Q. My son is 10-years old and quite rambunctious. It was fine before my boyfriend moved in, but now that he lives with us, my son seems to really get on his nerves. My boyfriend has no children of his own, loses his temper and snaps at my little guy when he does something he’s not supposed to do. I find myself defending my child to my boyfriend and explaining my boyfriend to my child. My home is so uncomfortable I’m not sure I even want to be there. I love my boyfriend, and I love my son. How do I get them to respect and care for one another? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Thank you for asking this question. It’s a common dilemma many couples face when one has children and the other does not. Both think the other just doesn’t get it—and in a sense, that’s true. You’re coming from two completely different places.
Here’s it in a nutshell: You call it, “Something he’s not supposed to do.” Your partner sees it as DISOBEYING THE RULES! (Caps are important here) You most likely approach things as, “It’s not that big of a deal.” He’s losing it.
You know the saying, “Kids will be kids?” That saying was probably first said by a parent. Parents inherently understand that kids are kids, and quickly analyze if the situation merits World War III.
This approach often drives partners who have never had kids crazy. They see it as inconsistent parenting and want to get in there and save everyone from themselves. But, they are the newcomer and their efforts are often rejected. As a result, they feel unappreciated and become resentful and snappy.
Plus, if the new partner wants to discipline the child for something his or her own parent does not feel is a big deal—that’s when you hear the child say, “You’re not my mother! (or father) If you hear your child saying this, it’s a sign the new partner and the parent are not on the same page.
So, what’s good ex-etiquette? First, it sounds like you and your boyfriend didn’t lay the ground work for how your home will work once he moves in. In order to have a successful bonusfamily you have to be very clear about what you both expect. Check out the BEFORE Exercise on the Bonus Families website. Key word: before.
Next, get out of the middle. Allow your boyfriend and your son to develop their own relationship that’s not dependent on your interaction to make it work. They may hit some bumps, and it may seem to get worse before it gets better, but they must figure out their own boundaries with each other—that’s how they will develop respect for one another.
Finally, Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Of course he was referencing the government at the time, but it’s also true if you take the statement literally. Your boyfriend might want to do some research or take a class on the proper approach to bonusparenting (stepparenting). It’s different from parenting. He’s not the parent. He supports your rules. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #4, Parents make the rules; bonusparents support them.) That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.