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Too Soon For New Love Interest to Move In?

QUESTION: Although I was never married to my children's father, we were together for seven years and had two children. We split up five months ago. My new boyfriend already wants to spend the night or move in with me but I concerned about setting a bad example as far as living arrangements and relationships. I also feel that my kids should be given more time to adjust to the new situation. Is it too soon for my boyfriend to move in?

ANSWER: You are absolutely right to want to go slowly into a new relationship with your children. It is best to keep your new relationship separate from your children while they are engrossed in sorting out the loss or changes in the role their biological father plays in their lives. Asking your boyfriend to wait and bide his time before forcing his appearance onto the children in their intimate lives is prudent! Statistics show that half of all remarriages end in divorce. Partly because children are expected to move too quickly into a new stepfamily following the loss of their first family situation.

Stay true to your instincts. Children need to mourn the loss of one family dissolution, before being forced into another. Precipitous timing will backfire. Your children's remarks are clear evidence that their loyalty issues are being stimulated. And in your case, if their father unwisely chooses not to see his children they will feel reason to blame the new arrival, your boyfriend. It is too early to ask them to even consider embracing a "replacement" and they are telling you this in no uncertain terms. The fact that your boyfriend is not heeding your concerns may mean that he is more involved in his reflection of himself in your relationship than he is in really caring for you and your children. Let's face it. If he is serious enough to want to marry you, he needs to accept the fact that you come with children who have needs of their own, including a father they love and miss!

If you were involved with this man before your separation from your children's father, the situation is even more explosive than you imagine. If this was the case, you should consider individual therapy before jumping from one relationship into another, as there may be unfinished business from childhood loss (of your own) that may cloud your ability to act in your own best interests. Regardless, consider the fact that you are already having conflict with your new lover, who does not seem to be able to put the needs of innocent children before his own. What does this portend for your future as a couple?

The prediction for success in a second marriage hinges on two related variables: a strong couples' bond and a positive relationship between stepparent and stepchildren. Already, your boyfriend is off to a bad start. Share the guidelines with your boyfriend and determine from his response whether he is mature enough to handle the issues of stepfamily development.

Though this may sound like I am being harsh with your new love, it is important to remember that children become the innocent victims of love gone awry. They have no choice in the break-up of their family, which leaves them with a sense of vulnerability and loss of control. They need time to process the enormous upheaval in their present family before taking on new family members. Rushing into a potential marriage relationship prematurely would create the probability that they would experience not just one, but two failed primary relationships in their childhoods. Honor their needs to move slowly. Sort out the present dissolution and allow time to deal with feelings before asking them to accommodate to further changes they do not invite.

It is possible to have a uniquely rewarding and satisfying marriage to a new partner. And for your children to develop a strong love and attachment for a stepfather. But this adjustment takes time. Read advice from other stepparents and heed their wisdom when they say, "Take it slowly ... Do not push yourself or your values on your stepchildren prematurely ... Accept what you cannot change ..."

Is it possible that your boyfriend is unable to accept your history with another man? He is putting unrealistic pressure on you and your children when he insists on his own needs, but is blind to the obvious pain your children are undergoing.

You have just extricated yourself from a relationship that you feel has not worked for you. Consider what your own issues regarding commitment in your last relationship mean for your future. For although you never married the father of your children, they will experience it as if you did. It was the only family they knew. You are doing the right thing to not back into this next relationship in the same way. There are people to consider. And they are making their voices known!

Marriage by itself does not insure commitment. But marriage should be entered into by people who are committed to one another! Establish yourself as a single mother. Take some time to resolve your past relationship. There is much to consider and many lives at stake. Date your boyfriend, set limits, and see how this new relationship develops.

It is entirely possible that this new boyfriend is a transitional relationship for you and not the next man-of-your-life!


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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