Cary’s classic column from Monday, Aug 25, 2008
His 9-year-old has Tourette’s and ADHD, and I’m still a student … is this a good idea?
I’m a 23-year-old student and I am moving in with my boyfriend (29) and his son (9) this week. I’ve realized as the date draws nearer that my ambivalence about this situation is much deeper than I thought.
Let me tell you first about the kid: He’s very sweet, very bright, but he is by no means an easy child to take care of. He has Tourette’s and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which although well medicated cause him to have more trouble listening and following directions than even the average 9-year-old. And although I have never witnessed one firsthand, he has had a few pretty violent temper tantrums — throwing and breaking things, biting and hitting his dad, etc. Also, his mom is not in the picture. She had him when she was 16, and when he was 3 didn’t show up for a visit. She’s been out of the picture since and has expressed no desire to be back in, although her parental rights are still intact. The fact that she is gone is probably for the best, since she didn’t take good care of him during her time with him when he was little.
Anyway, my main concerns are as follows: school, my relationship with the kid and my social life. Although my boyfriend has assured me that he won’t ask me to give up studying to take care of the kid, I’m still worried that my grades will slip given the decreased amount of time I’ll have on weekends; also, the guy will have a very high-powered and demanding job, and I can’t help but suspect that his promise is hyperbole. I’m worried also that I won’t have the patience for it — when I get home from a long day of class and work I would much rather take a nap, go to the gym, watch TV, smoke a bowl or have a beer, not play Scrabble with a kid who has a penchant for peeking at my letters or make a dinner that will probably get less-than-stellar reviews if it’s not mac and cheese from a box. (Cooking is the other thing — I learned to cook from a chef, I love cooking and experimenting with food, and I’m dreading having to accommodate the child’s picky eating habits. I’m experimenting with ways to expand his culinary horizons, but it won’t be easy.) I’m worried that I’ll get territorial and that I just won’t have the patience or the selflessness to help care for him properly.
My social life is the other concern. None of my friends have kids, nor do any of their significant others. I know I won’t be able to go out as much as I’d like anymore, and that I’ll have to spend a few Friday nights watching the house while my boyfriend sees his friends. His parents and my parents both live in town, so we may have some willing weekend baby sitters. And we both have friends who are willing to watch him, but no matter how much people help the presence of a kid will still crimp my style. This is anticipated, but also not something I’m particularly excited about.
And, hell, I just can’t believe I’m even dealing with this right now. Being a young parent was never something on my to-do list, and I’ve worked since I became sexually active to eliminate my risk of having kids, even having an abortion when I was 18. While I love my boyfriend, I resent him for not wrapping it up all those years ago and for not exercising more discretion in his partners. I know it’s wrong to hold mistakes against someone for the rest of their life, but this particular mistake is now impacting my life, and no matter how much the boyfriend has cleaned up his act — he graduated from law school a year ago — it doesn’t really help with my dilemma.
The books I’ve skimmed about dating men with kids assume that the children are the result of a terminated marriage and hence that there’s a mother in the picture; they don’t discuss how to achieve the right balance of distance and friendliness in the girlfriend-kid relationship. They assume that their audience is middle-aged, has long since finished school and is by and large done being young. There is no good advice for my situation that I’ve been able to find; what’s yours?
Soon to Be Too-Soon Domesticated
Dear Soon to Be Too-Soon Domesticated,
My advice is: Don’t do it.
You’ve presented it as a deal that has already been done, but I don’t see why it has to be done. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t see a cogent argument for doing this. It doesn’t make sense.
Since it doesn’t make sense, one starts to wonder why you decided to do it.
You do say that you don’t believe your boyfriend is going to hold up his end of the bargain. You also say he just graduated from law school. What do lawyers study? They study how to argue. They study how to persuade. So my guess is that he talked you into it. It serves his interest, not yours.
It’s possible you didn’t really think this thing through. You’re just starting to do that now. So before you go to all the trouble of moving, see if you can’t delay it. Cancel the move. Wait a year or two. See how things play out. Renegotiate.
Everything you say about yourself — your preferences, your prior decisions, your situation in life — everything says that you need control over your time and an unencumbered living situation. You don’t need this responsibility, nor are you suited for it. It sounds like a bad deal all around. So I urge you to renegotiate. You are not the right person to bring in to mother this kid. Chances are, if you move in, it’s going to put such a strain on your relationship with your boyfriend that you two will break up. And it won’t be doing the kid any favors. If the kid needs support, he needs trained, professional support.
Again, that’s my take: Cancel. Renegotiate. Delay. Look for other options.