But I joined because I've been quickly entered into that sort of role by dating a single dad, and wanted some advice on interacting with a 3 yo boy who lives with his mother and visits with his father.
It's a bit of a tricky situation with friction between the ex-partners around visits, new partners and support payments (myself staying neutral and away from contact with mum) and kiddo sometimes accepts me and sometimes doesn't. One day he'll be giggling and rolling the rubber ball I bought him down my legs, the next he'll be getting possessive of dad and telling me to go away.
I've been told by my boyfriend that I should be more confident with his son and have the right to tell him what to do, but I tend to hang back so I don't "step" on any toes (hur hur). I'm trying to walk a fine line between participating in his care which could be interpreted as trying to replace his mother, or being a fun 'friend' or aunty which could be interpreted as being immature or irresponsible.
There's a playdate coming up with friends of his who are also parents, but I feel awkward as the only young adult there who is not a biological parent. I'm also inexperienced with children.
I look forward to going through and reading on the forum how other members manage these situations gracefully, and hopefully getting a bit of advice or solace when things are rough!
- Awkward as a shag on a rock
It is a tough situation, and you're right, it is a fine line between doing too much and too little in terms of interacting with his son. Do you guys live together? Even if you do, try to make sure your bf and his son still get time alone together without you present. I would err on the side of being the "fun aunt" rather than being the one enforcing lots of rules (unless you are alone with him frequently, then I feel like it is okay to discipline at least at least as much as, say, a babysitter would) He is still very little, so it is nice that you have time to kind of ease into it all as he gets older. As for the socializing with other parents, so awkward! Just remember they probably know you are not his mom and don't expect you to be perfect :) Good luck!
Thanks for your reply greenemami. :)
We don't live together, but I've been accepted into his family and frequently stay on weekends (Friday through to Monday and go straight to work). He does get time with his son as I step back and let them be together.
It's especially tricky because he's a shift worker, and his sons visits coincide with mine... so often the kid comes first and I miss out on time with my partner. (His son should come first, I agree. And am trying to not feel left out even when he talks to his parent friends about his absent son at a party rather than talking to me. It's just tough that I consistently come last. We have problems that don't involve the little boy, and things are sometimes hard for me.)
I'm terrified to discipline, despite being encouraged to by my boyfriend and knowing it's necessary... I feel it's not my place. As for interacting, it's tricky. I'm not ready for children of my own so am not a very mommy kind of person, and haven't babysitted before. I'm fond of little one and would like to cuddle, but I don't want to push it. I could roughhouse hug as his dad always does, but wonder if I risk a tiny excited arm flailed in my face when I go in.
Often I bring a small treat to give - a cheap colorful toy, a Kinder Surprise, a pack of socks or jocks for the next year of growth. I come up with ideas for play activities or bring a picture book but it's tempting to stop trying when young Master doesn't want to focus and would rather be playing with his cars :( I try to talk to him and ask questions, but his attention drifts and sometimes getting an answer is like pulling teeth. He does it with his dad too so it might just be him being three and a half, but other times he'll ignore intentionally when I grab his toes. Who knows.
Any ideas on how to engage with small busy people is appreciated, because right now I just tickle and dish out treats like for a kitten!
I haven't seen him lately, and am nervous about the play date... it will probably end with the parents talking to one another and attending to their children leaving me in the background. It doesn't feel like my presence is necessary, I might not go.
It sounds like you're doing everything right in interacting with the son. It's really sweet that you bring his son a little toy each time-- that stuff goes a long way with kids. I echo the sentiment that your boyfriend and his son should have some alone time just the two of them, though. Maybe since you're always around, that might be part of why his son isn't completely accepting of you and feels possessive of dad... or, he could just be acting like a three year old! It's hard to tell. Since your relationship is so young I would definitely act more like a fun aunt or maybe even just a friend. I don't want to overstep boundaries here, but as we all know relationships sometimes don't work out, and introducing his son to you after only 6 months of dating seems a little soon to me. I of course wish you two to be together for a long time if you wish! But since a child is involved I would maybe take a step back and be around only every other visit? It definitely sucks to take time out of your relationship, but that's just how it is when you date a single parent. And I would say to definitely not take your partners advice to discipline above and beyond what is acceptable for a friend of the child-- such as if he's wrestling too hard with you, you can tell him to stop, etc.
I think how he's playing with you is completely age appropriate. At three they are very much in their own world... and doing something structured might seem really boring compared with playing with cars. When my kids were that age I would just hang out with them in the same room and if they wanted me to participate in whatever activity THEY were interested in, I would. Even now when I suggest activities to my kids I'm usually met with resistance. I think they like to come up with the idea and you just need to follow along.
Good luck with everything! It's really very sweet that you posted for advice about this issue. I think a lot of partners in your situation wouldn't and it's pretty cool that you are trying to be the best possible "person" for your partner's son :).
Jean, feminist mama raising three boys: W (7), E (5) and L (2.15.13)
Whoops, I edited too soon.
Thanks for your support guys.
