My Girlfriend and Her Son's Biological Father

Updated on July 26, 2014
T.C. asks from New York, NY
17 answers

I'm not a mom, just a man looking for advice on how to become a better partner and a role model to a young child.
I have been in a serious relationship for a year and a half now with my girlfriend who I love very much. We have recently moved in together after a year of being in a long distance relationship with each other (45 mins away not that long distance). Anyway, she has an amazing 5 year old son who's intelligent and loving. When I was first introduced to him he thought I was his father but my girlfriend made it clear to him that she is his mother/father. Her son's biological dad is not at all in his life. Aside from child support he is nonexistent. I have no problem being a father figure to him if he wants that from me. My issue, if you can call it that, is that there have been times when my girlfriend would bring up his dad and just telling her son that he has his cute nose or that they have the same belly button or just telling me somethings about him that I really don't care to hear. She's also asked me how I would feel if he came back into his life. She told me he was there to see him after he was born but that was it. I feel it to be inappropriate not only to be saying those things in front of me but especially to her son. The dad clearly does not want to be apart of the child's life since it is court ordered that my girlfriend cannot contact him. Am I overreacting? Or is it really inappropriate of her?

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answers from Portland on

Hi T.,

I'll say this as the kid who was adopted by my mom's second husband: I think it's good for her to be asking you how you would deal with her son's bio-dad coming back into his life.

Here's the thing: it doesn't have to be a dealbreaker, okay? She's always going to have an ex, and the boy is always going to have a not-present dad. Is it awkward? Sure, but as that kid whose bio-dad was NEVER spoken of until I was nine and started asking questions (I am Caucasian and my adoptive dad is Filipino-- the differences were obvious)... it's great that she can appreciate some parts the boy's bio-dad to him.

She's not saying anything about her son's cute nose or bellybutton to upset you. She's saying this to reassure her son that there were likable things about his father. Once again, from my perspective growing up, all I heard were the negative things about my bio-dad that we had in common and that my mother couldn't stand. The fac that your girlfriend is giving her son *positive* messages about his father is a gift. I know you feel slighted, but it's worthwhile to take a moment and think about this:

What if his father was never brought up? Only discussed covertly, in order not to upset you? Is that really the 'walking on eggshells' relationship that you want with them, that they have to be guarded about something as elemental as his parentage?

He's still young and will eventually-- and sadly-- figure out that his father is not invested in him, doesn't care, and isn't going to be around for the long haul. You might consider going to a counselor or another mentor to talk about your feelings regarding this situation.

I'll say this: it's NOT inappropriate to want your child to have a positive perception of *who* they came from, who has made a part of them. Sure, the guy is irresponsible, left her high and dry-- whatever. The point is that he is FIVE now and his self-esteem is still going to be developing for a long, long time. He will come to that point of questioning why his father wasn't around, wasn't available, and it's going to hurt like hell. Don't wish that on him just yet. If you are invested and looking to become a stepdad, then make the commitment to your relationship with him that you will let him take the lead on this one and honor that process. It's going to be a HARD one if you are openly disapproving of his dad.

Instead, if you can find empathy during those times he might mention his father, you can help the child feel loved and that he belongs in the family his mother is making now. "Yeah, I know you would like to meet him. He'd be proud to know what a great kid you are." I grew up not knowing my own bio-dad until I was 14, when I initiated contact. I will say this-- stepparents can do a lot and have lots of good influence. I'm 43 now, and nearly 30 years later, my relationship with my bio-dad's family has been mostly facilitated by my stepmom, and she's the one I still have the primary relationship with. You can be a powerful and good influence if you don't take these mentions of your girlfriend's ex as slights toward yourself, but reassurance for her son. If you feel you can't let it go, as I stated before, get some support through a counselor who specializes in blending families or from friends who have dealt with similar experiences.

Good luck.

15 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

The most important sentence in the whole post is buried near the very end.

You write that "it is court ordered that my girlfriend cannot contact" her son's father.

If you have not already had a long and serious talk with her about WHY she was ordered to have no contact -- please, for your own sake, do it now. You may already know the full story but if not, be sure you do. It sounds possible that the dad was so determined to have NOTHING but child support tying him to this child that he got the court to produce this order. But be sure there was nothing else going on, on her side of things, that prompted it.

