Q. My boyfriend of eight years has raised perfectly awful children. They lack basic kindness and empathy toward their father — and toward others in general.
I have raised two children of my own who volunteer, assist with nonprofit organizations, and are wonderful and caring individuals.
We mainly spend time around my family; his children are in college. We don’t spend any time with his daughter. She won’t accept that he is even dating me (I ruin her perfect picture of what a family is), and his boys are very selfish and self-centered. Their behavior leads my daughters to question why I would stay with my boyfriend and tolerate his kids’ behavior.
We don’t live together, and I try to distance myself from too much interaction. But when I hear his children speak to him disrespectfully, it leads me to doubt whether we can ever be together because of the way they act.
My boyfriend and I are in our 50s and have been working toward a combined life for some time. His kids cause me to question our future. Before moving ahead in selling houses and possibly marriage, I would like to know how to reconcile these differences in my own little brain and be OK with one set of offspring acting one way and the other one acting completely differently.
I wonder how I can manage to tolerate this if I stay with my boyfriend.
A. Overall, your judgment (your children are wonderful/his are awful) reveals a lack of empathy toward a set of young people who may be hurting, lashing out, or perennially angry. Where is your empathy? Where is your kindness?
If you have been in this man’s life for eight years, and his kids are in college, then the two of you have had plenty of time to try to influence these young people.
If your boyfriend didn’t influence them because he let someone else (presumably his ex-wife) raise them, then he’s a neglectful parent. If your boyfriend did raise them, then he’s a deeply flawed parent. And in letting his children reject you, he’s demonstrating that he’s a flawed partner, too.
Many college-age people go through a self-centered, jerky phase. It is possible that these young adults are still maturing, and may actually grow and change. However, the person at the center of this maelstrom is your boyfriend — not his kids. For whatever reason (probably many different reasons), he has not been an effective and positive influence. And because you are so judgmental and their father is so passive, these young people have no motivation to change.
When you think about your future, take these last eight years and then lay another two decades or so out in front of you. You will be facing a lot of rejection, a lot of frustration, and the burden of your own harsh judgment. That’s a lot to manage.
Q. As we disconnect our landlines, cellphones are the main communication device for most of us. There used to be an unwritten rule not to call someone after 10 p.m. What is the proper etiquette on people sending text messages and making cellphone calls?
I get so annoyed with people texting at all hours of the night and early morning hours with nothing of importance, but simply “catching up” messages. Since my cellphone is my only phone now, I need to keep it on for work and any family emergencies. But I can’t stand these early morning and late-night messages.
How to handle this?
A. Let me hop onto the bandwagon here concerning group texts. Listening to multiple notifications trickle in (or blast in) is a major annoyance for me. Fortunately for both of us, you can very easily turn off the notifications for text messages, so you won’t hear them when they come in.
Get to know the capacities and features of your phone. The “do not disturb” feature (in Settings) will allow you to silence all notifications except for calls from specific people.
Q. Responding to the question from “New-ish Mom,” who didn’t want to receive unsolicited advice, the only advice I gave to my daughters when they had children was this: Take parenting advice only from people who have raised perfect children. I haven’t met anyone who is qualified for that, yet.
A. Perfect parenting doesn’t exist. But some of the best advice I’ve received is from parents who share their mistakes.
Amy Dickinson can be reached at email@example.com.