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Dear Care and Feeding,
My son, “Sam” (16) recently began dating “Julie” (17). Julie is his first girlfriend and he is absolutely smitten.
However, Julie has a daughter from a previous relationship. She had her at 16. From what I understand, the father is older and away at college, and there’s little involvement. I am a young mom myself (34) and can fully appreciate what this young woman has gone through and the struggles ahead, but I’m worried about Sam feeling pressured into a pseudo-stepfather role so young. Am I out of bounds to reach out to Julie’s parents and ask to discuss what their rules are for Julie about dating? Is it wrong to require that Sam not be around her daughter? I want them to have a healthy relationship but this feels all too grown up, too quickly.
Dear Not Grandma,
Your concerns are reasonable. It wouldn’t be out of bounds for you to talk to Julie’s parents to compare notes about your respective rules for letting your children date, and to get some insight as to how Julie’s daughter factors into her love life. I would hope that they, too, would be concerned with the idea of Julie bringing a guy around her little one and that they would encourage her to keep her romance with your son largely separate from her time spent mothering. However, there is the possibility that Julie might want to introduce your son to her baby and have them spend time together.
You should have some serious conversations with your son about what it means to be a step-parent, and why he shouldn’t rush into having a role in this child’s life. He may be having some concerns of his own. Ask him how he feels about dating a mother and if they’ve discussed having him meet her child. Talk about how devastating it can be for a child to get attached to someone, only for them to one day disappear. Let him know that he should not get involved with this little one until it is clear that he and Julie are in it for the long haul. Help him to understand that interacting with someone’s child is serious business, and that it isn’t something that should be done lightly or without much thought. He shouldn’t play house with Julie and her baby, and it is entirely possible for the two of them to have a long-term relationship in which her child plays a very limited role. That will have a lot to do with the amount of support Julie is getting from your parents, which is another reason for you to go ahead and speak to them. You can let them know that you are cautious of your son stepping into a paternal role of sorts before he is truly ready for that responsibility.
Ultimately, there is only so much that you can do to prevent your son from getting attached to Julie’s child or playing a surrogate dad role. You’d have to put your foot down and prohibit the relationship. I don’t know that you want to take such extreme measures—it may only push your son further toward this family. I would encourage you to stay in regular conversation with your son about what he’s doing and urge him to be thoughtful about his role in this young woman’s life. Hopefully, with your guidance, he’ll make wise choices.
My brother’s first wife, “Lynn,” was my dearest friend and my daughter’s namesake. She was murdered, and the killer was never caught. This has devastated our family for decades. My brother is in his mid-40s now and remarried. I liked my new sister-in-law “Karen” until she requested I redecorate my house. I was an artist in my youth; some of my best works involve Lynn and my daughter.