Because...what raises the red flag to me is that she asked you how you'd feel if dad became part of son's life again. Yet she should know perfectly well that it is not going to happen -- because a court has said she must never contact dad. I don't see how dad returning to be part of their lives, even as the most marginally involved parent, could happen if she cannot even contact him to arrange visits. So you really need to dig deep here. She may have a not-so-secret wish that her ex would magically appear to be more of a dad, and if so, that is utterly unrealistic and not based on her actual experience, and you need to get to premarital counseling with her and root out what she's thinking about her ex.

Do nothing more until you and she get couples/premarital counseling so you really understand whether she clings to some fantasy of daddy coming back (for son, if not for her) and you also get a clearer picture of how far she will let you into her son's life as a father figure.

You also need to do counseling with her to work on the issue of her telling you "some things about him that I really don't care to hear." She may not realize there are boundaries you want in place, when it comes to how much she tells you about her ex. It is OK for you to want boundaries, but she also may need to vent to someone about her past problems. This is the kind of discussion that a counselor or therapist can facilitate but we can't, here online. If she is serious about staying with you she will go to counseling with you -- and if she resists it hard, you may have to rethink your relationship, especially if the non-involved dad continues to be a topic of conversation for her.

13 moms found this helpful


answers from Richland on

She wants her son to know where he came from. His dad doesn't want him, that is hard for kids.

He is five, that is a fair bit of time before he is an adult. It is a real possibility that the child's father will come back in his life. I would want to know how the man I am dating feels about that possibility before I fully committed.

My ex is psycho, I made sure my husband knew that when we started dating him. If he couldn't handle it a relationship would be pointless.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

No. It's not.

She IS mother and father to this child.
You are her live in boyfriend.

If you want to be a positive re model for a 5 year old boy with a single mother?
•Marry her or move out
•Don't take offense at the references to the boys father.
This kid is aware that his father is absent. It's OK to tell him he has his fathers cute nose, mannerisms, etc. just because the man is not involved right now doesn't mean he won't be at some point and you will HAVE to deal with him if you're around.
•sounds like SHE is the reason he is absent. If remain in this relationship with my eyes WIDE open
• don't expect to take the place of this boys father. He has a father and, good, bad, or ugly, that's his blood. This child should be encouraged to have a relationship with his dad unless he is dangerous or addicted. Keep in mind as the years go by, he just might be close to him.
• "role model" is O. thing, stepfather is another
•leave the discipline to mom. You take him fishing.
• think about what a role model is. Love & respect his mother above all else.
•never make her think she needs to choose between you and her son. If she's a good mom? You'll lose that O..
Good luck!

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Are you planning on marrying this woman and adopting her son? If not, I suggest you table this discussion until you are or it will only be confusing to all involved. At this point, there is no reason to analyze any of this stuff.

If you do have intentions of marrying this woman and being this boy's daddy, I suggest that you talk with her, communicate how you feel for her and her son, and get the ball rolling on engagement, premarital counseling, and start thinking about whether you want to adopt this little boy as your own. But don't go putting the cart before the horse.

ETA: Whoa. WHOA! Leigh is right on. Why would there be a court order that this chick can't contact her ex? I agree, you need to find out what the heck is up. It does sound like she has some sort of secret wish to get him back and still has feelings for him. Yuck.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

For one, telling him that he looks like his dad is a normal thing to do. And kids are curious. I never met my biological father, but knowing I have his hair or whatever, is kind of comforting in a weird way. People look for connections. If she simply says, "He was there when you were born" that's not necessarily an odd thing. My DH will tell his son how he was brought to the room in a Christmas stocking due to the closeness of the holiday. But he will also tell DD he cut her cord and made her belly button. It's just a thing.

If she asks about his return to her son's life, I would ask her what made her think he might return. What is the story behind the court order? Is she thinking out loud or do you have reason to believe she's contacted him? Or that he would contact the child or her? You can request to have these conversations out of little kid earshot.

