Parents who date

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  July 8, 2009 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

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.

Here’s one other thing I’d say about your boyfriend: He is absolutely wrong to think that his kids don’t care if he is involved in their lives. It may be true that his teens appear to be – 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 you’ll 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, “Huh. I guess he really does love me if he can put up with the crap I’m dishing out.”

Bottom line? He needs to hang in there, and you need to relax.


I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

1 comments so far...
  1. as a child who grew up in this situation - i say most definitely C is the right answer. i can't even begin to count how many times my dad was "engaged" or other children were introduced to me as "your new sister" or "brother." it seriously detracts from the child's emotional development. i still struggle with abandonment issues, have a strong distaste for change, and have just recently begun to kick my habits of serial dating...

    Posted by L July 8, 09 06:36 PM
 
1 comments so far...
  1. as a child who grew up in this situation - i say most definitely C is the right answer. i can't even begin to count how many times my dad was "engaged" or other children were introduced to me as "your new sister" or "brother." it seriously detracts from the child's emotional development. i still struggle with abandonment issues, have a strong distaste for change, and have just recently begun to kick my habits of serial dating...

    Posted by L July 8, 09 06:36 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

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.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.
Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives