QUESTION: My wife and her ex-husband share custody of their 9-year-old son. My bonus son loves the L.A. Lakers. His dad and he never miss a game. When trying to figure out what to buy him for his birthday, I found a jersey I knew he would like, so I bought it for him. In my attempt to coordinate efforts, I called his dad and told him about the jersey. He was very nice and thanked me. Three days later, his mom and I see Dad and child at the mall and child is wearing the exact jersey I bought him and it was brand-new. I'm trying to support this guy, and he stabbed me in the back. How can I cooperate if he doesn't?
Here is the answer from the experts:
ANSWER: What we're about to tell you we ask you to listen to with an open mind, because it hasn't been explained quite this way in most of the information you read about bio/bonus co-parenting – and it's a little subliminal, so go with us on this one. One of the keys to successful co-parenting is for the bio and bonus parents to establish their niche with the child and not cross over it. The father's niche is basketball with his child. That's what they do together.
Without knowing it, you crossed over into Dad's niche with his son. As it was, Dad was polite to you, which was commendable, but he also one-upped you because his perception was that you one-upped him by buying the jersey in the first place – you entered his territory.
Here's the really crazy aspect: If Mom would have called Dad, told him about the jersey and explained that she was going to give it to support Dad and son's mutual love of the Lakers, the response may have been different. You, on the other hand, are a different story.
Even if you all get along, you're direct competition when it comes to his son. This unspoken competition gets less as the kids get older, but when they're at the age of your bonus son, you're right in the thick of it. Of course we all do our best to put our insecurities aside in the best interests of the children, but it certainly isn't easy – especially if you're sharing custody with an ex who has remarried and your child actually likes this new guy.
So, our advice to you is to figure out what you like to do with your bonus son, and make that your niche. For now, don't pick basketball. If you like basketball, too, of course, you can't help that, but keep your eyes open and follow Dad's lead. Plus, look for something else that you can share with your bonus son that's completely different and can't be perceived as a way to step on Dad's attempt to stay close to his son.
ME: They're right, you do have to keep an open mind about this. Both these men are trying to do the right thing. But they are competing for the love and affection of this child. The birth father loves his son and wants to be close to him. The stepfather loves the child's mother, and hopes to be close to the child for her sake. Look at how much we are asking of both these men: the stepdad is supposed to treat this boy as if he were his own, except when he isn't. The father is expected to continue to be the father to his child, and simply take it in stride that another man is occupying his place in his son's life.
And they say that advocates of life-long married love are unrealistic.