Being the partner of a custodial parent can be a weird thing, and you have to both take her lead in how she wants things to be with her son (she's the sheriff and you're the deputy) and let things grow over time. When I was a new SM, everything was raw and new and I railed against many things that were later unimportant or I had no control over. It is a progression that many many stepparents go through. There was a time I had a fit about dishes my DH had and he quietly said, "My mom gave us those dishes. They're one of the few things I got to keep in the divorce." Boy, did I eat crow. I realized then I had been focused on his ex instead of my MIL (who I love) and my DH (who I also love). Try to separate any feelings you have about the ex or the existence thereof from the actual people doing actual things.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You need details about the court order - because if SHE can't contact him, it sounds like it's something SHE did. And that is a HUGE red flag. Once you have that information, it may be easier to make decisions. There's baggage here, and you have to decide if you want to deal with it. You need to find out what you can do to become his father legally if you get married. You need a lot more info to make good decisions.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

My husband is not my first son's biological dad. His bio dad has never laid eyes on my son, and doesn't pay ANY support. My husband has made it very clear that he doesn't want anything (ANYTHING) from this man. HE is my son's dad. Thhat's it.
Your situation is a bit different in that you are not married and not paying to maintain this child. You say you have no problem being a "father figure" but are you ready to be a father? You don't seem to be. Especially if you are just living with this woman, but not willing to marry her.
I understand that it may make you uncomfortable, but her son DOES have his nose or bellybutton. At one time there was some kind of love between her and this man, and she created an "amazing" kid.
If you were married to her my response would be a bit different. I NEVER speak of my son's bio father....he gave up his rights a LONG time ago and has never met my kid. I respect my husband enough to never speak of this man, because while m,y son may carry some of his DNA, that is all. His FATHER is my husband.
You are nothing more than his moms boyfriend.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You're overreacting. The boy still needs to know where those features come from ... It's appropriate for her to share good information about his bio father with him. You can still be a role model / father figure and treat he and his mother with love and respect. Adoptive fathers do it all the time.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I'd really want to know a lot more about that court order.
If she went bat spit crazy on him and he needed a restraining order - you really need to think twice before becoming more involved - else you might end up needing some legal protection yourself.
As for how she's raising/talking to her son - she and her ex are always going to have this child as a connection (even if she can't contact her ex).
She's got baggage and that's never going to change.
You need to figure how much baggage you can accept because if you can't accept much - you might as well cut bait and move on to fish somewhere else.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

it is perfectly normal for her to say things like you have your bio dad's nose. No matter what the relationship or lack thereof is....someday he will want to know about this man. Someday he will learn about genetics. I know nothing about my adoptive son's biological father, after reading a lot about the subject.. i gave him a page in the life book with a silhouette and words like: "you may have his smile, or nose, you probably have his skin and eyes... he never got to know you."
It's not perfectly normal that the court has ordered the girlfriend not to contact....What's up with that??

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chattanooga on

I think it's a fine line.

Children are curious about where they come from, and it isn't healthy to make an absentee parent a taboo subject... However, she doesn't need to be bringing it up all the time and drawing attention to the fact that the father isn't there. If she is just once in a while mentioning these things, I would consider her as balancing pretty well on the line. A lot of times, kids can sense that certain subjects are painful, and are hesitant to ask even when they really want to know. Her giving him little tidbits about his dad takes the edge away from the topic, and gives him a sense of where he comes from.

It IS inconsiderate of her to talk to you about him. No one really wants to hear about their SO's ex.

As for the topic of the possibility of him coming back into the son's life... I can understand that. He is paying child support, so he has a legal right to claim visitation if he ever wants to. Even if he has no intention of it, and has taken steps to avoid contact, as long as he still has rights there is a chance that he could come back into the picture. It seems like your relationship is moving into long-term stages, so it's natural for her to put out feelers on this subject.

The thing that I wonder, and you will have to gauge for yourself is ..... Is she still carrying a torch for this guy? The way she talks about certain features, is it because she thinks they are cute on her son, or because they remind her of him? When she is talking about him to you, is she talking about things she misses/loved about him, or just random stuff? How did their situation escalate that she was court-ordered not to contact him...? It takes quite a bit of doing to get the courts involved in hints like that, so was she harassing him or something? It is also possible that she is just trying to communicate with you, and she doesn't want you to think that she is hiding her past from you. I don't know her, or anything about their relationship, so I can't say for sure.

Either way, let her know how you feel. Have you even told her that you don't like hearing about her ex?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Like it or not, this man is the child's father. Whether he's involved or not isn't the issue, except that it's going to be hard for the boy as he gets older and has questions. (Why doesn't my dad want me? Who is my dad?) Now, she's NOT his father so I don't know why she says she is his mother/father. But if he's as intelligent as you say, and even if he were not, he'd figure out there's a missing father. He obviously had some questions about his father - which is why his first assumption was that you were that guy!

