Multiple choice: (a) Children should meet your new love interest after you've dated the person at least three times; (b) It's a good idea to bring a new love interest along on an outing with your kids; (c) A new love interest should not be introduced to your kids until you plan to spend the rest of your life with the person. Hint: Lots of parents get this wrong.
Question: I've been dating a truly wonderful man for almost 2 years. It is serious, and we are discussing a future together. He has 2 children from a first marriage which effectively ended 10 years ago (separation occurred then, legal later), they are now 13 and 16. He lives in a small apartment, and the kids live with his ex-wife in a house in a nearby suburb. He visits his children at their house on Sunday afternoon, and during the school year he picks one of them up from school and drops them off at the house.
I have met the children once in the 2 years we have been together. I do not feel that he is trying to keep our relationship a secret from them (I have met them), but I am concerned, on both my behalf and their behalf, that we do not spend time together.
My question is, is my concern valid? As I wrote, he himself does not spend much time with them, and most of it occurs in the house with his ex-wife (I am not concerned at all about this part). He and I have talked about this extensively, and he does agree with me that it is not the best situation, however, he seems to feel that the children just want to spend time with their friends, and not with him. He truly believes they do not care who is in his life. He says he tried and they did more together when they were younger, but now there is nothing for them to do at his place, and they are not interested in spending time with him. Having no experience with teenagers, I do not know if this can be true. I had a close relationship with both of my parents (they are still together), and in a similar situation I imagine feeling deeply hurt if my father had not made sure I knew the woman he was with. But this is a different situation with different people.
My concern is for myself as well, I would like to get to know them, and if he and I have a family together (which we would both like to do), I would like to have the half-siblings know each other. But I am less and less optimistic about that. I do not know what else to do, and I'm sort of hoping the advice will be that the kids are fine and will be fine. Then I can put it to rest in my mind.
Thank you for your advice.
From: Concerned dater, Boston
Dear Concerned dater:
Most therapists who work with children of divorce would choose C even though most parents choose a combination of A and B. Here's why: Children have a tendency to form relationships with the adults in their lives and since a parent may date many people before settling on The Person, there's the potential for lots of heartbreak for children from these people who will subsequently disappear from their lives.
At some point, of course, there is the exception to the rule and that is usually when a parent enters into a committed relationship. Even then, and especially given the ages of his children, it would be unrealistic of you to expect them to be welcoming or even enthusiastic about your relationship. It's possible that after time (years) pass, that could change. That often depends on how respectful they perceive you to be of them and their feelings. (Hint: the less you try to be a 'mother' to them or to discipline them, the better your chances.) Sometimes the introduction of half-sibs brings them closer but there are so many variable here that it's difficult to predict.
Hereís one other thing Iíd say about your boyfriend: He is absolutely wrong to think that his kids donít care if he is involved in their lives. It may be true that his teens appear to be Ė and actually are -- more interested in their peers than in anyone else. But part of what goes on in this stage of development, and particularly with children of divorce, is a kind of testing: How miserable can I be to you before youíll walk out of my life, too? What they want more than anything is to be proven wrong, to be able to say to themselves, in essence, ďHuh. I guess he really does love me if he can put up with the crap Iím dishing out.Ē
Bottom line? He needs to hang in there, and you need to relax.
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About the author
Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.