Care and Feeding

My Partner’s Ex Is Suddenly Blocking Me From Spending Time With Her Kids

I have no idea why, but it’s really causing trouble.

A boy plays basketball and a girl plays soccer.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

Do you have any advice on what the partner of your ex can do to help you to trust them with your kids?

My girlfriend, “Bea,” is an amazing mom to two of the coolest kids in the world, ages 11 and 13. She got divorced when she came out as a trans woman, so there isn’t a lot of bitter drama or anger between her and her ex or anything. We’ve been dating for a year, and I’ve just started getting to know her kids (though they’ve known about me for a while). These kids are smart, funny, and creative, and I have so much fun with them. I would love to be part of their lives. Bea’s ex, however, has started setting boundaries about me spending time with the kids, and Bea and I can’t figure out why. The kids seem to like me and text me to invite me to their school events and sports games, and I know Bea prioritizes her kids above all else, so if they didn’t want to be around me she would never pretend otherwise for my sake. (Plus, I straight-up asked her and she said they do like me.) The only negative things the ex has said in my presence were about how Bea “went young” when she got involved with me, and how I “get” the kids because we’re “practically the same age.” But I’m 33, and Bea and her ex are both 40—not a weird age gap, in my opinion, so I’m not sure why she doesn’t like me.

Because of these comments, and because of her not wanting me around the kids, she and Bea have been arguing lately, when they’ve always gotten along before, and I feel guilty about stirring up trouble in this family that has always been really solid. I used to try to be friendly and warm to the ex, but I’ve kind of backed off respectfully after she made it clear she didn’t like me. Still, I don’t know what to do about her banning me from “family events” (pretty much every activity the kids do). Bea is angry and says her ex can’t just executively make that decision, but I don’t see the good in ignoring boundaries set by the kids’ other mom. I love Bea very much, and I’m getting worried that I won’t be able to be a part of her life if I’m blocked from her kids. I also don’t want to cause problems for her, which I clearly am. I don’t have kids of my own, and all my friends are either poly or still married to their kid’s other parent, so no one seems to have any useful advice for me. Do you have any tips for how I can demonstrate that I’m trustworthy, as well as serious about being in her kids’ lives?

—Outsider Looking In

Dear Outsider,

I don’t think for a second that Bea’s ex is worried that you’re untrustworthy, or that she thinks you’re insufficiently serious about being a part of her kids’ lives. This is almost certainly not about you, personally. It is almost certainly not about how old you are (although I know of no 40-year-old who is thrilled when their former partner starts over with someone who’s younger—even by only seven years). It’s most likely not about her being jealous of you in regard to Bea, either, though that may play a part in her discomfort. My money is on her unease—yes, and jealousy—about another adult being in her kids’ lives, and their potential attachment to you. Indeed, if they disliked you, it might be easier for her. In fact, the more they like you, the more uneasy Bea’s ex is likely to be.

Be patient. You hit the nail on the head with your signoff. As far as the ex is concerned, you are an outsider. From her point of view, she’s competing with you (the fun new adult in her kids’ lives!) for her kids’ affection and interest. They happen to be at exactly the right ages to begin to be pulling away from their parents. A glamorous new person, one who hasn’t known them since they were babies and has no responsibility for rule-setting or enforcing—and maybe especially one who’s younger than their parents—is pretty much by definition going to be appealing to the kids. And likewise threatening to the ex.

Bea is going to have to work things out with her ex (you should stay well out of this), both being respectful and empathetic and firm about the fact that you’re not going anywhere, if indeed that’s how Bea feels. For if you two stay together, whether the ex approves or not, you’re going to be a stepparent to her children. She may need time to get used to this, but she’s going to have to, if that comes to pass. Bea may need to spell this out for her.

— Michelle