Q: I have boys ages 7 and 4 with a man who takes no interest in them and hasn't seen or communicated with them in about two years. Up until about six months ago, I never dated. I'm now in a relationship with an incredible man who also has a 4-year-old daughter. I can see my boys getting attached quicker than I anticipated. I absolutely don't want to be selfish, or jeopardize my boys having more "daddy issues" because of someone else not being there in the future, but I also don't want to pass up something that truly seems so wonderfully positive in all our lives. A part of me questions why I would even consider doing something that puts the boys at risk in any way. The only alternative I can see would be to never date anyone until they're grown.
I realize some dialogue needs to take place about the future as it involves the kids, but I'm unsure what questions to ask.
A: There are no guarantees, but I am not of the mind that divorced parents should not date. We are human. We need companionship, but more important our children need positive role models for good relationships. If all they have ever seen is arguing, disrespect, perhaps domestic violence, they are doomed to re-create it in their own lives. (Studies have shown that when children have witnessed domestic violence growing up, they often re-create it in their own relationships — not because they think it is right, but because it is familiar to them.) Be mindful of the fact that if you are telling your children, "This is my boyfriend" or "my girlfriend," both of you not only treat each other the way you want to be treated, but also how you would want someone to treat your children as adults in a relationship. They are watching you.
We often hear the stories of the wicked stepparent and how children and their stepparents don't bond, but more often I have seen the opposite to be true. And, as parents move in and out of relationships, it's extremely difficult for a child to get close to someone, and then there is a breakup and the child never sees the former partner again. To complicate that scenario, dating parents introduce their children to each other, the children get close, and then in a breakup they lose sibling figures as well. That's why I suggest parents do not bring their dates around their children until they have some sense of permanency about their new relationship.
To figure all that out, the Bonus Families website — www.bonusfamilies.com — features an article called "The Before Exercise." Key word: Before. The exercise simply asks you to sit down with your partner and talk about what you expect from each other and what kind of relationship you want to have with each other's children. A good relationship doesn't just happen. You guide it to where you want it to go. The exercise helps you constructively mold the relationship you want. Then it's up to you both to live it.
Oftentimes single parents don't want to openly discuss where a new relationship is going for fear they might seem too pushy and scare the new partner away. If you have children and having this sort of conversation with someone you are seeing seems too heavy, it's too early to introduce the kids. The Before Exercise is for people who are serious about each other and making a positive impression on their kids. Once you have children, dating is not frivolous.