When is the right time to introduce the children to the new mate? This is a question that I always ask myself. I’ve been divorced for 12 years. Plenty of time to heal from a six-year marriage. My children, 28 and 23, have doubts about their futures from their mother’s lack of success (in marriage). More so my younger child. He looks at me and says: “Mom, I don’t want to get married or fall in love. I don’t want to be sad.” Does this mean I am a failure? Have I shown my children that love doesn’t last, therefore ruining their chances of success?
Bring us to the all-time question. When? I met a wonderful man who was deserted by his bride and left with three amazing daughters: 16, 18 and 20. When I met him, he had custody of all three. They wanted nothing to do with their mother. So, I wrapped my arms around each of these amazing women-to-be. Learning how to talk with each of them. They all had different issues from the mother’s departure, and I wanted them to know I would never leave them. Then, out of the blue, Dad is scared, and now I’m the rebound girl. But not to his daughters. I got the “Dear John” call. Everything was a fantasy. Life as we knew it ended. The girls were devastated. Each girl emailed me and said they were so sad and asked if they could still keep in contact with me.
All three girls have come to see me long after the relationship with their father ended. They send me messages all the time. I tell them I will always love them. No matter what. I’m here for them. So, when is it safe to involve your children? — A.S., Las Vegas
I glean three questions here, starting with, “Am I a failure, having shown my children that love doesn’t last?”
No. Not even close. You might misunderstand what your youngest is saying. He didn’t say, “Well, watching you, I must conclude that love doesn’t last.” What he said was, “Wow. Love is a huge risk. It comes with the risk of being really sad.”
To which any reasoned philosopher would have said to your son, “Oh, you misapprehend the problem. Love doesn’t come with the risk of being sad. More, the guarantee. To love anything or anyone guarantees that you will suffer. The reward for the greatest marriage ever is that one mate is left weeping at a grave.”
All you’ve “shown” your children is what’s true for all of us in the longing for great love. You put your money on the table and you see what kind of cards you get. That’s the deal.
Question No. 2: “When is the right time (for a divorced parent) to introduce a new mate to children?”
The answer is right there in the word “mate.” What’s inappropriate is introducing children to a revolving door of dates and dating relationships, folks who are not yet mates. Especially minor children. I’m a crusty, curmudgeon dinosaur on this issue. It’s bad for children to have a parent integrating dating relationships into home and family life. It will undermine your credibility every time.
My view? Minor children of divorce should be meeting a new mate only when that person is going to be your new mate. That is, when you and the new partner are prepared to make a radical commitment. A run for the roses, as it were. Children are confused to join their divorced parents in exploring a courtship or series of courtships.
Go. Explore your own courtship. If and when that courtship blooms into something significant, serious and committed, then make a plan for introducing your children.
Question No. 3: “When is it safe (for a divorced parent) to introduce a new mate to children?”
Answer: Never, entirely. We’re back to Question No. 1. It’s never even entirely safe to make an actual, biological baby with your actual legal husband or wife. Because those folks sometimes surprise you and quit. Give up. Walk away. The risk is the risk. The reason it’s meaningful for your mate to stay is precisely because your mate doesn’t have to stay.
In your case, I’m glad the children are older. Glad for them and glad for you. I’m glad their father apparently is supportive (or at least not objecting) of his children’s ongoing contact with you. I’m glad you have the strength to separate the pain you must feel in the breakup from your fidelity to the bonds forged with the children.
A lesser woman might have walked away from everyone.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.