Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the parenting problem.
Nicole: Ooh, oh oh boy. Well, this is not a great situation.
I don’t want to tell you not to get married, but if something unthinkable should happen and you already know your relationship would fall apart if his son was around all the time (the girl is mentioned less), that’s a big deal!
Certainly, I think you have to have a big talk
Are you planning on having your own kids with him?
Danny: yeah the LW seems a little bit … blasé about that?
Nicole: He seems lax, not abusive
Danny: “if we had the kids six days a week instead of three, i’d end it”
Nicole: which is a lot easier to work with
And if having a big difficult convo doesn’t work, marriage definitely won’t
Also, have you attempted to talk about if/how YOU are allowed to be a less lax person in their lives?
Signing up to be the bitch doesn’t sound great either
my take is that she’s erred on the side of just staying totally uninvolved for fear of seeming like she’s putting her oar in or trying to take the place of the kids’ mom
but if you have lived together for over a year and plan on getting married, you definitely have a stake in this family
you’re, if not a parent, at least part of a co-parenting team, right?
Nicole: Right! The living together for over a year thing AND the impending wedding seem like this is the perfect opportunity to say “hey, let’s talk about my role as a parental figure, and also our philosophy around raising kids.”
Danny: yes! and that’s exactly the tone you should take
Nicole: which everyone should do before marrying ANYONE if they plan on having kids
Danny: yes! and I hadn’t even considered the question of whether or not the LW wants to have kids with her fiancé so that’s also worth talking about first
especially because she doesn’t really say anything about the kids besides “they’re not disciplined enough”
Nicole: Right! No particular affection
Danny: which definitely sounds TRUE, but also makes me worry she hasn’t been able to develop her own relationship with them, even if it’s just of the sort of “friendly aunt-like person” variety
Nicole: She says she loves them, but it’s not coming off super warm here
Danny: I would say do not get married unless and until you feel reasonably confident that you and your husband are at least on the same chapter, if not the same exact page, about child-rearing together
and if you’re still feeling like “things are fine but ONLY because the kids spend half the week somewhere else, if we had to take them on full-time i’d end it”
I think you should not marry him!
that feels like a big enough qualification that you would be signing up for a lifetime of likely frustration and alienated affection
Nicole: Yep. Process it to the ground, get everything on the table, and make it an absolute must for marriage
Danny: right! and you don’t have to make it a DEMAND
just acknowledge you’ve both left this pretty big issue mostly unaddressed so far
Nicole: This is a v logical step
Danny: and it’s time to figure out how to become a parenting team, not just a couple
and also maybe find ways to spend a little one-on-one time with both your stepkids
so you have a sense of what they’re like and what kind of relationship you can establish with them
Nicole: And, if the convo is good, that convo should expand to include the kids a bit
3 and 7 are super young, but if things are going to change, prepare them for it
Danny: yeah that is part of why I wanted your read here—what kind of discipline is (broadly) appropriate for 3-year-olds?
Danny: like, i picture a lot of careful explaining and like
“here are your two options: do you want to brush your teeth first or put on your jammies first?”
kind of stuff
Nicole: Natural consequences if they’re safe
Yep, that’s pretty much how it goes!
Danny: and maybe your stepkids’ mom could potentially be helpful here? assuming you have a cordial relationship
which is maybe assuming too much
Nicole: There is a lot of missing detail here in general, I fear
Danny: that’s never stopped me from filling in all the detail myself with wildly confident brush strokes!
a reader: three sentences, bare
possibly they are Russian spies!
Danny: me, a master of interpolation, shading, and chiaroscuro: yes … like me you had your heart broken by a british stranger in 2003, then again in 2005 … you never stick to what’s on your grocery list … you are full of secret contempt for others you disguise as affableness