I’ve said it before; perhaps the most extraordinaire blessing of my divorce was its timing; though in the early days it didn’t feel so miraculous. The explosion of a nuclear family usually occurs farther down the marriage trail, when kids want nothing more than a ride to the mall and their parents to disappear on command. The vacuum left gives time for mom and dad to discover that their marriage, which had been briefly exchanged for little league, bedtime, and PTA, is now completely and permanently extinct.
My marriage never made it out of diapers.
Normally, divorce stories are received with a mournful compassion, as if a close relative has died. My divorce story was like hearing nails across a chalkboard. Divorced – and male – there was already an inherent suspicion that I was the guilty catalyst that caused our break-up, add to that kids not yet potty trained and I was certifiably criminal. It made my early dating life explanatory in nature – I spent a lot of time clarifying that I, in fact, wasn’t a narcissistic dirt bag.
Regardless of how clear my conscience may have been, it was hard to disagree with their convictions. How is it possible that a married couple could split so quickly after the birth of a child? Our son was barely sleeping through the night; what parent in their right mind chooses to go at that alone? All of it was enough to leave me occasionally depressed, frequently resentful, and forever seeing myself as an abject failure.
It would take several long years, including therapy and introspection, before my feelings of awkwardness and inadequacy turned to genuine appreciation. That point finally occurred with the realization that the youthful innocence of my children, that tangible reminder of my failure as a man and father, like a weight of shame hanging around my neck, was actually the best thing that could have happened.
It made for the perfect amnesia.
As I remember, I’ve introduced my kids to eight women over the course of my post divorce life– they only remember two of them and that includes the Queen. The remainder are as if they never happened. That fact is the blessing for which I’m so very thankful. My mother often said, ‘ignorance is bliss’; she got that right. It’s perfectly blissful that I’m have been able to hide those six mistakes behind my children’s naivety and naptimes.
This appreciation is further strengthened when I consider that most parents in my situation aren’t so fortunate. The vast majority of divorces occur after the kids are old enough to remember dad’s girlfriend – then complain about what a b***ch she was on Facebook.
The fact is, children suffer most when they witness mom riding a conveyor belt of relationships, one after another. When dad goes from one woman to the next dragging the kids along for the ride, those children will grow to distrust commitment, question marriage, and develop a deep disrespect for either parent. Being divorced or single, we have the perfect opportunity to model for our children what healthy dating relationships should look like, and the starting point is how and when we introduce the kids.
It’s been my general observation that single parents are far too cheeky when it comes to dating and kids. I’ll consider myself a former Grand Master. I’m not sure if it’s because we just want to get that clumsy part over with or to hurry up and see if the person will stick around after we do – so we don’t waste much of our time. Whatever the reason, most of us try to climb that mountain too quickly. I do however believe there is a proper way to introduce our kids into a new relationship (you can read about both here and here).
That being said, single parents must also understand that our children are an extension of who we are, they are part of the package, an added bonus. They are not something to be placed on a shelf and remain hidden indefinitely. That isn’t fair to them nor is it respectful to the person we’re with. By keeping those parts of our life separate for too long we are essentially saying to our new partner, ‘you aren’t worthy to be a part of my child’s life, you still haven’t earned the right’.
Not long ago, I received an email from a woman seeking advice. She has dated a man on and off for over two years, now they live together – and she still hasn’t met his kids. In case your wondering, his weekends with the them are spent at the grandparents. His logic for this, according to her, is the belief that if he doesn’t introduce the kids to her (she has none) his ex will have reason not to introduce the kids to a man she may date; he doesn’t feel he could cope with another man playing ‘daddy’.
There’s a cold hard truth to this story that must conceded – this man has placed his individual peace and comfort over the relationship. He has basically told this woman, ‘I love you, but only to the point it doesn’t piss off my ex-wife’. Their relationship is one of smoke and mirrors. She may live with him but she is only seeing a reflection; she is prevented from truly knowing him, all of him, the vital part that makes up so much of who he is – a father. Because any parent will admit, who they are with their kids isn’t who they are all the time.
This isn’t a problem for her to solve – this is his burden. He has deep-seated pain, guilt, and resentment from his divorce that is making it impossible to become transparent in this relationship. In other words, he isn’t ready to be with someone new. And until he is willing to confess this and then seek help to exorcise those demons, he will be incapable of moving into a loving, honorable, and authentic relationship with a deserving woman – that includes his children.
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