Reader Dilemma: 'The divorced man I am going out with always puts his children's concerns before mine'

Advice: 'Clearly, you have no good role models to refer to when it comes to loving and looking after children'

Dear Virginia  

For the past six months I’ve been going out with a divorced man and we love each other very much. But he seems obsessed with his children. He wants us to move in together, but that means having them over every weekend and I don’t know that I could stand it. I understand that he loves them, but they seem to be the number one priority in his life, and my concerns always come last. Surely they should learn that they won’t be treated like princes and princesses in later life, and learn to fit in with other people?

Yours sincerely, Maggie

Virginia says...

What a grisly upbringing you must have had yourself, Maggie! Clearly, you have no good role models to refer to when it comes to loving and looking after children – because you couldn’t write to me like this without, surely, being both childless yourself and having no experience of a good parent’s love.  

Bad parenting is so often excused with phrases such as: “Well, he’s got to learn that the world is a cruel place sometimes!” or “She can’t expect me to wait on her hand and foot now – she’s got to learn that life isn’t easy!” 

Some parents seem to think that if you kick a baby in the head then this is an excellent way for the baby to learn that sometimes you can get shafted in later life. But what they don’t seem to realise is that children can only cope with blows in adulthood if they have been loved and cherished and made to feel worthwhile in the first place.

Children of divorced parents are particularly vulnerable. They feel guilty. They don’t know why, but they’re sure they are to blame. This is one of the reasons why your exemplary lover is spending so much time with his children. He’s trying to reassure them that they’re not guilty, that he loves them, that the divorce isn’t their fault. Let’s hope their mother, at her end, is doing the same. 

Remember, too, that you, if you stick around (which sounds unlikely since you’re so jealous) will always be there. But the children won’t be. They’ll grow up and grow away. Your partner has got to make the most of every moment he can spend with them now, because he’ll only have them as children for a finite time. He can’t afford to lose a minute.

He is also creating something. Imagine him as a cabinet maker. You wouldn’t ask him to botch a perfect job halfway through just because you want his attention, would you? Because if he does, the cabinet will never be able to stand upright, the doors will always stick, the wood will warp. He’s only got one chance with his kids and he wants to give them as much love and security as he can while they’re still young. So that, as you say, they can have enough confidence to fit in with other people when they grow up.

Unlike, I have to say, you. Are you “fitting in with other people”? No, you’re not. Are you behaving like a princess, expecting the world to stop for you? Yes, you are. And that’s, sadly, probably because you didn’t have a mother or father like this man who, at the moment, you can’t appreciate. 

Can you not see how lucky you are to have such a nice chap? 

Readers say...

You’re being selfish

Love me, love my dog – that’s what happens when you take on a divorced partner with children. You don’t say how old they are, but bear in mind that divorce is painful for all those involved, and your partner’s kids just want reassurance that, no matter what, their dad still loves them. Your statement that “they seem to be the number one priority in his life” is incredibly selfish. You have your partner to yourself for the whole week – five whole days of sheer bliss – yet you begrudge those kids a measly two days with their dad. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Simple.

Caroline Hockely 

Cambridge

He’s just a normal father

It is obvious that you are not a parent. Children are the number-one priority of every parent, and his feeling are just natural, not extreme. If you’re not happy with this then perhaps you should try to move on to a relationship with someone else who is not a parent. Otherwise, this will always be an issue between you and your partner, either implicitly or explicitly. Parenthood is for life.

Professor Bulent Gokay 

Keele University

Shock, horror!

A parent who makes his children his number one priority? What is the world coming to? 

Inge 

Wellingborough

If you love him, go the extra mile

I was saddened to read your query. Imagine how you would feel if the roles were reversed and you were the single parent and the man of your dreams had difficulty accepting how important your children were to you.

How long could you be with him when he was so reluctant to be a second father to them, or couldn’t bring himself to amend his plans to include their needs? 

At the end of the day, would you really put your partner before your youngsters? I think we both know the answer to these questions, and therein lies the answer to your dilemma.

If you really love him, if you really want to build a future with him, go the extra mile and include his children. In the long term if not the short, you will wonder why it was ever a problem.

Ralph Moses 

Manchester

Next week's dilemma

My husband and I have split up and we have agreed to share the custody of our son, aged six. The problem is that my ex is devoted to our pets – a tortoise, two cats and a pet hedgehog in a cage. He is insisting that I take all the pets over to his new house on the days our son stays over. I think it is madness because it’s surely better for the animals to stay in one place. My son keeps begging me, saying he doesn’t want to visit his dad without them, and I wish his father had never suggested it. What can I do? 

Yours sincerely, 

Freda

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