My single mom friend Morghan and I both had a bad reaction to a recent Huffington Post article discouraging single parents from rushing into introducing a potential mate to the kids. She is a fellow single mom to two preschoolers, and a divorce lawyer and mediator.
Last night we IM’d about the article and when to introduce a boyfriend to the kids:
Me: So what was the one thing about that HuffPo article that really ticked you off?
Morghan: It bothered me that somehow mom isn’t allowed to have a sexual side because that might make her teenage kid uncomfortable. Like parents should hide the fact that they are full people, and that kids should be sheltered from that part of their lives. Which renders their personal lives as unseemly.
Me: I totally agree. It shames the whole idea of a parent as a sexual, dating person. Puts a negative spin on it for all parties, including – especially — the kids.
Morghan: We aren’t afraid to give our kids Xbox360 and blast-your-head-off war games, but they’re not allowed to see mom date.
Me: Ha! Excellent point.
Related: Podcast episode answers the question: “Should I tell my ex I have a boyfriend?”
Morghan: I’m not saying every Tom, Dick and Harry need to have dinner at the house, but seems like the kids may be better adjusted in the long run if they aren’t kept in the dark.
Me: Of course we are all concerned about hurting our kids. But I agree that that making dating a normal part of life — not some colossal deal just because our kids meet someone we’re involved with — lessens the blow if and when those relationships should end.
Morghan: Well put.
Me: But what do we say to the status quo which says, “It’s normal for you to have several relationships after your divorce, and it hurts so much for the parent when those ends. It’s not fair to subject your kids to that same pain”?
Morghan: To them I’d say: Kids need to see how we recover from the blow of relationships ending. Why isn’t that healthy? I tend to wonder if the people screaming the loudest about this aren’t shifting fire from their own overly bitter divorce that most like served to hurt their children more than some light dating ever could.
Me: We won’t throw stones at those miserable assholes. But to your point – I think there is huge value in teaching our kids that life is about loving, then loosing, then picking ourselves up and forgiving and learning to love and trust again.
Morghan: I don’t think it serves them well to shield them from that.
Me: I mean, love always ends. Always. Divorce, breakups, death, or love just dies in a regular, old unhappy marriage. Plus, by embracing dating — it embraces the fact that half of people have been divorcing for 40 YEARS! OUR CHILDREN WILL DIVORCE! They will have multiple long-term relationships! THAT IS LIFE TODAY!
Morghan: Call me a romantic but I still believe in marriage and love. Divorce is not akin to death and taxes. But I guess that is where we part ways.
Me: I’m also incredibly romantic. I totally believe in marriage and love. I also believe that we have no choice but to accept that they both end. They just do. That is why we’re having this convo :)
Morghan: And honestly, I hope my children learn from my mistakes and don’t have to suffer through a divorce. But they will most definitely suffer through break-ups, heart breaks and failure.
Me: There is another side of this. I’ll share a personal story. I was involved with this guy Larry for a year, and he definitely knew the kids and saw them regularly. But it was also clear that there were limits to how much he was willing to be involved. And one day the kids and I were in Brooklyn for some family event, and Helena asks where we are, and I tell her, and she says, “Larry lives in Brooklyn! Can we go to his house?!” They had never been to his house. And it was like a stab to the gut – it was clear that I was participating in a big party that they were not invited to.
Morghan: To a certain extent, isn’t some of that party just for you?
Me: Well, yes. That was the extent of that particular relationship. But that is not how I want to raise my kids. Or the relationship I want with them – I don’t want that distance that having two separate lives creates.
Morghan: I think it is hard to just set a marker for everyone because every relationship is different.
Me: Of course.
Morghan: But I don’t think that means we should be hiding anything. Plus, the fact that our kids are so young makes it easier. They seem so accepting of things.
Me: I totally agree (both our kids are almost 3 and 5). But what about people who say, “Determine the time to introduce depending on how your kid will react”? I say – fuck that. We are the parents and we decide. If we feel our partners should be part of the family in some way, that is what goes. We don’t cower to a kid’s tantrum!
Morghan: Yes, agreed. And as a parent you have to address however your kid reacts – because that is your job as a parent to help them work through it, not avoid it.
On one board, a mom pointed out that her ex’s girlfriend broke up with him after meeting the kids (at the six month mark) and that was even harder because the kids felt guilty.
Me: That is too bad. It’s the parent’s job to make sure they understand that it is NOT their fault (again, it’s not all about the kids!) and here is how we face that adversity.
