Q: I am a 21-year-old psychology major and full-time secretary. I am in a long-term relationship and we are planning on marrying sometime in the future. The only problem is that he is 40 years old, unemployed and has a 3-year-old son.
I normally like kids, but there is something about this child I cannot stand. He drives me crazy. I hate being in the house when he is there, and I hate it when he tries to play with me. This child is the cause of all the problems in my relationship.
I love my boyfriend and want to spend the rest of my life with him, but not his son. Should I move on?
A: Yes, you should move on — for the sake of all involved, especially this little boy, who otherwise runs the risk of having a miserable childhood due to your intense dislike.
I am concerned because your note conveys so little insight into the problem. You say you normally like children. What is it that makes this boy so dislikable?
Is there some kind of medical diagnosis, such as ADHD or OCD? Or is he an ordinary 3-year-old boy, whose presence on this earth as your boyfriend’s son is threatening to you?
Your question would not be so disturbing if you said you were worried about rearing a 3-year-old, or thought you couldn’t handle the responsibility, or felt his father coddled him. But you didn’t say these things. Instead, you are blaming this child for causing problems in your relationship.
I suspect that this child somehow poses a threat to you as no other child does — you are jealous that he has his father’s attention, or annoyed that he is a link between your boyfriend and the mother.
I suggest you try to figure out why he pushes your buttons so you can come up with ways to handle this. A child who is living in a difficult home situation, whose parents are split and who worries he may lose his father’s attention, may in fact behave badly toward you. As the adult, it is your job to to help him negotiate this tough position. He may need even more attention from his father, as well as reassurance that his life will be stable. This is a case where effort on your part to be loving and kind can go a long way.
It’s good that you recognize a young child is a significant part of his father’s life. If you could identify your true feelings and wanted to make sincere change, you could work toward a resolution. But you have given no evidence you are willing to do this. As a psychology student, it’s ironic you haven’t tried to gain more insight into your own situation.
There are other signals your relationship is less than ideal. The big age difference and your boyfriend’s unemployment mean you face multiple additional stressors. It sounds that, in the long run, you must resolve to put in emotional effort to find a way to empathize with this little boy, or that you should part ways.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If potential spouses come with children, you must understand that those children are part of the package and you must make things work with them, too.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .