I’m dating a guy I really like who also happens to have an eleven-year-old daughter. The daughter lives mostly with her mother (his ex-wife), but he has her during the week and on the weekends a few times a month. He’s a stand-up guy in every way as far as our relationship goes—very thoughtful, sweet, kind, etc. My concern is that he doesn’t seem to be that great of a father, and though I don’t have kids of my own, I find some of his parenting choices a little strange. For example, she eats whatever she wants when she’s with him; he doesn’t make her eat vegetables, and if she throws a fit for dessert (which her mom only lets her have on weekends), then he lets her have it. He also lets her go to bed when she wants, watch whatever she wants on TV, and he buys her pretty much everything she wants. I don’t want kids, and he doesn’t want any more, so if we stay together, it’s not like we’ll have to make parenting decisions together for our kids. Should I tell him what I think? Or is this one of those things I should just let go? —TJ, Phoenix, Arizona
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
It sounds to me like he’s trying to be the “fun dad” by letting his daughter get away with as much as possible. There have been years of bonding between the two of them that went on before you were ever in the picture, so you should tread lightly in this situation. I think instead of telling him what to do, ask him instead if something is really the best idea. For example, when she won’t eat her vegetables, casually ask him if he thinks it might be confusing to her to have two sets of rules. Just be very cautious. The last thing you want to do is come across as a person telling him how to raise his own child. Position it as a question for him and not a directive from you.
You may not want kids, but if you stay with this man, guess what? You’ll have one. Even if it is only part-time, you’ll still have to deal with all the lessons this kid has been—and is being—taught. Think of how you want your family dinners to go in the future. They’re clearly not as you would like them to be right now. How can you gently persuade others to change their habits?
The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
I wish I knew more about your situation with this guy, like how long you’ve been dating and if the two of you have talked about building a life together. If you are serious with him, you need to have this conversation because you’ll also be involved in this child’s life—even if it’s not in the parental role. But even if you’re not serious, it sounds like the way he parents his child clearly has you feeling uncomfortable.
My mom always told me that there are three things you never discuss: 1) religion, 2) income, and 3) how someone else should raise his or her children. Granted, that advice is solidly rooted in the 1950s, but I do think I there’s still some truth to it. Talking about how someone parents is a touchy subject. However, his choices affect your relationship with him.
If it were me, I could not tolerate being with a parent who did not know how to set limits for his child. That would be a core belief difference and a deal breaker for me. What about for you? The trick is not to tell him how to parent, but tell him what you’ve seen and ask him why he does what he does in the way that he does it. Then just listen. You can set some of your own limits after that.
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
So, TJ, if you don’t want kids, why are you dating someone with a kid? No other single guys out there sans children? Over two million men in the Phoenix metropolitan area and you’ve chosen to be with one who has a kid.
Here’s what’s tough and what I don’t like about dating someone with children: the child’s relationship to the parent will always trump your relationship to your partner. That’s how it should be. If that’s not the case, that’s a problem for you and for society. His kid and his parenting ability should be a huge part of his life. It would bug the crap out of me to be with someone who had a kid but was a bad parent. It reflects on his character and I don’t know how you can separate that from whom they are and how they treat you.
This issue is not going away; his daughter will be his daughter as long as he lives. Sounds like she’s already having some episodes when she stays with him. That’s a big part of his life that you have an issue with, so I don’t know how you can just “let go.” If you want to stay with him, you’re going to have to get further involved. You become a “mother” figure when the kid is around whether you like it or not.
You’re a runner-up in the priority of this situation. Settle in for the long run, speak your mind, and work this through. Or sprint out of there as fast as you can. Either way, the clock’s ticking.
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
I’m no parent, so take what I say here with a grain of salt (and maybe throw a few margaritas in with those salt grains). I think there are varying degrees of “not that great of a father.” Your boyfriend sounds as if he’s being a bit indulgent by letting his daughter do things she probably shouldn’t, but it doesn’t sound like he’s doing anything that’s going to cause long-term damage. Worst case, he creates a little girl who turns into an obnoxious princess as an adult from getting everything she wants and no tough love. Like we haven’t dealt with that before. (Hello, Millennials.)
It sounds to me like he’s trying to win the coveted FPA—the Favorite Parent Award. He doesn’t have his daughter as often as his ex-wife does and he probably wants to be the cool, permissive parent as opposed to the buzzkill parent. It ain’t gonna win him any parenting awards, but given the choice of going out with Cool, Permissive Dad (henceforth known as CPD) versus Dad Who Doesn’t Give a Crap, I’ll take CPD every day of the week.
That said, I completely understand why his laissez-faire parenting attitude would be a romantic turn-off; I think his parenting skills reflect the kind of person he is. How’s the communication between the two of you? The qualities that make someone a CPD also potentially make someone a conflict avoider. Down the line, for example, you might find yourself blindsided by a breakup because CPD was just too chicken-shit, too lazy, or too nice-guy to talk to you about what was bothering him.
Bottom line, until you guys are living together or married, you should keep your thoughts about his parenting skills to yourself. And even if you end up together long-term, you’ll need to support the parenting practices of he and his ex. You can give your thoughts on what he should and shouldn’t do, but ultimately, you’re not a decision maker in that process; you’re a supporter. If that’s something you can live with, then keep on keepin’ on. Otherwise, you might want to heed the words of George Michael and find a new father figure—or non-father figure—to date.