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Ex-Etiquette: New girlfriend needs attitude adjustment

Q: I am madly in love with a man I met six months ago. The problem is he has a daughter and thank goodness the mom has full custody. We’re already talking marriage and having children of our own. How do I let him know that the kids we have together should be number one? Any clear way to draw the line before we get married just so everyone is clear of the rules? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: Oh my. The rules definitely need to be clarified – but you are the one who needs clarification. “Thank goodness mom has custody?” Wrong attitude and very bad ex-etiquette!

Evidently, you’re under the impression that this man will love the kids he has with you more than the kids he already has – and that’s crazy. Although his daughter may be an afterthought in your mind, she certainly isn’t to her father.

All the children will be his children. The ones he has with you will not be more important to him.

Quite the reverse, if he is like some divorced dads, especially if the child lives predominantly with mom, he may feel quite guilty about not being able to live with her on a full time basis and look for ways to integrate her into everything you do as a family – as well he should because not only is she his daughter, she will also be your children’s sister – and the goal should be to make her feel secure and an equal member of your family.

Make her feel like an outsider or openly make Dad choose between her and your children and you there is a very real chance your family will split into factions and your relationship with Dad is doomed.

Favoritism can be like a cancer in bonus families.

There IS something positive to all this – you’re taking a look at what you want prior to getting married and initiating a conversation. That’s exactly what I suggest couples do when contemplating moving in together or getting married. Check out “the BEFORE exercise” on the Bonus Families website (

It asks you to envision positive relationships with each family member and actively go about creating them.

But, I have to say, the idea was never to envision your children as “the real children” and look for excuses to segregate a child born prior to your relationship. If you want your family to be a success, look for ways to integrate his daughter into your life with Dad, not leave her behind. You will be a role model. You have the opportunity to be a calming force that actually solidifies this new family you will be creating. Don’t blow it.

Finally, I suggest you and dad go to some co-parenting classes or counseling so you understand your responsibilities when combining families and how you can support Dad while co-parenting his child. Unless you can make the necessary attitude adjustments, don’t go forward with this relationship. He’s not right for you.

Email Dr. Jann Blackstone at the Ex-Etiquette website at