My son and I are dating my boyfriend at the same time
Dating a kid isn’t always easy. I waited five months before introducing my boyfriend, Andy, to my 3-year-old son. All the books and counselors, including my therapist, suggested we meet in a public place; I chose the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and invited my mother to come as a buffer.
Until then, Andy and I spent every weekend exploring each other’s bodies and temperaments, talking endlessly into the night, just like we did on our first date. Conversations never stopped; our desire for each other was constant. After a difficult divorce, the attention revived me and nurtured me.
Logically, as Andy and I got closer, I wanted her to meet Jake. He was a wonderful person, a teacher by profession, a great listener and made me laugh. But would my son like it? That was the big question.
Andy took his first step at the Dora the Explorer exhibit by tossing Jake some soft shapes to play with. Jake looked up, batted his big brown eyes, and pocketed the toys.
“Say ‘thank you’ to Andy,” I said to Jake. But Jake played shrewdly. She shook her head, freed herself from my grip, and slammed into a wall of blue blocks.
Andy laughed and told me not to worry, but I analyzed the situation. Would Andy think Jake was as perfect as I was?
Jake had just turned three. He was a lovely child, affectionate and kind – but his perfect manners? Who was I kidding? My mom reminded me that my goal for the day—to have Jake make eye contact and show Andy some kind of acknowledgment—had been accomplished.
Our next date was at the American Museum of Natural History. It had been raining all morning and Jake was full of energy. He wanted to climb the Brachiosaurus in the main lobby, determined to torture the creatures in the lizard exhibit, and demanded a bag of goldfish right here and now.
Andy was adamant. He stood in line to buy tickets, hoisted an agitated Jake onto his shoulders, distracted him from destroying the Stegosaurus skeleton, and flagged down a taxi in the downpour so he wouldn’t have to walk to the parking garage.
I looked over at Andy’s tense face as he stood in the rain. Every time a taxi passed him, he winced and his clothes continued to soak. I wondered if we would make it to the third date.
Jake fell asleep on the drive home and I took a quiet moment to be honest with Andy. I had a hard time confusing mother and lover and imagined her to be one too. We traded hugs and kisses for chasing Jake through an African mammal cave.
“You can never really be prepared for how a child will act, especially in a new situation like this…you know…Mommy’s new friend,” I said.
Andy paused. “What if I’m not ready to meet Jake?” Wasn’t she ready to meet Jake? I thought the point of our trip was that Andy was ready. The question made me defensive and defensive.
“Our relationship wouldn’t have continued if you weren’t ready to spend time with my child,” I said. He nodded and said he had fun when I dropped it off at his apartment. Still, I felt uncomfortable.
“How was the museum?” asked a divorced friend who had one son from his previous marriage and two from his current marriage.
“Andy saw me in full mom mode. I think it was weird for both of us.”
“It goes from zero to sixty,” said my friend. “You’re the woman he’s sleeping with. Now he’s watching you wipe your kid in the bathroom. It’s going to take a while.”
A few days later, Andy came over to the house for dinner and seemed unfazed by my repeated requests for Jake to sit down. He even complimented my fun tactics for getting him to eat. Maybe he’ll get used to us, I thought.
When it was time for bed, Andy offered to read The Jungle Book on the sofa and my son snuggled between Andy’s legs. In what was supposed to be a comforting and sentimental moment, the worst possible scenario occurred to me. What if Jake gets close to Andy and then we break up?
Andy came over for our fourth date earlier in the day. This time I played with my son more than ever. I was a super mom. I wrestled him, chased him, crawled through a plastic tunnel, and shot basketballs. I expected Andy to do the same. And he did, but it wasn’t enough.
I wondered if he was really having a good time or if he was faking it to please me. Did Andy meet my expectations?
Later I put on Jake’s favorite movie, Lady and the Tramp II. Andy nodded on the couch as Jake watched eagerly. It should have been my sign to let things settle. We just spent four hours entertaining my child. Instead, I pushed. As weird as it seemed, I wanted Andy to be involved in every aspect of our time together—even if it was watching a mind-numbing children’s movie.
“Andy, don’t you want to watch the movie?” I asked.
“I need to relax a bit,” he said, closing his eyes.
Halfway through the movie, Jake shook Andy’s arm.
“Do you want to color Andy?”
“Not now,” Andy said gently, eyes still closed.
“I’ll color with you, honey,” I said. After forty-five minutes of stenciling triangles and squares, I walked her into her room. “Say good night to Andy!”
“Good night, Andy,” she said.
“Good night,” Andy replied meekly.
The faint “good night” was thrown out of me. Did Andy blow my kid?
“What is my role here?” Andy asked when I came down.
“No role. I just want you to go crazy for my son,” I said. “So when my child says goodnight to you, I want you to say goodnight enthusiastically.”
“I said good night!”
“No, you said good night.” Not “GOOD NIGHT!”
“Look,” he said. “I know this is going to sound like I’m jealous of Jake, but you ignore me when it’s just the three of us. I’m trying to figure it out.
I was so eager to judge Andy and his ability to connect with my child that I didn’t consider my behavior. I tried to control a relationship instead of letting it happen organically between the two of them.
I realized that when Andy was with Jake and me, I didn’t really want him to be himself. I wanted him to be an eternal clown who would be the perfect figure in my son’s life, who Jake would play soccer with and be inspired by, who would never get tired—a completely unrealistic expectation, of course.
“I’m not sure why Andy is willing to go to court, but he is,” my therapist said when I told him the story. “Why do you expect him to be unkind to your son?”
“I want you to be enthusiastic,” I said. “Always. I want my son to like it.”
“If you start telling Andy how to behave, he’s going to do the exact opposite of what he wants,” he said. “Besides, it doesn’t sound like he did anything offensive.”
He was right.
“As the mother, you set the tone,” my therapist instructed. “If you want your son and Andy to have a good time, you have to have a good time. If you want Andy to be himself, you have to be yourself.”
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When I talked to Andy after therapy that night, I confessed. “I was hard on you the last time you were over.”
“I could have been a little more communicative about my feelings,” he said. “Next time I’ll be enthusiastic about my good nights. Sorry.”
A few nights later, Andy came over about half an hour before Jake went to bed. We talked and did puzzles, then Andy read a story about a beaver having trouble building a dam.
We were both calmer, laughed at the distressed beaver, and went into the other room to get Jake a cup of milk without neurotically checking on them. In his pajamas, Jake snuggled between me and Andy on the couch and we listened as Andy read the story.
When it was time to say goodnight, Andy gave Jake a high five.
Upstairs, I tucked Jake, his zebra, his elephant, and his dinosaur under the covers.
“Did you have a good time tonight honey?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Jake said. “With Andy.”
I went downstairs after Jake fell asleep and curled up with Andy on the couch. “He likes you,” I said.
“Good, because I like him too,” Andy said.
And there we were, the three of us, enjoying our new relationship.
Hayley Krischer is an award-winning journalist who has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Marie Claire, Elle, and more.
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