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You’ve been on your own for a while now, since the divorce or your husband’s death. You started dating again some time ago, and you’ve finally found someone you can seriously relate to. He treats you well, you have very warm feelings toward him, and he seems to be good with the kids, too.
So what’s the fly in the ointment? The kids! They refuse to accept your new relationship, refuse to accept the man who is your new love, refuse to relate to him no matter how well he treats them.
What’s causing this problem? And what can you do about it?
What you can do about it is be patient yet persistent, show the kids that while they’re important to you, they’re not going to mess up your happiness, and try to get to the bottom of their objections, so you can counter them successfully.
The root causes are varied
Whether you’re widowed or divorced, the kids may feel that you’re being disloyal to Daddy. Even if Daddy is dead, they may feel you’re being disloyal to his memory to fall in love with, let alone perhaps want to marry, someone else.
If Daddy is still alive, all the more reason that they feel you’re being disloyal.
What’s more, they may feel that they themselves are being disloyal to Daddy (or Daddy’s memory) if they succumb to the warmth and niceness of your new love interest.
There’s yet another component, too: If Daddy is still alive and not yet remarried—perhaps even if he’s serious involved with someone himself—they may be harboring fantasies of the two of you getting back together. Naturally, were you to marry your new Mr. Right, that would become impossible. So…the obvious (to them, at least) answer is to refuse to accept this interloper.
Now, they may not have thought any of this out on a conscious level. They probably don’t actually think it through: “If we accept this man, we’re being disloyal to Daddy,” or even, “If Mom marries this man, she’ll never get back together with Daddy.” So when you talk to them, to try to show them the error of their thinking, be aware that “thinking” is not quite an accurate explanation of what’s going on in their heads. It’s more on a subconscious level. They may not have literally reasoned it out at all.
You may want to emphasize to them the fact that you aren’t ever going to get back together with Dad. You may want to explain to them that it isn’t being disloyal to Dad (or Dad’s memory, if this is the case) for you to love someone else. Dad has no claims on you now. And, if you are divorced, Dad himself is probably dating others as well.
Nor are they being disloyal to accept, grow attached to, and even love your new Mr. Right. If Dad is no longer living, explain that he would surely want them to be happy and to have a father figure in their lives, that (if you have told them he is in Heaven) he wants to know someone is doing all the “Daddy things” he used to do with them and helping you to take care of them, because they are still very important to him and he wants them to be happy.
If Dad is alive but divorced, explain that as long as they continue to love Dad, there is no reason not to love this other man as well. Daddy will always be Daddy and have a special place in their hearts, but love isn’t something that there’s only just so much of. Learning to love someone else doesn’t require loving Daddy any the less. They don’t take away love from Daddy in order to give it to your new Mr. Right.
There is yet another reason that they may resent this new man in your life. If you have been alone for a while, the kids may be used to having you to themselves, and they may resent his “butting into” your life not on Dad’s behalf but for their own interests. If your attention and time are divided, or even just if they see you being affectionate with someone other than the kids themselves, they may resent his presence for their own sakes.
There is still one more reason that they may not accept the new man. If they feel that Daddy “left them,” rather than comprehending that a divorce is between a man and a woman, they may not be willing to accept a new father figure in their lives. They may feel they’re only setting themselves up to be hurt again. What if this daddy-type “leaves them” like their father did? If they block him out, lock him out, shut him from their lives, refuse to accept his love and love him in return, then he will not be in a position to hurt them.
Armed with this understanding of the various reasons that the kids might reject your new love interest, you are in a better position to chip away at their emotional armor and clear a path for your new Mr. Right to win the kids’ love.
Sometimes life really does offer happy endings.
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You’ve met a wonderful man. After being on your own for six months or six years—whatever it’s been for you—and raising the kids single-handedly, you’ve met a guy you really click with. He’s caring. He’s considerate. He’s thoughtful. He’s helpful. He’s a good lover. You can really see yourself married to this guy. Though the wedding officiant is going to say, “For better or for worse,” you’re pretty sure that with this guy around it will mostly be “for better.”
