Category: Better Relationships | date modified: 13-03-2017
"I have been with my boyfriend for over 3 years now, one of the only reasons we get into arguments or discussions is almost always somehow due to his kids, he has 3 kids from a previous relationship.
His kids are now in their teens, have their own opinions and are influenced by their mother (who they live with).
The kids have no interest in meeting me or allowing me into their lives or being part of our life. They judge me without even having met me.
It is very hurtful and makes me feel powerless because I cannot force myself into their lives.
My partner feels torn between his kids and me. We are constantly planning our time and their time and trying to coordinate our schedules with theirs. But I technically have no influence since I am not part of the plans as far as it concerns them.
I find myself constantly having to be the understanding one, the patient one and the one that puts my hopes and wishes on hold.
Do you have any advice as to how to cope with teenagers that seem to go out of their way to make their dad's life difficult and unhappy due to his time constantly being divided and his nerves being tested?"
This is not an easy situation – I have a lot of sympathy for you and can see why you feel frustrated and upset. I wish there was simple advice to offer which would guarantee to make your boyfriend’s children accept you or - even better - welcome you as a positive addition to their family.
You're right to think that there is no way you can force yourself into your boyfriend's children's lives, and unfortunately I don't know any one thing you could say or do which would make the situation better straight away.
But this does not mean that you shouldn’t work together to make this a more likely possibility. I’m not suggesting that you establish practical agreements - such as not cancelling things on you last minute - because without a deeper understanding of the situation I don't believe such agreements would last.
Your boyfriend has already asked his children to see you and they refused – if he requires that they do, or worse, threatens them with sanctions, they are likely to stick to their refusal and resent you even more.
On the other hand, waiting and hoping for the best is unlikely to be helpful either. You've waited for three years already with no progress in sight. In order to move forward, we need to try and look at this complex situation from different points of view.
Your boyfriend’s approach to all of this is key and I therefore invite you to ask him to read this, and for the two of you to discuss the issue together.
What about your self-confidence?
For your own peace of mind you need to learn to separate your boyfriend’s children's attitude towards you from the way you see yourself as a person.
Your boyfriend’s children do not like or dislike you as a person for the simple reason that they've never met you. They resent what you represent– the breakup of their family as they knew it, their shaken sense of security and their lost innocence.
When you feel lacking in confidence please reassure yourself that their attitude has nothing to do with the person you are and everything to do with the situation they found themselves in. Naturally it's upsetting for you to not be given a chance – we all wish to be accepted and liked.
On a practical level, it can't be easy for you to constantly compromise your schedule and make allowances for people who don't even acknowledge your existence. However, you need to know that their attitude is not about who you are, therefore it should have no bearing on your self-confidence.
Let’s look at the situation from the children’s point of view:
These are difficult feelings for young people.
They're torn between their parents, and for their own sanity they take the easiest route available to them– refusing to recognise you. They're unlikely to "go out of their way to make their dad’s life difficult" – they are probably just trying to hold on to the world they know. They behave the way they do because they have a problem, not because they are being a problem.
I'm not sure whether the children's mother explicitly asks them not to see you. She may do no such thing, but her children may sense that meeting you would cause her pain and decide to shun you of their own accord.
If she was seeking help I would advise her to put her own hurt aside, however difficult this might be, and encourage her children to take full part in their dad’s life - which includes seeing you. You could see how selfless and excruciatingly difficult this must be for deserted ex-partners, and why some feel unable to do this. But since she is unlikely to read this, I will go back to you and your boyfriend…
Your boyfriend is torn between you and his children, as you say.
He probably feels guilty about having broken up their family and worried that if he insists on them seeing you he may lose them altogether. The fact that they are four teenagers, all close in age, makes this even more difficult as they probably function like a little tribe. They're bound to influence each other, get support from each other and encourage each other to conform to the norms of their ‘tribe’. He may worry that they can all turn against him together.
I have seen many men in similar situations. Because they feel trapped and can't see a way out they become passive – they sit and wait, choose the path of least resistance, hoping time will heal hurts and that people will move on.
Unfortunately time in itself rarely changes anything; it is what we do with that time which makes a difference.
The good news is that your boyfriend can use time to help his children gradually accept their situation, and perhaps also accept you. After all, the current state where they can't participate in his life fully is not healthy for them either. It's also likely that they too make compromises about accessing their dad in order to avoid you.
As a positive way forward, I'm inviting your boyfriend to have conversations with his children - both individually and as a group. His sole aim would be to understand them. In these conversations he should not ask them to see you.
His children have gone through difficult times and they probably still feel hurt, torn and possibly confused – otherwise why would they not be ready to meet you? Often children of separated parents say that at any point in time they either miss their mum or their dad (see also: How to help your children through divorce).
Evidence shows that once people feel completely understood they experience a huge sense of relief.
Their anger, frustration, disappointment and other difficult feelings often reduce just through the act of being acknowledged by the relevant person. Usually when this happens they feel cared for and respected. The whole atmosphere becomes more trusting and calm. Regardless of any other results, being heard and understood is a great gift your boyfriend can give his children.
So, here are some tips and advice to help make the conversations a success...
This will not be easy for him as his children may blame him, or express their pain which can be very hard for him to hear. But it's the only way forward I know in situations like this.
See also: Children in the middle.
After a few conversations of that nature, once his children are fully heard, your boyfriend may ask to be listened to as well.
He can reassure his children that he absolutely loves them and that he would hate hurting them. He can also say that he's now with a woman he loves, and he would like them to get to know her at some point. Is this something that they would consider doing?
Perhaps the next time the two of you plan to do something together and he's asked to change this plans to accommodate his children, he can say that he would be happy to help but since he also agreed something with you, perhaps they can join you. The chances are that if he is patient, they would consider saying yes.
I don't know about the relationship your boyfriend has with his ex, but if at all possible, he can kindly ask her to make it OK for the children to see you.