Dear Dr. Diana,
My boyfriend is going to move in with me and my teenage daughter and son. For the past year and a half, I’ve seen him mostly on the weekends when the kids were with their dad. So my kids don’t know my boyfriend (let’s call him Jim) very well. Jim and I are both ready for the next step in our relationship. We would both like to get married. But we agree that we should live together to all get to know each other better first. I’ve already gotten some flak from my mother about having him move in before we are married. I’m not writing to see what you think about us living together before we get married. But I am wondering if you have any tips for us on the best way to make this work. Thank you.
— Moving Forward
Dear Moving Forward,
Ideally, before your boyfriend moves in with you, your children will have gotten to know him better. The best way to do this is spending time together doing activities that you all enjoy (especially the kids). This way they won’t feel like a stranger is moving into their home. It can also give you all a chance to explore the chemistry between everyone. While it’s understandable that you and your boyfriend want to live together to all get to know each other better before getting married, spending time all together before living together is a practical and lower risk starting place. So, here are some tips on the best ways to incorporate your boyfriend into your life and home with your children:
•Spend time getting to know each other by doing activities that everyone enjoys before and after your boyfriend moves in; •Give the kids plenty of notice before he moves in (at least a month). Don’t just spring it on them;
•Make sure that all family members have privacy;
•Keep your physical affection between you and your boyfriend to a minimum in front of the kids — be especially discrete when it comes to sex;
•Don’t push the relationship between your boyfriend and your kids; encourage him to be patient and to go with the flow as much as possible at first;
•Insist on having a respectful atmosphere between all the individuals in your home;
•Promote open and honest communication – teenagers are famous for withdrawing from the family and acting like they don’t care. Don’t be fooled. In most cases, they do.
•Listen to your children. If you listen to what they tell you versus what you want to hear, they will tell you how they feel and what they need.
•Everyone’s needs should matter — but the kids need to know that their feelings and needs are at least as important if not more important than yours or your boyfriends. Especially in the beginning of the new living situation.
•Keep a long range perspective. It’s a big adjustment for everyone. Keep your expectations low and goals reasonable. Typically, developing a cohesive and flourishing stepfamily takes anywhere from two to seven years.
Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist (psy#12476) in private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California. (858) 259-0146. www.drdianaweisss-wisdom.com