There are more than just two of you in this equation. There are also the kids to consider.
By the time you’ve gotten this attached to the guy, he’s probably met the kids. Have you had a chance to examine the way he interacts with them? How about the way they react to him? Have you talked to him and gotten a feel for his views on kids, their behavior, appropriate discipline, appropriate rules, and all?
A skewed view -
You can put just so much stock in the way the kids react to your new love. Their actions will assuredly be colored by their emotions. Some kids will reject even the most sterling exemplars of step-dadhood, the three most common reasons being that they resent anyone trying to take their father’s place, they feel they would be disloyal to latch on to a new father figure, or (assuming you are divorced rather than widowed) they still harbor fantasies of you and their dad reuniting.
On the other hand, some kids, starved for a father figure and for a dad’s love, will latch on to even an inappropriate person, just to have some kind of dad. The man may be mean or cruel or simply clueless about how to deal with kids, but your kids may cling like leeches all the same.
So you really can’t go by their reactions.
Do listen, though, if they seem to have valid concerns. If one of your kids reports any inappropriate touching, for example, take it seriously. Pedophiles often seek out women with kids whom they hope to prey upon. Inappropriate discipline is another concern: Has he taken a belt to one of your kids, for example?
More common/less awful errors -
Not every error that your new love might commit is necessarily grounds for dismissal. But how does he react when you tell him, “I think you were too harsh with Ryan. Taking a cookie without permission is wrong, but I think you overreacted.”? Does he at least listen to your feelings, even if he isn’t persuaded to your point of view? Better yet, can you get him to see things your way? (Remember, though, that depending on what the infraction was and on what your feelings are about it, it’s possible that his viewpoint is a valid one.)
What are his feelings about discipline and rules overall? I once had a friend who ran a pretty loose ship. Her kids had a great deal of freedom and latitude—more than the average parent would give. For example, on weekends they were free to go to bed whenever they were tired, rather than hewing to a set bedtime. Mealtimes were not set in stone, and if a family member didn’t find it convenient to eat when the rest of the family ate, he or she could eat on his/her own later on. This woman fell in love with a Marine officer and married him. The Marine had very strict ideas about bedtimes, mealtimes, discipline, and rules, all of it at odds with the way my friend had been bringing up her kids. Trying to live under his rules and precepts was exceedingly difficult for both the kids and the mother, but the Marine was inflexible about his beliefs. Need I say that the marriage hit the rocks? Make sure you and your new beloved do not have ideas about child-rearing that are polar opposites of each other. You needn’t be in perfect lockstep, but you ought not to be diametric opposites either.
Is he comfortable around your kids? If he’s never had kids before and is awkward with them at first, that’s not a fatal flaw, but there are degrees of awkwardness and different ways of expressing it. Watch how he relates to them.
And on an allied subject, does he try to buy their love? Does he buy them too many presents or presents that are too expensive? Does he spend too much time with them, at the expense of something else he really should be doing, because he hasn’t learned to say No or because he is trying to buy their love not with gifts but with excessive attention?
Does he respect their love for their father, whether the man is dead or alive?
All these questions are telling, and it’s important to know how your new love relates to your kids and what kind of step-dad he’ll be if you marry him.
After all, it’s a package deal.
~ ~ ~
Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 50 conventional books and another over-50 e-books. Many of these are for parents or kids, and many help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens and The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family. All four of these are available through Amazon.com or from your bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers. Her books also include Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way, e-books available from http://www.secretcravingspublishing.com/CynthiaMacGregor.html. Cynthia is also the host of Solo Parenting on WHDT TV in the South Florida viewing area. Learn more about it at http://www.soloparentingtv.com. She is siteowner of http://www.TheSoloParent.com Cynthia’s own professional website is http://www.cynthiamacgregor.com. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.
by Cynthia MacGregor
Whether you’ve been on your own for four months or nine years, and whether you’re divorced, widowed, or never married, there’s going to come a time when you long for male companionship. You may be seeking a new love, a mate to co-parent the kids and be at your side for—hopefully—the rest of your life, or you may be seeking only a casual relationship for occasional evenings of fun, relaxation, and male companionship. But even if the latter is the case, you may find you’ve latched onto more than you bargained for and have fallen in love in spite of your resolve to keep it light and casual.
