Time for Everyone

I am an unmarried mother of two girls, ages 9 and 10. I also have a boyfriend of three years. My youngest daughter gets along great with my boyfriend and my oldest one used to. For the last past months my 10yr old acts as if she can’t stand him when he’s around. I once broke off of the relationship to satisfy my daughter, but then she only asked about him all the time. She has accused me of ignoring her when he is around, but we constantly do things as a family and I have designated time for her and my 9yr old one on one. Please help me ! ! ! !

It’s really easy for adults to engage in adult conversation when children are around, and children often feel left out. It can happen with married couples and with same-sex friends as well; it isn’t just because he’s your boyfriend. However, it may be more noticeable with single parents because the children are used to having their parent’s undivided attention, and suddenly there’s this other adult who has a claim on this attention, and they have to wait.

It may help to make it clear to your daughters and your boyfriend that there are several kinds of time together:

1. When it’s a time for everyone to be together (e.g. at dinner), the subjects of conversation should be things of interest to everyone, and no one should engage in 1:1 conversation which leaves others out. You can say “This is together time for everyone, so you girls can stop us if we start an adult conversation.”
2. When you and your boyfriend are spending time together, and your children just happen to be around the house, then it’s okay for you and him to talk with one another, and the girls need to learn to wait their turn. You can say “This is time for me and Bob to be together, so you girls need to amuse yourselves without counting on us.”
3. When you are spending special time with one or both of the girls, then your boyfriend needs to so something else and respect your family time. You can say “Bob, I know you want to spend time with me, but I promised to spend this time with my daughter, so you need to go home or read a book or something and not interrupt us.”

Children of this age really respond to fairness and rules, so it will help your daughter if you make it clear that there are these three kinds of time, and everyone gets their turn. You talk about time with your boyfriend and the girls being “family time,” but is it? Is he their stepfather or just your boyfriend? There is a difference. Your daughter may be grieving for the original family you had without him. Make sure that you get both time with your original family (just you and the girls, without Bob) as well as 1:1 time with each girl. The pressures on your time are more intense now that your boyfriend is involved, and you have to protect the girls’ time with you.