Q: I moved out of the house five months ago and in with a woman because I couldn’t afford a place by myself. We were not together – I needed a roommate after I separated and I wanted to be close to the kids, ages 12 and 13.
Now we are in love, and the kids seem to like her, but their mother tells me they are very upset, and my ex is sabotaging both my relationship with the kids and my new girlfriend’s relationship with them.
I think they need counseling, but their mother won’t bring them. I can’t believe how selfish she is being! What do you think?
A: I love it when parents who act stupid tell me their kids are screwed up and need counseling. My answer is always the same – you get counseling first and then see if your kids seem so screwed up. That said, it’s great that your kids like this woman, but it was really bad judgment to become romantically involved with her so soon after the breakup – in front of them. Lord knows a diversion from the pain of a breakup is often just what the doctor ordered, but not in front of the kids. They don’t have the same issues you do and don’t want to get over their mom.
I’m certainly not shocked that you and your roommate are now a couple. Don’t know how long it will last, but that’s not really the point. As it is now, your kids can’t come to your house without your new girlfriend being around and that cuts down on the one-on-one time that’s necessary to build a new after-the-breakup relationship with them. I’m not saying end the relationship with the roommate since it did start after the breakup, but get it out of your kids’ faces, let the dust settle, and take note of Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 1: Put the children first! If this new woman loves you, she won’t go away, but your kids might – they won’t want to come over – and that won’t be their mother’s fault. It will be yours.
Now for the sabotage aspect of your question … moving too fast actually sabotages the new partner’s relationship with the kids, and your ex is probably fuming which makes co-parenting difficult. In a way your ex could be sabotaging things – if the kids are coming home complaining and she just doesn’t have the wherewithal to stick up for you, just saying, “I understand” sounds like she’s on their side. That’s all the kids are looking for – understanding.
As far as counseling goes, it’s not necessarily your ex’s responsibility to take them. If your kids do need therapy, you can certainly arrange it. The therapist may need both parents’ signatures to treat your children, but your ex may be more inclined to support counseling if you do some of the legwork.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.