My boyfriend has a baby from a past girlfriend

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

My boyfriend of almost 2 years, who is 27 years old, has a baby with a previous girlfriend. I didn’t find out until a couple months into our relationship when his ex-girlfriend sent me a message via facebook and told me. I, completely shocked, confronted my boyfriend about it and he cried and said he hadn’t told anyone about it and didn’t know what to do. He said he was going to tell me when “the time was right” but he didn’t want to lose me. He apologized (and still does) for being selfish and that if I didn’t want to stay with him he would understand. At that point I was already completely in love with him and wanted to be with him.

That was over a year ago and we have a great relationship, although I feel like I’ve been able to deny to myself that he has a baby. The mother of his baby lives two hours away in a small, rural town. She lives off welfare and refuses to get a job. My boyfriend had been sending her as much money as he could the past two years and thought that most of it was going to day care so that the mom could be looking for a job. He works full time and is in school full time so he doesn’t have a lot of extra money. He found out from a mutual friend between them that the mother wasn’t using his money for their baby. My boyfriend got mad and told her he wouldn’t send her any more money until she got a job. My boyfriend hadn’t heard from her in months until he got papers about child support and court dates.

My boyfriend has never seen the baby and doesn’t know if he wants to be in her life. He wants the child to have a good life but doesn’t see how to make it happen. If he wants to ever be successful and make money he must finish college. He can’t afford to drive there and back to see the baby every weekend and his work schedule wouldn’t permit it anyway. He also says he doesn’t want to have an erratic relationship with his child and he feels that coming into her life now, when his life is so chaotic and up-in-the-air, may be just as damaging as not being there at all. He has a very supportive, if not traditional, family. He doesn’t want to tell them for fear of how they’ll react even though they could financially help him out.

Clearly, the right thing for the child is to be in his life. I told him I wouldn’t tell him what to do because I’m biased. I don’t want him to be in the child’s life for my own selfish reasons and don’t want to sway him either way.

So, that’s the background info. My question is: should I stay with a man who has a child? We’ve talked about getting married after grad school and all of the things we want to do but it’s all kind of clouded by the baby issue. I usually talk to my mom about my problems, but I know she would freak out (rightly so, probably) and would tell me to not stay with him, even though she really likes and respects him. I’ve been sworn to secrecy by my boyfriend anyway. I’m too embarrassed to talk to my friends or a therapist because this whole situation is so ridiculous and out of my element.

I’ve been well brought-up, and so has my boyfriend, and can’t believe I’m in a “baby momma, welfare, child support” drama. We’re both educated, loving people that are in a really messy situation. I love my boyfriend and believe that he is “the one”. And for me (a very unromantic, factual, rational person) to say that means a lot.

I’m willing to work through all of this with him…I think. I just keep going back to wondering if I’m ruining my life by staying with him? I don’t know how I feel about it and don’t know what to tell him to do. He has told me many times that he doesn’t want me to have to worry or get involved and that if I don’t stay with him he will understand, but I want to stay with him. Am I being too childish and naive or is this a situation that two rational adults can handle, if willing?

Thank you for any advice.

A: Thank you for writing about this difficult situation. There are several issues here that are intersecting with your question. Let me respond by trying to sort them as I see them.

First, his lack of forthrightness in not telling you about his obligations is huge. This means that the unresolved components of his life, the greatest source of conflict for the two of you and likely the greatest ongoing clash for the rest of your lives if you stay together, was not revealed for very selfish reasons. You found out the most important intimate relationship in your life was built on a lie. This was not a fair encounter. Ask yourself the question: Would you have hidden such a situation from him? This will reveal if there is a fundamental difference between the two of you. If you would have kept it secret then the two of you are cut from the same cloth. If not, you have to acknowledge the fact that he was willing to hide something from you because he knew it had the potential for making him unacceptable. You are now willing to keep secrets from those you love because you are embarrassed, and he isn’t willing to tell his family. Both of you are now keeping secrets. Add to this the fact that he didn’t tell you, and may not have. This brings up the question of his ex-girlfriend’s motivation and needs in this situation. Are you willing to deal with that? More importantly you must ask why you’d want to.

Secondly, it is clear he hasn’t dealt with this problem adequetly, and now has a legal issue. By not telling you, and not dealing with her it has gotten worse. If you stay with him these issues will become yours. Do not minimize this. This is an ongoing concern that will affect your lives in a profound way. You must ask if this is something you are willing to take on. Again, more importantly, ask yourself why you would want to.

Finally you are asking if staying with him is going to ruin your life. Is this a risk you are willing to take? You already know this will be a major financial, legal and emotional issue to cope with, and are asking if these features could mess up your life. These are his problems and they are significant. He has not dealt with them in a straightforward way, and had kept the truth of who he is from you. It seems to me he has a lot to cope with before he can be fully ready for a relationship. His primary strategy seems to be not to deal with the most important concerns in his life. So far there is little you have told me to suggest he has changed.

I would encourage you to seek some individual therapy from the university counseling center to begin coping with the decision in front of you. I am glad you reached out here to get some feedback. It is now time to reach out to a counselor to gain some clarity about your decision.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Sep 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). My boyfriend has a baby from a past girlfriend. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/09/12/my-boyfriend-has-a-baby-from-a-past-girlfriend/