Q I have two children from a previous relationship, ages 8 and 11. I didn't have a place to live, so I moved in with my boyfriend a few months ago. My younger daughter gets along well with my boyfriend, but he doesn't like my older child. He doesn't want her to live here. I love both of my children, and I want us to be together. What should I do?
A This seems like a no-brainer to me. Move on!
Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 1 tells us, "Put your children first." This means parents always should consider their children first when making decisions. If it will hurt them in any way -- mentally, physically or emotionally -- you don't do it. So, it goes without saying -- never, never, never stay with a man (or woman) who badmouths your child or asks you to choose between him (or her) and your child. It's a huge red flag that this person is not relationship material -- at least not for someone with children.
Successfully combining families is one of the most difficult things parents can do. Just as you and your boyfriend have baggage that you bring to the relationship, each child has a separate personality and history as well. This is to be respected. Not everyone is destined to love each other when you combine families, but tolerance is a must -- and overt favoritism will undermine even the most loving relationship -- and bonus family -- faster than anything else.
But, it doesn't sound as if your boyfriend is interested in combining families. If he's choosing which kid to live with, like he's choosing a roommate, then you two are not on the same page. If you are to make a success of this, you have to figure out what your goal is as a family, and have a plan in place to keep this family strong. You have a lot of work in front of you, and it does not seem like your boyfriend is invested.
Finally, it sounds as if you may have made the decision to move in with your boyfriend because of financial considerations and you could have felt as if you had no other place to go. Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 2, is "Ask for help when you need it." With the economy as tight as it is right now, you are not alone.
However, there are always friends, relatives (don't forget your kids have a biological father and paternal extended family as well as your own), even shelters that will allow you to stay with your children. Check into community-outreach programs in your area. Don't live with someone who gives you any sort of ultimatum that involves your kids. Your kids are forever. There will always be another boyfriend.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents."