occurs. If any of these kids have talked to yours, it might have planted a seed.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

You might want to suggest to your ex that he be screened for depression. Falling into the habit of treating your children as a peer/confidante will only undermine his role as a parent. Children have enough friends their own age, they need their father to be their father. He needs to set an example that he is a capable adult who doesn’t need an emotional caregiver.

If he has problems with his social life, he should be discussing it with his mother, siblings, the women at work, a counselor. Anyone but his children. Having your kids do things with you because they feel sorry for you is not the same as having them want to spend time with you because they love you and enjoy your company. If he’s not careful, he’s headed in that direction, and spending time with their father will become a chore.

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