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About five years ago my wife Laura and I got divorced - we kept it quite civil and even now our relationship is quite friendly. We also have a son, Steve, currently 10 years old that spends 3 days a week with me.

My ex quite quickly remarried a guy who always wanted kids, so both my son and him quite quickly bonded. Recently my relationship with my partner Anna started to look more serious and we've decided to move together. The problem is that my partner never wanted kids (although she professionally works with them), mainly on the account of her having mild OCD, that makes her feel very uncomfortably in untidy places (and usually kids ARE messy, my son is not an exception). Still, Anna quite likes my son, although she treats him more like a friend or one of the kids she works with rather than a stepson. But hey, this situation is quite new and stressful to both of them, so I'm just hoping that this will evolve slowly.

Anyway, my ex decided that all five of us should be a "one happy family" - she keeps inviting us to "go camping together" (something she never asked me alone), keeps asking Anna "could she spend extra time on her own with Steve", or even forces my boy to keep asking my partner for such "private quality time" via Facebook messenger (I know Steve well enough to say that he would never say something like "Can I spend some extra time just with you on Friday when dad is at work?").

I've told Laura that my partner is not looking forward to be a stepmom and personally I never expect her to be - I just hope that Anna and Steve will have a good relationship based on respect, whatever else would come I'd welcome as a bonus, but my ex keeps insisting, saying that "If Anna wants to be with you, she must act as a stepmother".

How can I politely tell Laura that Anna is feeling uncomfortable from such pressure and we (my partner and I) are not interested in creating the "big, happy family"?

  • @Jesse Edited - does it match better the guidelines for this SE? – Yasskier Jan 22 '18 at 3:53
  • yes thats much better – Jesse Jan 22 '18 at 4:59
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Just so we're clear:

  • Your ex ceded any right to control your life and choices when the two of you divorced.
  • Your ex never had the right to control your new partner's life or choices.
  • Your ex still has a vested interest and responsibility in your son's life.

With that in mind, I'd suggest starting a conversation (either via text/other digital medium, or the next time you meet in person - whichever is easier) along these lines:

I've noticed you've been putting some pressure on Anna to spend more time with Steve. I appreciate that you're trying to make sure Steve is happy and cared for, but Anna's relationship with Steve is different to (ex's new partner)'s relationship with him. Steve gets on just fine with Anna right now, so would you mind dialing it back some?

See where it goes from there. It may be that Laura putting pressure on Anna really is just Laura trying to make sure Steve is happy and cared for - that's good, it's just being expressed in the wrong way. If that's the case, then this conversation is your chance to reassure Laura that Steve is fine - once she realises that, she should back off.

If that isn't the case, you should be more firm.

Please don't do this. It makes both Anna and me uncomfortable, and making Steve the messenger between you and Anna is a bad precedent to set.

  • Just for the record, Laura was never worried that Anna might be in any way mistreating my son, Laura even praised Anna to her sister (something I've heard by accident) for her approach to Steve, based on Anna's professional experience. – Yasskier Jan 21 '18 at 23:08
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    I'm flabbergasted, but I agree with this above answer. I'd add that I'd nip that whole "happy family together" notion (e.g., camping together) in the bud. I certainly know zero details about your lives, but, even if everything has been amicable thus far, it just does not sound like a situation that will lead to anything positive! – A.fm. Jan 22 '18 at 0:21
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    I really don't have much to add to this answer. You cover a lot of worthwhile bases - child should never be the messenger, ex no longer has any control over your life, ex has an interest in son's life. The only thing I might consider is that the ex has no control over the Anna's relationship with your son - that's for the two of them to sort out. – baldPrussian Jan 22 '18 at 3:04
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How can I politely tell Laura that Anna is feeling uncomfortable from such pressure and we (me and my partner) are not interested in creating the "big, happy family"?

Don't make it about Anna's feelings. Laura doesn't need to know them. Make it about your own feelings. If Laura needs to blame someone, she should blame you. It's your role to insulate Anna from Laura. Anna didn't sign up to start dating Laura when she started dating you.

As a father, it's also your role to make sure your ex doesn't use your kid as a weapon against your current girlfriend. What your ex did on Facebook was absolutely unacceptable. A kid shouldn't be put in an untenable position like that.

You say things are amicable, but from where I'm standing, you're the only one who seems to be amicable and overly accommodating. Anyone else would have shut down your ex in her manipulation attempts right away.

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It is a difficult situation, it almost exactly mirrors my own.

First thing to remember is that you cannot control anyone's actions or behaviour but your own. You can't stop your ex-wife doing anything, although there are things you can do that will make the situation better. Likewise you cannot change your new partner. You are hoping she will adapt to having a stepchild over time, and that may not be the case, so do be honest with yourself about that.

Do you really think your ex wants you to be 'one big happy family'? Not to stir things up, but it may be about control. She got quickly remarried perhaps because she is trying to prove she has everything under control and can provide everything for your child? But now you're moving in the same direction and can provide your child the same environment she can. By trying to get involved with your new family is she just trying to bring it all back under her control?

You DO need to keep the peace with her for the sake of your child. But nobody will expect you and your partner to start double-dating with them. If this were my ex I'd imagine her endgame was for me to say no, and then tell everybody that I rejected an offer to be civil and peaceable. But you can be civil and peaceable while maintaining a respectful distance, if that is what you and your new partner want.

My advice would be to accept general offers to be 'happy together', such as "Lets all try and get along" - just nod, smile and agree. That way she can never suggest you are anything but peaceable. But any specific offers that you are not comfortable with, such as "Let's all go camping together", just politely reject the way you would with anybody. Perhaps reply "I think we are making our own vacation plans this year" and just leave it at that.

Regarding the pressure for your new partner and your child to bond - personally I hate the terms 'stepmother' and 'stepfather'. It implies that someone else is stepping into a vacant role, but in divorce cases where both mum and dad are involved parents there are no vacant roles. Kids don't need two sets of parents and I believe they do better when their parent's new partner is a 'friend' to them, so long as children also respect their authority as an adult, especially when in their homes. Perhaps you could express something similar to your ex? You could say that your partner IS developing a relationship with your child, but one that respects his real mother's role.

The important thing, as I'm sure you know, is for YOU to provide a comfortable environment for your child. If your ex creates difficult or uncomfortable situations just try and ride them out in a peaceable way. One day your child will be an adult and will be able to look back and comprehend all that happened.

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Talk about this with your son. He may turn out to be more mature than his mother. Don't stress it, but ask him to do the same with your new partner: easy does it, don't push things. She'll never be his mother, and if they turn out to get along you may praise yourself to be very lucky. And I think there's nothing you can do about your ex.

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