I divorced about 2 years ago and have been dating a woman from about a year ago. She does not like my child and hates when I spend time with him and refuses to share a time and activities together, so I lead mostly a harshly split way of life, divided between my girlfriend and my kid. It is becoming unbearable, as I want to marry and have children with my current girlfriend, but her refusal to bring my kid into OUR lives is breaking my life apart, almost literally. What is your advice? I love her and care for her, but it is increasingly difficult to manage such a situation. Can I keep both? Should I let her go? I am confused, sad and torn apart. — Misery in Mexico City
It didn’t take long after my divorce to learn that dating is different as a single parent. Being a single twenty something, whose most pressing responsibilities were bar tabs and the Vols win/loss record, the primary consideration for a potential bride was her toleration of nights out with the boys and college football on Saturday afternoons, everything else was frosting.
Getting back into the dating game, after a decade sitting the bench, was strange enough; doing it with two bundles of joy in two was downright bizarre. My kids were nine months and two and I was already ashamed to be in such a circumstance with children so young. Nor did this help my stock price on the open dating market; who in their right mind would date a single dad with a pair of toddlers?
To accommodate my strategy became simple, make an unforgettable first impression then hope she would overlook the baby bottles and car seats. As sad as this sounds I didn’t see my kids at that time as an impetus for the type of person I should date – I saw them as an impediment. They were in the way and therefore something to be worked around as best I could.
So I chose to live my life on two fronts – one of as father and the other as a single man. For a while this was rather easy, my kids couldn’t form a coherent sentence never mind ask who daddy was talking to or what he did the night before – like flipping a switch, dad one way single rock star wannabe the next. But what I failed to understand or simply chose to ignore was how this subdivided life choice would become unsustainable. I couldn’t continue living in one world while acting as the other didn’t exist, eventually the halves would merge whether I wanted it or not, without taking both into consideration doing so would be like putting a match to a fuse or mixing oil and water.
There’s a quaint Disney inspired notion that goes like this, ‘love never takes sides’. It sounds charming, quite wholesome and utterly pure, like something the Wiggles might sing or Oprah say – but it’s complete garbage. Love, real love, doesn’t subscribe to such candy land fantasies; often it will require us to do the very thing we don’t want – choose.
Sometime back I wrote an article about a personal struggle that almost mirrored this reader’s current circumstance. In that article I made this point, that it isn’t real love if we must forfeit truth to have it. We should never be asked to sacrifice our beliefs or character to stay in a relationship.
One of the most crucial questions for a newly single parent is how to balance parenthood and singlehood. In other words, which takes priority; will being a dad always trump personal happiness or vice-a-verse; and once those priorities are established are we then prepared to make the necessary and often painful choices to keep them in alignment?
An important responsibility for any single parent is controlling who we allow into our children’s lives, and this is particularly so when it comes to our romantic relationships. It makes no difference if marriage is the end result or not, we have a obligation to invite only those individuals to have influence on our children who share our same ideals and standards. And one of the foremost of those traits should be a respect and appreciation for the child and more importantly the acceptance that any relationship with one will mean a relationship with other.
The real disappointment for this reader shouldn’t be that the girlfriend doesn’t desire a relationship with his child, the more serious offense is that she is demanding he choose. Through her refusal to be part of his child’s life, she has forced him into a corner and he now must decide between her and his child. But what she fails to realize is that whatever the decision it will have the same destructive consequences. Choosing the relationship over the child will eventually build resentment in his heart against her that will eat away both of them and kill whatever they have. Choosing the child over the relationship means he must say good bye.
Over the years I have found the choice that seems most difficult usually provides the better outcome. In the case of Misery in Mexico City, this may mean an excruciating decision to close the door to one relationship – so he can open the door to a better one.
♦ I frequently receive questions from readers, if you have one about relationships, dating, men, divorce, co-parenting, use the contact form at the top of the page, I always respond and may use yours in a future post ♦