Each week I facilitate a call (Thursday at 7pm EST) with men who are interested in being more loving in their relationship. Interested men can connect to support and be supported by one another as we work with and through relationship challenges.
I am also a part of a men’s Facebook group where brothers often ask questions of one another about a struggle or a consideration related to their relationship. One gentleman has a fiancé, who he has been with for three years. He and the fiancé have a child, and his fiancé also has a daughter from a previous relationship. The older child’s father recently requested to spend more time with the woman and their daughter. The Facebook group member also believes that the daughter would love for her parents to be together again. What should he do?
Based on the amount of time I have spent thinking about my response, this is a good question. Though I dealt with this as a young person, I have, admittedly, not had to deal with this as an adult.
From the time I was about 17 until I was about 20, I dated a woman with a child from a previous relationship. The child’s father was not in her life for most of the time that I was with the mom, and I helped raise her. Near the end of my relationship with the mom, the dad made it clear that he wanted to be in his daughter’s life. I didn’t like this; I felt jealous, and I wasn’t quite sure what my place in all of it was. Granted, at 20 years old I was little more than a child myself and handled the situation with a correlating mentality and understanding. We never fully resolved this issue, as she and I had more fundamental challenges that ended our relationship. However, I can relate to the quandary that this brother from the Facebook group was facing. Here’s is my two cents . . .
My experience tells me that when people wonder, What should I do?, the question is often, How should I react? If reacting is on the plate in this situation, my suggestion is: avoid reacting. Instead act by leading. Be the leader in creating a loving culture in a three, or maybe four (if the Facebook group brother has a co-parent, too), person parenting relationship.
Everyone involved has the opportunity to show love and care for the others. Be the first to do so. When love and care are not our leading and guiding traits, it is easy for insecurity to fill in . . . and there are many excuses to justify those insecurities in this situation.
Biological parents matter. Whether they are good at parenting or not, they matter and are to be respected. As the partner to a parent, anticipate that our partner’s co-parent may fear being replaced by us. Few of us want to be replaced by another person; we certainly don’t want to compete for our child’s affection. It’s quite understandable. As a co-parent’s partner, let’s have empathy and demonstrate that we care about the concern that our partner’s co-parent may have. Imagine if we were in a similar scenario . . . how would we like our co-parent’s partner to deal with us? If it were me, I would want them to be friendly, inclusive, and a voice of reason. If this rings true to you, make sure we are delivering that very treatment to our partner’s co-parent. Develop a relationship. Go to lunch. Grab a drink. Be the person who takes the child to the co-parent. Call the co-parent. Be conciliatory and welcoming.
The children involved may naturally want their parents to be together. And this may be, at least in part, because they have a respect for the relationship we have with their parent. They may wonder, Why can’t my mom/dad have that with my other parent instead of my stepparent? This may mean we’re doing something right in our relationship with their parent. You can know that, bask in it, and congratulate yourself.
As it pertains to the child, mom, and dad spending time together on their own, it can be a beautiful thing. Children can thrive knowing that their parents can be around each other and work together. There can also be outings and events that include everyone, even children we may have with our partner or from a previous relationship. All of this takes maturity and skill and, most importantly, love.
Now as the co-parent’s partner, we matter, too. Our concern may be a lack of space because we constantly have to deal with a person in our lives (our partner’s co-parent) that we did not pick (we actually did, but we’ll save that for another blog). It may seem as though they never actually go away and are an imposition. They may trigger our partner when challenges arise. Our partner’s interaction with their co-parent may also trigger our jealousy as we wonder, Is my partner still attracted to them? It can be a lot to handle lovingly.
However, remember that we chose our partner knowing they came with a child/children and a co-parent. We have an obligation to our own peace of mind to invest in a reality where the adults interact in a manner that is respectful and loving. Bickering, angry looks, fighting, and avoidance are pillars of stress and destruction. We, as co-parent partners, have a unique opportunity to create a positive relationship that stands on its own with all involved parties. Let there be peace, communication, and delight between all.
These skills may not manifest through osmosis. They may require coaching, reading, and counsel. To help everyone get there, spend time together. Togetherness, time, and activity can heal many issues and offenses. If we are uncomfortable, let’s get over our initial druthers and make the time investment—spend the time.
I laugh as I draft this because I have heard a statement to the effect of If you are having trouble finding 30 minutes to meditate, you need an hour of meditation. In the same spirit, if you are having challenges spending time together, spend more time together.
Finally, if these nuances are hard to deliver and manifest, let’s remember to teach our children about the challenges of raising children in separate households. This may help them avoid having children when they are not committed to the partner.
So, to the brother from the Facebook group, if the situation is approached with love and the generous father-energy that is within you, there will be success . . . for everyone involved. If you need my support, reach out.
Frank Love coaches individuals who are in (or wish to be in) a relationship on ways to be more loving. He is also the author of “Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway)” and “25 Ways to Be Loving.” To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.