The pitfalls of dating as divorced parents are well documented. But how to date as a one is regularly ignored. We get so caught up in attempting to find the who, looking for the right mix of partner AND parent, that we may become drunk on romantic bliss when we find him or her, forgetting that how we should date this person is no less important.
I was reminded of this in a recent article at the Huffington Post. Written by a divorced mom, she explains the advantages and disadvantages of what is undoubtedly the most dangerous of all pitfalls – having the boyfriend or girlfriend (BF/GF) sleep over while the kids are in the house. Let me go on record, again, and say there is absolutely no advantage to this whatsoever. In the end it’s a selfish mistake with the potential to leave our kids confused, scared, and angry.
Two years into to their relationship before the first slumber party, she says, ‘the kids had been begging me to have him sleep over.’ Then writes, ‘But still, I was a wreck. I actually ended up sleeping in my son’s bed with him, and let my boyfriend take my bed!’ She then criticizes herself believing that was, ‘the ultimate extreme of being overprotective’.
Not disclosing the age of her kids, I don’t believe they were so open-minded as she wants us to think. I suspect, from my own separate experiences, that sleeping in her son’s bed was more a desperate attempt to pacify than her solution to a moral dilemma.
Listing several considerations before taking such a relationship step, she cautions other divorced parents to be more thoughtful about sleepovers; then identifies three positives:
- It allows the kids to get to know your BF/GF.
- Sleepovers can be fun.
- The BF/GF can have a positive influence on the kids.
I have just one problem with her perceived advantages – they’re wrong. Furthermore, her reasons are so uninspiring I’m not convinced she even believes them herself.
Before we discuss such a weighty and dangerous topic, a dose of realism is necessary. Let’s not flatter ourselves with the notion that having a BF/GF spend the night, while the kids are there, in some way benefits them. We lie to our children and ourselves. I know intimately how such conversations go and, better still, I know what leads to them – visitation schedules get screwy, it’s been days since you last saw each other, and you’re horny and lonely.
The kids are only factored into that decision as we determine how best to break the news without freaking them out. Part of that process typically involves convincing ourselves it will be fun for the kids and allow them more time to know BF/GF – conveniently forgetting they will be asleep. Getting to know a BF/GF better shouldn’t require an overnight bag.
In all fairness, the author does give a bit more thought to the disadvantages of sleepovers, all of which I completely agree.
- The kids might resent the BF/GF for stealing the parent’s time.
- What example are we setting for our kids by having multiple men/women sleep over?
- The kids need our full and undivided attention because of the divorce.
Yet she still misses the basic reason divorced parents should not have a BF/GF sleep over, ever, when the kids are present.
The Queen and I have dated over five years. We will marry next summer. Since meeting we have slept at the others home twice when one of us had our kids. Both instances were regretful mistakes and our only consolation is they happened so early in the relationship the kids likely don’t remember. We’ve never tempted fate by bringing it back up. To this day we secretly wish it never had happened; because it reminds us of the failure to demonstrate the behaviors we hope to instill in them.
One of the greatest struggles we have as parents is modeling for our kids the positives of relationships, in the shadow of our past relationship failures. How do we show our kids what a healthy honorable relationship can look like when they’ve had front row seats to their parents’ divorce followed by years of co-parenting? Part of it is easy to answer but very difficult to live out. What’s needed, and what we failed at early on, is to expect no less from ourselves than we expect from our kids.
The Queen and I have four children between us, two boys two girls, and each has arrived at or is fast approaching the dating years. It makes for a whole new set of problems. We forget, when our kids are in diapers or elementary school, that they will formulate ideas about relationships and dating from their parents. This is especially important for single parents. They will use our dating behavior, or how we date, as the benchmark for what is acceptable and to be expected in their own lives.
I view it like this, how do I explain to our daughters why they can’t have their new sixteen-year-old boyfriend spend the night, thus protecting them from possible heartbreak or worse, when their reason for asking in the first place is because they saw it from us? Am I so arrogant to believe the self righteous argument used by countless parents of, ‘because I’m an adult I can do things you can’t’ will actually work and allow me to look myself in the mirror?
Any perceived advantage to sleepovers is merely fabricated to sooth an otherwise guilty conscience. Deep down we know if we ever hope for our children not to repeat our past relationship mistakes, we need to be better at modeling for them the behaviors that will prevent those mistakes from happening. But doing so requires a sacrifice of our momentary happiness as we encourage our children down better paths.