Dear Dr. Michelle:
My girlfriend and I just moved in together after dating for about 2 years. She has a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter who live with us full time. They are great kids and we get along really well, but my girlfriend is pressuring the kids to call me dad and I don’t think that’s a good idea. She also expects me to discipline them when she gets upset and I don’t think that’s my role. Am I wrong about this?
Congratulations on taking your relationship to the next level; it is great to hear that you appreciate your girlfriend’s children.
Your girlfriend’s desire is not unusual, and it is best to assume that her request is coming from a good place – she wants her children to love you and to have the experience of being a family. It is normal for her to want all the support and help she can get with the parenting; it can be a lonely and difficult job.
Even though these are worthy requests, how her children refer to you or what they call you is up to you – and them. Start by making a list of all the names or references you are comfortable being called. Once you identify options, share them with the children. Given their ages, and the fact that you are not their father, they should be allowed to decide which of your options feels right to them. Take comfort in the fact that love and family are not about the words we use to refer to each other, but the actions we take and how we treat each other.
Your involvement in disciplining the children requires more extensive consideration. Given the fact that you chose to move in with the children, you have a certain level of responsibility to provide adult caregiving, whether or not you are the “parent.” Children need consistency, structure, education, supervision, love, and correction to learn from mistakes, and they need these things from adults who are actively involved in their lives. But, being an active caregiving adult does not mean you should be expected to take the lead role in parenting or discipline, or be solely responsible for correcting the children; these should be shared responsibilities.
What is important is that you are supportive of your girlfriend’s parenting decisions. Back her up when she needs it, defend her when necessary, never undermine her, and reinforce the rules and expectations that she has for the children. If you don’t agree, resolve your differences in private – not in front of the children.
Whatever you and your girlfriend decide is your role, make sure to tell the children what to expect to avoid confusion and prepare them accordingly.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.