He pays child support and unless there's an order barring him from seeing this child, he could potentially show up and want contact. I'm confused by your comment that there's a court order barring HER from contacting HIM but you sort of imply that he doesn't want to be a part of things so he had the child support orders written that he would pay if she didn't contact him? That's different than he barred contact because of something she did. But if you are unsure in any way (meaning you have read the orders), I think you should find out! So he could come back, perhaps, at some point. The fact that your girlfriend is asking you about your feelings could mean she has plans or has had contact or at least is preparing for the possibility.

She also could be testing you. She could be trying to find out if you have enough self-confidence to handle being something other than the father. Can you be a step-father? Are you secure enough to share something of this child with another man or at least acknowledge that you cannot be everything to the boy? Obviously the child has half the DNA of the bio-dad, and may have some of the physical characteristics. This child will always have those traits, and you have to be able to handle that.

She may be saying these things to hurt you - in which case you have to question her motives. But she may also be saying them to help her son know where he fits in the world. One man provided DNA and a nose or belly button - and it's okay for this child to know that, at one time, Mom cared about the bio-dad. But then there is you - someone to guide and love him, to be a role model for him. That gives you a lot of credibility and you can best serve in that role by being secure in who you are, in showing that your manhood and ego are not affected by someone else who was around 5 years ago.

If you and she have not had in-depth conversations about this, and about your relationship, and about how you are going to parent this child, then that's the first and most important item on your to-do list.

If you are thinking about getting married, there can be no secrets and no resentments between you.

I married a man with children, and our wedding vows (which he wrote) talked about families being based as much on chemistry as on biology. In this day and age, with families in all kinds of configurations with adopted kids and same-gender parents, it's important for everyone to figure out what each person's role is. You must realize that biology is a factor, and so is chemistry.

You and your girlfriend could benefit from some good family therapy on how to deal with your hurt feelings and her actions/decisions, and come to some real agreement. Every session would be part of the foundation of your relationship. Your relationship is contingent upon this, and believe me, you will not be able to handle this boy as a rebellious teen if you don't get the basics down first. You and she are not currently on the same page. As you can see, love is not enough. There has to be real solid communication, and honesty, and forthrightness.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

It can be really difficult to be in a relationship with a person who has a child with someone else. The feelings you have are natural. It is tough to know and hear about the other man. Even if the dad is not involved with his son, he is still there and always will be some sort of psychological presence. I guess you have to decide if you want that baggage. I would share your feelings with your girlfriend and let her know it is hard. If you decide to stick it out, one way to decrease your hurt feelings is to focus on what is best for that sweet boy. I am speaking from personal experience. If your relationship with the mom is solid, and you can be there for this boy, which means accepting that he has a dad he might want to talk about from time to time, it can get easier and the hurt and awkwardness starts to go away.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

She probably shouldn't be talking about him in front of her son, since it appears he's not likely to come back into the picture, and getting his hopes up could hurt her son.

However, you should not be offended.

Are you going to marry her and become a stepdad/dad to this kid? Otherwise, you really shouldn't be worrying about it. Maybe it's time to commit.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I think it's more hurtful than anything. Maybe she doesn't get that yet.

If he's not upset by it then I guess it's okay too.

I'd ask her if she thought it made him feel sad. Maybe she's in contact with the dad or some of his family. They should have full access to kiddo if they have any interest.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Binghamton on

It sounds like there are two issues here that might be hard to separate: Your girlfriend's wishful thinking for her son that his dad might change his mind and want to be there for his child, and your (seemingly mild?) jealously and/or confusion about his verses your role in this child's and your girlfriend's life.
As far as the first goes, it seems to me an honest conversation would be the best way to go. Can you ask what she hopes will happen with this guy, how much she wants her son to know, why she wants him to know it and, most important of all, what that court order is all about? It's very hard to know if something is inappropriate without knowing the background and ideas behind the behavior.
The second - your role - may just be a matter of you accepting that this other man will always be there, especially as her son gets older and wants to know more about his father and why he is not involved. That doesn't mean you have to play second fiddle. I just think it would help to take a really honest look about your feelings about him so you can accept them. It's ok to be angry or jealous, to not want to hear things about this man and express that. What would not be ok would be to let that color your role in this kid's (and this woman's) life. So own them, live with them, and be who you are: a kind man who chooses to be there for a kid in a role that will change over time. He's a lucky little guy.

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