Trust instincts while finding way to befriend girlfriend's son
Q: When is the right time to meet my girlfriend's 4-year-old son? We've been dating for two months and like each other a lot. She wants me to do some things with the two of them, but, while I plan to continue dating her, we of course don't know yet where things are going. I don't want to be a guy who appears in this child's life and then disappears.
How long do you think I should wait before I start building a relationship with this little boy? It's starting to bother my girlfriend that I'm declining these invitations — she sees it as a sign that I'm not committed to the relationship, or that I'm planning on breaking up with her.
A: You're the one who wrote, so I'll do my best not to answer her with You've been seeing this guy for two months, and you have a CHILD, and you're already giving him the I-need-you-to-prove-you-really-care-about-me business. Restraint being the better part of valor, or something like that.
Anyway, you have exactly the right idea: You don't want to go forming attachments to the 4-year-old children of people you might not be dating anymore by Memorial Day. That said, though, 4-year-olds routinely form attachments that get broken — with preschool teachers, college-bound sitters, neighbors or relatives who move away or even die. So if you take a broader view, you'll see it's not essential that you're either in the boy's life forever, or not at all.
With the two of you cooperating to keep you on the outermost fringes of the boy's life, you can get to know the mom well enough to figure out your future, while allowing her to take the same measure of you, both for her and for her son. Accordingly, this is where I'd advise meeting the child, and getting to know him in the very limited way that, say, a colleague of hers might know her son, or a casual acquaintance.
But that advice isn't right when the mother isn't acting like half of such a judicious team. First, she wants you to be "committed to the relationship" when she doesn't even know you well enough to want that — for herself, much less her boy.
Second, she doesn't trust you to mean it when you say you think it's too soon; instead of seeing it as a child-centric difference of opinion, she's jumping to the conclusion that it's about her, and it's bad. That's the behavior of someone who has been burned — and while any single parent almost by definition has been burned, those who still have their full defenses cranked up have a lot more healing to do before they shop at the Step-Parent Store.
Last but hardly least: She's trying to guilt you into acting against your stated judgment. That's alarming no matter what her history is.
Unfortunately, if you succumb to pressure to spend time with her boy — even time at arm's length — then you'll only postpone discovering whether she's able to take you at your word, stop pressuring you, and hear "no" without internalizing it.
To get that discovery under way, tell her you can't disprove her fears — instead, you can only be forthright and hope she trusts that.