All of these grown ups have growing up to do.

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: I have two children, 14 and 7. They have the same father. My kids’ father was a drug addict and stole from my family and cheated on me and wasn’t really around for our children. We ended up splitting up. He kept doing drugs and then he went to jail for a year. While he was in jail I met my boyfriend that I am with now. He lives with me and my children. My new boyfriend is really very good to my kids and does a lot with them and for them. My ex has moved on and now has a child with his new girlfriend. He pays me child support sporadically (even though he has a new house and car) and he takes the kids every other weekend. My boyfriend now is furious at my mom because my mom is now allowing him to call her and kind of just acts like they are friends. I don’t mind that my mom talks to my ex since he is sober now and trying to do better with our kids. I just take what I can get from him when he has it. I hate to get my ex stressed out because I am worried that it might send him back to drugs.
It is very uncomfortable for me when sporting/school activities come up and I want my boyfriend and my ex and my mom to be there to share in the activities. But my boyfriend will get mad if me or my mom talks to my ex at any of these events. Another big issue is that my boyfriend is Jewish but my mom is very religious and likes to talk about Jesus, and this turns into an argument. My kids are being hurt by all this because they love their grandma very much and they also love my boyfriend and their father and they want everyone to be able to come to their birthdays and events. I don’t want them to feel like they have to pick sides. I just think that we should all try to get along at these events for the kids. Can you tell me how I should handle my ex and my boyfriend and my mom???

A: It must be really, really hard to be balancing all of these relationships. You are right to be putting your kids’ feelings first. They have a right to have the people they love witness their activities and take part in their celebrations. They also have a right to have the grown ups act like, well, grown ups.
It is time for your ex to pay regular child support for the children he fathered. It is time for your mother to be polite to your boyfriend about his religion and to support your relationship with him. It is time for your boyfriend to acknowledge that the children do have an involved biological father and that there is room in their hearts for two men who care about them. He also needs to stay out of the relationship between your mother and your ex and instead focus on making his own positive relationship with her. I’m not saying that everyone has to love each other. I’m only saying that it’s important for everyone to get along, be polite, and put the focus on the children you all care about.
Meanwhile, It sounds like you are so worried about protecting everyone’s feelings that you sometimes end up inadvertently enabling their bad behavior. I realize there is probably more to this story than you could put in a letter. However, it is always important to look at how we are somehow contributing to a problem – even a little. That’s the piece we have the most control over. You might ask yourself why you aren’t asking each of these people to be the adults they are. That means pushing for a clear support agreement with your ex, asking your mother to be more sensitive to your boyfriend’s feelings, and telling your boyfriend that he can relax since you are clear that your are with him. He doesn’t have to be mad at your ex or your mom on your behalf.
I wonder if you can try having a calm, reasonable conversation with each one. Validate their feelings and their concerns. At the same time, appeal to each of them to do the right thing for the sake of being better models of adult behavior for your growing children.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Jun 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). All of these grown ups have growing up to do.. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/06/02/all-of-these-grown-ups-have-growing-up-to-do/