His sons create a wedge between us. Can I make this work? Ask Ellie
Q:I’ve read in your column about other couples breaking up in the midst of what seemed happy relationships, but mine seems to be a foot-in/foot-out situation.
We’re both mature people, I’m 49, he’s 52. I’ve been divorced for eight years, he for five. We both dated others casually until we connected two years ago. After just a few dates, we were both serious about wanting to be together.
We gave each other copies of our house keys, and stayed over at whichever place was most convenient, depending on our work schedules.
But everything changed when his children visited. (I have a daughter, 23, living in another country with her husband. We keep in touch often and I visit her twice a year, with no problems.)
His two sons, 13 and 11, live with his wife and attend school there in another city, not too far from here. Since COVID rules eased up, they move in with him twice a month, including two weekends and half of the school holidays.
When he told his children about me, from our first meeting the younger son became difficult and obvious about not liking me. Whatever I did — whether laughing at a joke, or serving a meal — he just rolled his eyes.
And with that gesture, my lover began to change. He became overwhelmed by his “duties” with the children — driving them places they wanted to go, e.g. to see old friends and cousins who live here, planning their meals (mostly takeout), making sure they have enough laundry, etc.
He couldn’t seem to adjust to being fully responsible for them. And it became obvious that his ex-wife had totally fulfilled that role. He even told me outright, after a mix-up with where the kids needed to be picked up (and I wasn’t allowed to help out), “I miss my wife every day.”
I still love him. I believe we can still be great partners, even though he had what seems an “emotional breakdown,” and told me, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I’ve offered this solution: When the children are with their mother, he stays with me. When they move in with him, I’m not there. What do you think of my solution?
A:It’ll only be a solution if, and when, he agrees to it. So don’t get ahead of yourself and end up with nothing.
He has a much bigger problem than his young son’s resistance to you, which is his lack of knowing how to be a “working parent” on his own.
And even more difficult, how to just be a father to those boys — e.g., talking together, playing a game, enjoying a sport, whatever holds their interest.
Offer support and help where he needs it, not just your part-time partnership. Talk to him about the boys, their interests, activities they usually like, their skills in school and in play. The information will also be helpful to you, in trying to reach out to the younger child.
However, remember that you’re not trying to replicate their mother’s role. Maybe she was the one who first said, “I can’t do this anymore,” about his leaving all the parenting tasks up to her.
If you proceed gently, with your offer of being together several nights weekly, and more when the children are with their mother, you may be able to rebuild your loving connection and also help this man and his sons have a better relationship.
Ellie’s tip of the day