Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Single Parent Dating

More on dating....

A commenter on my Single Parenting post told a sad story about allowing her daughter to get involved with the man she was dating.  After two years, the relationship ended, and she was left with not only her own pain, but the pain of her four-year-old to deal with.  Ouch.  And ouch again.

I still believe that allowing my children to get to know anyone I date is the best approach, but I think this may not be the case for everyone.  So what makes my situation unique?

For one thing, my kids are older.  My "baby" is 10, and my eldest is 17.  They all understand that not every relationship between a man and a woman will lead to marriage, and that it takes time to get to know someone well enough to even dream of going there.  If they did lose their heart to someone who then exited our lives, they would have the sadness and grief of loss to deal with, but it wouldn't be compounded by the confusion a four-year-old would have felt.

I have also given them veto power over my relationships, which gives them a sense of safety and allows them to step back and check out a man carefully.  When I introduce my kids to a male friend who may or may not become more than a friend, I introduce him as a friend..  Then I listen carefully to their comments about him, and I watch carefully to see how they interact with him.  Their responses have been interesting.  With one friend, they said, "Mom, he really seems to like you, but he doesn't know what to do with us."  With another, they said, "Wow, he is really nice.  We'd like to hang out with him and his family sometimes, but we don't think you should date him."  With a third, their comment was, "No way, Mom!  He smothers you and doesn't seem to realize that you have to be our mom, too, not just his girlfriend!"   

(Okay, just for fun, let me share what they have said about the man I am interested in.  "He's such a good dad to his kids.  I bet he'd be a great stepdad to have!"  "You should date him!  He is so nice to us and you have so much fun with him."  "I like how you two make each other laugh and smile."  "I think he really likes you, but he wants to make sure that this could work with all of us before he does anything about it."  Pretty positive reviews, huh?  :-) )

One other difference between our family and some other single parent families is that because of homeschooling, we spend a lot more time together than most families.  We also talk more than most families.  So our lines of communication might be slightly more open than some other families.

My children all remember (at least slightly) when their dad lived at home.  They have also experienced at least two of his girlfriends.  The first one was automatically despised because she was the reason their dad left.  In fact, my then-eight-year-old was the one who told me her name, as she had seen her dad chatting with and telling this woman he loved her online before I ever found out about the affair.  So in their minds, this woman was the enemy who had stolen their dad. 

The second one was someone he mentioned to them as a friend.  He assured them that there were no plans for her to move in with him, and they didn't meet her immediately because she lived out of the area.  A month later, when they arrived for visitation, she had moved in.  Needless to say, that didn't go over well.  Less than seven months later, the girlfriend had instituted house rules and when my children didn't immediately comply with those rules, their father announced that he could no longer see them.  Several months after he stopped seeing them, he and the girlfriend moved out of the country to be near her family, which only added to the resentment. 

Their father has since married this woman.  Right or wrong, the children blame her for the fact that he rarely calls or emails them and has spent less than three hours with them over the past 13 months.

Because of this, I have vowed never to do that to my children.  Of course, the fact that I don't believe in living together outside of marriage will prevent that, too, but even so, I want my kids to have time to get to know the man in question, to be able to express their opinion of him, and to be comfortable with him before we get too serious.

So for us, the advice not to involve the kids doesn't work.  But for others it might.  It's just one of the many things a single parent has to work out for his or her own family.

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