My partner and I have just purchased our first home together. We are extremely excited about this move since we have been living in separate apartments for over eight months.
The problem arises with the different levels of acceptance our children have about our decision to live together. They range in age from 21 to 13. Her two oldest sons — both over 18 — will not be joining us in our new home. They are extremely homophobic and vocally oppose our plan. Her other son (13) and daughter (14) get teased all the time by their older brothers and father. They seem to be coming around, and say they are okay with my partner and I “being” together — as long as we don’t share a room. My son and daughter on the other hand, (also 13 and 14) have no problem with my partner and me sharing a room.
What should we do when we move into the house in less than two months? Do we continue sharing a room as my children have grown to accept? Do we sleep in separate rooms until her children can accept our relationship completely? I feel as if I would be lying to my children and hiding something that is so natural for them, but then again I don’t want to hurt her children. Please respond, as we are very confused on how to handle this situation.
I am hesitant to believe that any teenager has the flexibility to completely accept a parent’s new partner of any gender within the time frame of eight months. I’m a big advocate for longer courtship when children are involved, because you can never be too careful. However, I understand that you are set on moving in together, so here’s my advice based on your choice.
My overall sense is that your children feel out of control in a situation that for them currently has a lot more drawbacks than benefits. They will be less likely to try to control the situation by dictating your sleeping arrangements if you take steps to increase respect and lessen anxiety in your home. Here are my suggestions:
1) Her former husband must quit the teasing immediately. Children should never be taunted about their families. When this taunting/ teasing is done by a classmate, it’s called “bullying.” When it’s done by a parent, I call it child abuse. Get a mediator if you need to. Make sure that their father understands that in his attempt to hurt his ex-wife, he is seriously wounding his own children. Ultimately, his strategy will backfire on him, when his children are grown and they realize how he tried to manipulate them and make them feel badly for loving their own mother.
2) The teasing from the older siblings must stop as well. No wonder the young teens can’t feel pride about their family when they are caught in the middle! Your partner should inform her older sons that she will answer any questions they have, that she will attend family counseling with them if they are willing, but under no circumstances are they to speak badly of their mother in front of their younger siblings. This step will only work if Step 1 is carried out, since their father is setting the standard and expectation for the boys to express hostility toward their mother.
3) Find out what her kids’ concerns are about you two sharing a room. What does that mean to them? How would it feel different to them if there were two separate rooms? My hunch is that they want to feel “safe” when classmates come over to their house by not being immediately “outed” when they look around the house and see only one bedroom for two women. (Just thinking about when a classmate asked for a tour of my dad’s house makes me remember how my stomach dropped as I tried to divert attention from the double bed.) It’s not necessarily that the kids of gay parents think of their parents as inappropriately sexual — indeed, we don’t often think of our parents as sexual at all — it is our peers who get hung up on it, and it’s often our peers who insist on detailed explanations. Unless you have told your kids specifically what to say to people who ask about you, they might not even know that it is okay to tell anyone — or how to explain it.
4) Offer this compromise, if you have a spare room. If there is a guest room in the house, give the kids permission to say that’s where one of you sleeps, but that it’s also okay to say you sleep in the same room. Give them the options to make the choice for themselves. Sometimes kids of gay parents prefer to not come out, for lots of different reasons — many of them reasons parents cannot understand. Having a back-up plan, knowing they will not be “outed” by force when a new friend comes over, removes the anxiety of feeling out of control in their own home.
5) Empower your children by observing this transition as a family. You could be taking for granted that what seems obvious to you are huge unanswered questions that are causing anxiety for your children. What is her commitment to your children? What is your commitment to hers? Are your combined children now “brothers and sisters” to each other? Even if you both have talked about it with each other, have you shared your thoughts with the kids? Help the children feel secure and permanent with a special event in the new home, like a dinner or private ceremony. Write something to acknowledge and celebrate each child in this new family formation. Assuming the older boys will not participate, I would still mention them in your ceremony, explaining that they are loved unconditionally and that the door is always open for them, too.