Morghan: Agreed. I said this earlier: I’d rather know that I taught them to face adversity than to just be in constant search for happiness. Happiness changes. How you face the difficulties of life is a skill that is being ignored because it doesn’t make kids happy.
Me: I more or less agree, but those things go hand-in-hand. You have to be strong to get through all the lousy stuff that happens in life and believe that happiness exists on the other side.
Morghan: I think happiness is within – not out there.
Me: OK, Yoda.
Morghan: I was being serious.
Me: On one board I heard a mom say something like, “If I want to actually build a relationship, I need to spend time with a man, and that means that he has to come and hang out at my house. We can’t build something by seeing each other once every two weeks because we have kids.” It often comes down to schedules and practicality. Which is life.
Me: This was super-stupid in the article: However, remember that you have children now so it isn’t quite the same as it was before. Children often become embarrassed and confused when seeing their parents act like adolescents.
Morghan: That totally pissed me off. Like we shouldn’t let our kids see us experience life. Whomever wrote that needs a bitch slap.
Me: Or get laid!
Morghan: Maybe that is why this experience of dating now is so much like middle school. That is how middle schoolers react – “Oh, don’t let anyone know so and so is growing arm hair!”
Morghan: Parents falter, and kids need to see it.
Me: So true.
Morghan: So maybe if we’re open about our relationships our kids will have an easier time in middle school. LOL
Me: LOL. Also, it’s about owning this as normal adult human behavior: People need companionship, and it is hard to find good mates, and we get our hearts broken and act foolish, but also find great love that can bleed into the rest of the family.
Morghan: Yes, I definitely agree. Great love that should bleed into the family. I say, there is no limit on how many people can or should love my kids.
Me: I so agree! Another thought:
Why are we so opposed to our kids becoming attached, and that person leaving? For example, Helena’s BFF at school Eleanor is moving in the summer. Hopefully we’ll stay in touch, but let’s get real- that likely won’t happen, even though I’m very fond of her mom who is my friend.
That doesn’t mean we hang out with them any less, or discourage the girls’ closeness. Truly caring for someone is a precious thing, and should not be avoided just because it might hurt one day.
Morghan: Right, people lose people and it fucking hurts. But it happens.
Me: Shit happens, kids!
Morghan: And we have to model for our kids to learn how to cope.
Me: Yes, coping. But I also think a lot about how I want my kids to see me in loving relationships with other people – men, friends, etc.
Me: Growing up, my mom dated a bunch at various times, and I loved that. But she never had any serious relationships, and that was way worse — I didn’t have ANY model for relationships, good or bad. I saw that she never got over her divorce and saw that as a huge fail.
Me: I want my kids to see resilience, and to me resilience means loving again. Not just coping with loss. Which brings us again back to the when.
Morghan: Kids do have to be in the mix to see if the relationship is going to work. In my case, I thought I didn’t want anything serious, and so I brought my kids around my new boyfriend as a deterrent – and then watched in awe as this guy threw himself into the mix with them. Then I realized that was something worth exploring.
Me: You tried to sabotage the relationship with your kids, but they just sweetened the deal.
Morghan. Exactly! But I really don’t see why bringing a potential mate around the kids is shameful.
Me: Word to your mother! Or, Word to you, mother!
Me: LOL. One thing that I feel strongly about is people who (and this is you, sorry) say, “Oh we’ll just tell the kids we’re friends hanging out.” Kids know everything.
Morghan: They do – but I have a hard time finding where to draw the line between what is age appropriate information.
Me: I think the general rule should be THEY ALL UNDERSTAND EVERYHTHING . Lucas was tiny — not even 2 — and we were reading the Dinosaurs Divorce book and he pointed out that, “Mommy kisses Larry.” It wasn’t like we were making out in front of the kids! Just a hello peck. And even though he was 1, Lucas understood there was something different there.
Morghan: Right – so at what point are we to give them the tools to articulate dating?
Me: It depends on the kid, of course, but the same rules apply no matter what — we do what we think is right, address their concerns, keep things real.
Morghan: So my story ends with my “friend” playing with Ozzie at the dining table, while my ex has come over and is packing lunches. I’m furiously blow-drying my hair to get ready for work.
Me: That’s a good story!
Morghan: Then it hit me: I’m in the Twilight Zone. I don’t think most people experience that.
Me: And you also got sex and a homemade breakfast in the Twilight Zone, correct? Not to mention unpaid childcare. I think I just had an orgasm typing that.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.