The question that arises, once you find yourself getting serious about a guy, is “When do I introduce him to the kids?”
If you introduce him to them too early in the relationship, you run the risk of their getting seriously attached to a father figure who, after all, you might decide is not the man for your long-term future.
On the other hand, though, if you introduce him to them only after you’re certain he’s The One, and then he proves to be seriously deficient in parenting skills, you may sadly realize that this man you were hoping to spend the rest of your life with just isn’t the right man to help bring up your kids.
What to do?
It’s a balancing act. You need to be fairly sure that he’s someone you’re serious about before you introduce him to the kids, yet ideally you should introduce him to them before you’re totally caught up in inescapable L-O-V-E.
Easier said than done.
Besides the obvious problems of timing—introducing him too soon or too late—there may be other complications.
If this is someone you already know (a neighbor, a friend’s brother, the pharmacist at the local drugstore) before you realize he has Love Potential, the kids may already know him too and have had a head start on getting attached to him.
If logistics have already compelled him to visit your house in the course of your dates—perhaps to pick you up and drive you when you’re going somewhere together, rather than your meeting him at the restaurant or movie theatre—the kids may, again, already know him.
Another type of complication may arise if, when you introduce him to the kids, his parenting skills are just dandy but the kids simply cannot stand him. Now, you have to realize that in certain circumstances, some kids will resist any new man they’re introduced to who they realize has the potential to be your future husband.
• If Dad is divorced from you and not yet remarried himself, the kids may be harboring fantasies of you and Dad getting back together. No matter how improbable a reconciliation is, quite apart from the question of one of the two of you remarrying, they will see the new man in your life as an obstacle to your remarrying Dad, resent this interloper, and refuse to warm up to him.
• Even if they’re not actively—or at least consciously—hoping for you and your ex to reunite, they may still feel you’re being disloyal to him to date (let alone love) someone else.
• They may feel they themselves are being disloyal to their dad if they love another father figure—and this can be true even if you are widowed rather than divorced.
• They may also see the new man as an interloper who is taking your attention away from them, the kids, and be jealous not on their father’s behalf but in their own interests.
These four complications, not that uncommon, deserve to be written about separately at greater length, and I will, in a future column, but they needed to at least be mentioned here. If the kids just don’t warm up to him, and it’s not that his parenting skills are at fault, you can hope that time, which deserves its reputation as “the great healer,” will be your ally here. If that doesn’t do it, however, consider a few sessions of family counselling. That may be all that’s needed to get the family back on track and help your new love interest gain the acceptance of your kids.
A tricky proposition
So, you see, even if you introduce him to the kids at the perfect time, you can still be in for an uphill battle; but at least tip the odds in your favor. Wait till you’re pretty sure the relationship has staying power before the kids meet him, if that’s possible. Introduce him to the kids before you get in over your head, then watch how he interacts with them. But remember that even if he does and says all the right things, the kids may still not warm up to him, and if that’s the case, don’t hold it against him…or let their intransigence sabotage your relationship.
You’re entitled to a life. You’re entitled to happiness.
~ ~ ~
Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 50 conventional books and another over-50 e-books. Many of these are for parents or kids, and many help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens and The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family. All four of these are available through Amazon.com or from your bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers. Her books also include Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way, e-books available from http://www.secretcravingspublishing.com/CynthiaMacGregor.html. Cynthia is also the host of Solo Parenting on WHDT TV in the South Florida viewing area. Learn more about it at www.soloparentingtv.com. She is siteowner of www.TheSoloParent.com. Cynthia’s website is www.cynthiamacgregor.com. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.
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