I was also quite surprised at how fast I was introduced to his son and encouraged to be involved... I met his son at an outing before we started dating, and wondered if it was a good idea for me to be barrelled into the kids life so soon with the staying over (or for my nerves!). Being such a presence was at Dad's initiative (though I enjoy being over and like a member of his family), and he tells me I should just be more confident with his son, he'd be jealous of a sibling too and that kid hasn't seen me enough to get used to me...
I don't know. Maybe that's just how he assumes it'll go and he doesn't think of any of this as a big deal for me or son.
It's a good idea to think about how often I stay over, right now I seem to be just tagging along behind boyfriend and fitting in for scraps of time when he isn't busy with something else. It might be better for me not to feel superfluous or like I'm competing for his dad's attention. Maybe I should give up on expecting quality time, do my own thing on those weekends and just leave the boys to it.
But non-visitation weekends involve work, playing cards with his mates, and computer games. I'm getting into the same cards and game, but there's not a lot of boyfriend/girlfriend time after everything else he has to/chooses to do.
I know relationships don't last, and between a lot of challenges I'm starting to worry for this one. :'( Maybe he just doesn't have time for a girlfriend.
Who knows what would happen if we broke up, thinking if little one would not really remember or if he'd be affected. I really want it to work out.
It seems like he should be making time for you! On non-visitation weekends he should definitely prioritize spending time with you over playing cards with friends or being on the computer, IMHO. Have you talked with him about that? Even if you just have a night to yourselves...? Of course he needs his friend time, too, but I've been the third wheel in some relationships and it just feels bad. If it's important to you, and it sounds like it is, I would ask him to come up with a better schedule for everything he has going on in his life. He has his kid days, he has his friend days, and he has his you days, etc.
Jean, feminist mama raising three boys: W (7), E (5) and L (2.15.13)
While it sounds like there are other issues here, namely him not making time for you, I did want to comment on the playing with the 3-1/2 year old thing. It sounds like you are doing fine! Just sitting on the floor next to him while he plays cars is still interacting with him. I would try not to make all of your interactions a "big fun thing" anyway since it sets up unrealistic expectations. Just being together is the way to grow that close relationship moreso that super exciting outings or activities (although those are of course fun too sometimes). Make his favorite snack for him or offer to read a book at bedtime, but try not to feel hurt if he is not wildly grateful for your gifts etc., that is just how a lot of 3-1/2 year olds are :)
If you are not comfortable playing a parental role to this kid, then you need to make that clear to your bf. You do not have to "play mommy" if you don't want to, and it sounds like you are really uncomfortable with jumping into playdates and the like-that is okay! Maybe you can join your bf and his son at dinnertime on weekends so you still see him, but then you guys get to hang out after the kiddo is in bed and the boys have the whole day together? Is there a reason you and your bf can't meet up during the week for date nights? I agree with the PP too, he should be making more time for you on nonvisitation weekends. It sounds like he is pushing you into the stepmom role faster than you'd like to be for whatever reason-taking a step or two back does not mean never seeing his kid, just taking it a little slower which is probably better for everyone :)
Thanks. I told my partner that I couldn't make it to the playdate because I preferred to be at my friends birthday dinner... I also talked about being unhappy because there wasn't much time connecting without his attention being half on something else.
It also turns out the play date was cancelled anyway because kiddo was sick with that hand mouth and foot virus, and we met at the dinner.
I chose to spend this weekend at my own flat so dad and son have time to themselves and I can get some things done. I'll have a night with him at my flat and next weekend at his, but I have a feeling this issue will keep cropping up. He works full time as a shift worker and right now the hours are unpredictable and brutal. He also seems to be less of a huggy/talky person than I am, more focused on activity. Hopefully I can find ways to negotiate for more of what I need or feel less sidelined.
Suggestions noted re little boy. He used to grab my hand and tug me over to play with his trains, but lately has been clinging to dad and tending to ignore my presence. I also haven't seen as much of him lately due to his mother changing visitation to half the frequency.
Not really thinking anything elaborate to do, more like short simple activities to grab his interest such as letting him spread canned frosting over some bought cookies with a popsicle stick or blowing bubbles. He's a bit obsessed with trains and cars to the point where he doesn't play with anything else, and I thought to offer some more options for learning and growing. Maybe something else will be as big a hit as the rubber ball was, he did get into that.
I'll just sit with him while he plays if need be, but from how he's acting am unsure if that's something he wants at this point. :/ It's hard to tell what is wanted from me on kids part. Maybe to play ball with him, maybe to just sit there, maybe to just go away already and leave him alone with his dad? It changes.
I don't want to give the impression that I want to avoid the kid, which I may have by asking for adult time and choosing to skip a visit... but you're right, it is very rushed to be pushed together and expected to go seamlessly. Their father son bond is so strong that it feels exclusive and like there's no place for me. I wonder when I could feel like part of their little family rather than an interloper. And not as a replacement pseudo mom, which would be weird and forced so soon.
I believe Mom would have something to say as well if she caught wind of me acting in a mommy role... (Not likely, I'm called by my first name and I feel that's most appropriate.) But she's still possessive and jealous about her ex-partner, tends to mess with visits/use the child as a weapon whenever she gets upset, and partner was initially not going to tell her about me for fear of strife.
