Diana asks: Is it OK to hang out with my boyfriend’s young children?

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Question: So my boyfriend and I have been together for 4 months which is a short time but we have been great friends for many years. He is legally separated and is wanting a divorce with his wife. They have 3 kids a 3 yr old and 2 yr old twins. I have spent time with them only once because they live in another state and his wife pretty much hates me.  He sees them once a month and I always get sad when they come down and I can’t spend time with them because he says its too soon for me to be hanging out with him and the kids because the ex wife is there also and it would be a slap in her face if we  both were there together. Is it selfish of me to make a fuss about it? I mean he makes his kids sound like such a big deal so i mentally prepared myself to be around his kids and now when they come around I feel left out since I’m not allowed to be
around. 🙁

Answer: Hi Diana.

Thanks for writing and asking me this question.

Basically, your boyfriend is right on. What I consider in this situation is not so much what is healthy for you, but what is healthy for his children, which must be the top priority in such a situation. I tell my divorcing clients not to expose their very young children to their dates, even if committed as boyfriend or girlfriend, until such a point as you are engaged to be married or have specific and immediate plans to pursue a permanent life together. This is because children get attached to people who come along in their lives, and many times the relationships, while serious or well-intentioned, don’t make it for the long haul, and so begins a parade of men and women in and out of the children’s lives. This causes a wide array of problems including a sense of "Why care about her (my dad’s latest girlfriend), she’ll just be leaving anyway," to something even more problematic, "Why care about people, they always leave anyway." In these cases the children may end up emotionally disconnected.

Another issue is that the children are going through a major life change with their parent’s divorce and their comfort level during this time is of utmost importance. The divorce and separation itself no doubt is already causing significant anxiety for them. Bringing new people into their lives creates an even greater level of discomfort or anxiety no matter how well-intentioned and loving someone like you is. Research shows that it takes about 5 years for children to become comfortable and at ease having a "new" person in the family. That’s a long time to not feel comfortable in your own family or home.

Right now the kid’s need a close and loving relationship primarily with their dad and mom. Your boyfriend is right to make this his focus for now. They need and will greatly benefit from a lot of his undivided love and affection.

One more thing, divorcing people can be very flaky and not certain of what they want for up to two years following a divorce. For them this is a crazy and disconcerting time. I would consider dating someone during this volatile and unpredictable time a high risk proposition, and if it were me, I would keep it a fond friendship until he has more recovery time under his belt.

I wish you the best and hope this answer was helpful to you!

Doctor Becky

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