Q: I have been divorced 20 years. My grandson is 8, and my granddaughter is 4. I have been in a relationship for a year, and my grandchildren are used to seeing us together. I think my granddaughter is jealous of my boyfriend even though he has been good to her. She has hit him and said mean things to him. I sometimes have the kids stay overnight, and they usually sleep with me. How do I handle him sleeping with me when they are here?
A: We'll tell you the same thing we tell parents who have new love interests and want to know how to handle sleeping together in front of the kids: Don't do it unless you are confident the relationship has a future. Just because the kids are used to seeing you together, doesn't mean he will be a permanent fixture. And since you imply he has a place of his own, we suggest he sleep there when the grandkids are around. If you marry or move in together, then there is a sense of permanency, and that's when we would suggest you announce your intent to be together to your family.
Grandparents' actions have a huge impact on their grandchildren, and you probably are correct that there are jealousy issues. Sleeping with an adult can be comforting for both child and adult. However, when an adult allows a child to sleep in his or her bed regularly, then kicks them out when a new partner spends the night, he or she is putting the child in direct competition with the new partner.
What to do? The same things we suggest to parents when integrating new partners. Lots of fun day trips, extended family time together. And when it's bedtime, even when he's not visiting, make sure the grandkids have a bed of their own. When your relationship has progressed to it being time for him to stay, they won't feel kicked out of Grandma's life to make room for him.
Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com).