Phew. This step thing is tough.
Three-year-olds are definitely like that. My three-year-old's parents (me and my husband!) are together, and some days he wants no one but Mommy, other days only Papa can make him smile. I think your best bet is to be available to him and to offer to do things together, but to continue letting him take the lead. Don't take it personally if he turns you down-- he might just be slow to warm up and need to consider your offer for a while before he takes you up on it.
Reading books together is a great bonding activity. You can definitely find books about trains, cars, trucks, etc. You could bring a couple with you when you come over, let him know they are there for him and offer to read them to him if he wants. He might prefer to look at them on his own, but eventually might be interested in having you read them to him. Even if he wants Dad to read at first, you could probably join him. Maybe at bedtime he can choose one book for dad to read and one book for you to read.
Taking walks or pushing him on the swings at the playground are also great for slow-to-warm-up children. Being outside, doing parallel activities without having to interact. On a walk you can point out interesting things to him, let him decide which direction to go, etc. Swinging can be soothing to kids who are anxious or unsure.
Play dough, coloring or painting, driving cars down a ramp (you can make one out of anything... a board, a book, a shelf, etc), washing dishes (i.e. playing in the sink) together, building the train tracks for him to drive his trains on, making a "road" to drive cars on (masking tape on the rug or chalk on the driveway/sidewalk work well)... anything you can do side-by-side and that can be done silently in parallel would allow him to warm up to you without forcing an interaction those times he doesn't want one.
Some three-year-olds love to help with grown-up jobs, so asking for his help watering plants, making lunch, sweeping up, etc, might catch his interest.
You might also keep your eye out for a special activity the two of you could eventually do together-- storytime at the library or bookstore, an art class, a playgroup. My step-daughter was a toddler when I started parenting her, and we built a strong bond at a parent-child gymnastics class. Despite its name, there were plenty of other non-parents there (like nannies and grandparents) and someone else was leading the activities so I didn't have to try to come up with things to do. Without my boyfriend there to mediate our interactions, it nudged us to find our own relationship and form our own bond. My step-daughter and I (9 years later) still have a very special relationship all our own.
I hope there were some helpful ideas in here! Above all, just try to be a consistent, patient presence. Offer yourself, but don't take it personally if he isn't ready. He's likely just trying to build trust in the relationship, taking his time and maybe trying to figure you out before he commits to a relationship with you. It sounds like you are doing just what he needs you to do. Remember that the relationship you are building is between you and this little guy, and the only people who know what that should look and feel like is you and this little boy-- not his dad, not his mom, not the neighbor or your best friend or the babysitter. Take it as slow as the two of you need to, and don't feel pressured by anyone else's idea if what it out to be.
Thanks for your support :) I got some quality time with my partner recently, but it's still a tall order taken all together.
I'll try your suggestions and also try to join in whatever kid's doing in a low key way.
So... all you guys were right and I always suspected as much. However the problem was nothing to do with the lovely child but with the father.
I was dumped suddenly and hard three or four months ago: Mainly because I have different values and stuck by my decision not to get pregnant and have kids in the future (both of which I was upfront about when we first met and started seeing each other). He also was getting frustrated at not getting regular cards time with the boys and starting to put me down and ignore me at times.
I also strongly suspect (from some full on stuff that happened that I won't go into) that he is a problem drinker and has a porn addiction. But because he denied everything and had a lot of time away from me I'll never truly know.
I've chosen to mail the last of his stuff back and cut contact to protect myself and move on. I miss his son so much already and wish he would have happy memories of our time spent together - there's so much we didn't get to do. But actually hope that he's forgotten me due to young age, as I don't want him feeling my absence or being confused. His father said that he wouldn't explain the breakup to his son but simply say I wasn't there because I'm "busy", so it could seem to a little kid that I just don't care and don't want to see him. :'(
Thank you so much for your wise words and gentle support, it meant a lot to me at the time and it still does now. I'll probably just step out of here now and just cope the best I can.
I don't know what to do. So angry. It feels like I was strung along with all the talking about a future/love and used like a convenience whenever it suited him. One time I was going to leave him and was persuaded to stay, but now he's finished with me I got dumped rudely for things I was upfront about a year and a half ago. (Nothing bad - different politics, can't afford to buy a house, don't want to give birth.) Dude should have just left me alone if I didn't fit into his perfect little life plan. Which came on suddenly and wasn't mentioned once while we were together btw. Even once told me he didn't want another child but that's now out the window.
I also swallowed the lies and believed the claims that he was the victim of an evil abusive ex... after the breakup I had a hunch and snooped this lady on the net, to see what he was misrepresenting... turns out I owe her an apology. He was just as mean/insensitive to her as to me and hooked on porn, that's what ended their almost 4 year relationship. He chose it over her. Would have been good to know that sooner...
Guess I dodged a bullet though and am very grateful. If I had stayed with this guy and given in to his wish to have another child he would have been disdaining my post-baby body, putting me down and ignoring me for porn just the same as her.
At least I didn't get pregnant to him and never have to deal with him again. I tightened up on the BC after a fight involving a woman he seemed to fancy.