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Will I be Doomed to Playing Second Fiddle
to my Partner's Child?

QUESTION: My boyfriend has a child by an ex-girlfriend, and I don't know how to deal with it. He says his ex-girlfriend became pregnant without consulting him, dumped him without telling him she was pregnant, but then agreed to let him give the child his name when the child was born.

Currently, the child is four years old, and even though he and this woman are barely on speaking terms, he helps in supporting the child and naturally wants to have as normal a relationship with his child as possible. I am wary of this situation because I know that this child and this woman will always be a part of our lives.

I have talked to my boyfriend about my concerns and he assures me that he knows how to give each one their place, that his child could never be a wife or a companion to him and that therefore I shall never be "second". However, whenever I think of that child and its mother, and the time, concern, and money my boyfriend inevitably has to spend on them,fear and resentment well up in me, and I think I should "call it quits", to avoid any future problems or heartache.

Am I being too selfish? how can I successfully deal with my boyfriend having a child with somebody else?

ANSWER: This is your judgment call! Your boyfriend is not only clear about the boundaries with his ex-girlfriend and his relationship with his child. He is unequivocal in his belief that he can place you by his side as a partner. No doubt you are attracted by the positive qualities of clear communication and acceptance of responsibility that could make him a wonderful lifelong partner. Paradoxically, you are wary of the emotional baggage that may have allowed you to see his highly attractive attributes in the first place!

Your boyfriend comes with a "past". Yet, there are many that do not accept responsibility for their past actions. The good news is that your boyfriend appears not to be in this category! You must balance the downside of his past, with the qualities he brings to the relationship. You must also weigh your own ability to adapt to this situation and what it means if you do forge a life together. Should you decide that the pluses outweigh the minuses, you will be challenged to grow accordingly. It will be necessary to work through your resentments and make a place in your heart for giving to a child that is not biologically your own.

Continue to discuss this issue openly, but do not allow it to cloud your objective assessment of your relationship. Does your boyfriend fill your needs? How does this relationship compare to others you have experienced? Do his words bear out in actions? In other words, if he says you "come first" does he act with integrity towards you? Consider whether he has acted as you would have in a similar situation. Or as you would like someone of maturity to respond to adversity. Everyone carries their own brand of "emotional baggage". However, it is up to each one of us to determine to the extent possible, what is acceptable in our lives and what is not. Consider your own needs, strengths and weaknesses. Honestly assess your own capacity and willingness to handle this situation.

You certainly have the right to decide that this is not what you want to sign up for! And it is possible that you will find a less complicated situation and a man of integrity that better suits your needs. Or you may feel that the character of the man and your bond to your boyfriend does not justify the emotional baggage. If so, acting on "calling it quits" now may save not only you, but others prolonged grief and pain.

The question is not one of "selfishness", but genuine accountability to yourself. It is your responsibility to honestly assess what is truly in your best interests. And it is in the best interest of the relationship that you take responsibility for "staying" or "leaving". Remaining for the sake of "others" will only commit you to resentment and pain. While choosing the relationship with open eyes reflects your willingness to handle the presence of adversity.

Accept the responsibilities inherent in the situation if you choose to "stay", and the mourning that will be inevitable if you "leave". Perhaps the growth value of this experience lies in the opportunity to deepen your own sense of integrity. Do what you determine is right!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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