Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: A stepfather?

I've broken up with my son's father and fallen in love with another man. I want him to move in, but he has a poor relationship with my 5-year-old boy. What should I do?

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I’ve broken up with my son’s father but he still has a good relationship with him and sees him every weekend. I’ve now met another man and I love him and he wants to move in. The problem is that my little boy really doesn’t like him. He’s five years old and he gets really tearful when I suggest it. I have to say my new partner’s never had children and sometimes he can expect a bit too much of my son, and I’ve sometimes felt very awkward when he’s ticked him off or told him what to do or what not to do. What should I do?

Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

Some men make wonderful stepfathers. They get involved with their children quite as much as real fathers – and even if they never feel that close, their very distance often gives them an advantage because they’re always able to see every scene kindly and objectively. Often, they’re able to act as a fair and rational judge in disputes between the mother and child.

But some really don’t get kids at all. Never having had children of their own, they regard the existing children as some rather annoying species of animal that simply has to be fed and watered and, as far as they’re concerned, it would be best if they never existed. Their presence is always a drag, not an asset, the children feel ignored or, at worst, unwanted, and the mother has the unenviable task of trying to keep everyone happy, often at her own expense.

And there are some stepfathers who are total monsters. The presence of the children is a constant reminder of the man who was around before them. If the child is male, he can often seem emotionally like the absent father, and all the stepfather’s resentment, jealousy and rage can come tumbling down on him. At worst, stepfathers can get violent and abusive. And you want to avoid that.

Now, it’s unlikely a five-year-old is going to welcome any new person in the family home, particularly after experiencing the loss of a parent. All your little boy has now, at least on a day-to-day basis, is you. He can’t bear to face the prosect of sharing you with someone else. From having 100 per cent of parenting around him, when you and your partner were together, then reduced to 50 per cent when his dad left, he now faces the prospect of getting down to only 25 per cent. It’s no wonder he’s upset. And if on top of this, this man is not particularly sympathetic to him, then I’d think twice before even considering having him move in with you. After all, if he’s ratty with your son before he moves in, imagine what he’ll be like if he does move in.

If your new bloke really wants to move in, he’ll realise that he’s got to win your son over just as much as you. It’s not that hard to woo a little boy. But until he’s done this, my advice is never to have your man staying over and not to make a copy of your front door key. After all, if things go pear-shaped you never know – you might have a custody battle on your hands and that would be miserable for everyone.

Readers say...

Protect your son

Your child is extremely uncomfortable with this new guy, is probably afraid of him. Your failure to raise objections suggests you also feel intimidated. Don’t jeopardise your child’s wellbeing by allowing him to move in; his present lack of kindliness could very quickly turn into outright cruelty and your first duty is to love and protect your little boy.

Alice May, by email

Be realistic

Your new partner has no experience of children and would be very likely to be irritated by your son’s behaviour quite regularly. You would be constantly trying to appease him and may even find yourself treating your son unjustly at times, simply to keep the peace, while your own precious peace of mind would be lost. Eventually, and probably far too late, you would realise that nothing is more important to you than your little boy’s happiness. He already dislikes this man and even cries at the thought of his moving in; it seems to me that his grasp of the realities of this situation is clearer than yours at the moment.

Julie Harrison, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I’ve been going out with a girl for nine months now and I’d love to move in with her. I know she’s keen. But the problem is my mother. It’s quite clear she can’t stand my girlfriend. We’ve tried having her over and making a fuss of her, and my girlfriend bought her a lovely present for her birthday and baked her a cake, but nothing seems to make any difference. I know I can’t force my mother to like her, but obviously I don’t want to hurt her. She lives on her own – my dad ran off with her best friend five years ago. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,


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