Dating…with Children PART 2: The Childless Other Person

So, you’re smitten with a parent…but half of those kids’ chromosomes are not from you. Yikes.

Wait…

Not yikes! Shame on you! We’re awesome!

OK, no shame, really. It’s totally acceptable. In my opinion, any aversion to dating a single parent is just as superficial as being primarily attracted to a certain skin color or body type. And the stigma of single parenthood is just as archaic as Jim Crow laws. Unfortunately, the philosophies still prevail today; they simply lurk under different headings  <ahem bathroom & gender ahem> [don’t get me started]  or are introduced with false acceptance such as, I’m fine with it, BUT...

Save your big but.

Abstaining from single parents is simply your preference. It’s also something you can get over – if you want to. But the cool thing about dating is that you get to date who you want. So if you’re likely to avoid dating a parent, that’s OK. This article is not for you. You can also jump onto chats like these and connect with your fellow brethren.

Ok ok ok, maybe I’m a little bitter. But still. I’ve been burned. I’ll venture to average about 90% of men I’ve dated since my divorce that either went ghost or ended things because I’m a mom have come back, regretting their judgmental rush to rule me out. Well, as I’ve said before: 1. I’m awesome (along with many other single parents) and 2. I will not be back-burnered while you look for something better. Because when you come back feeling silly and want another try, this is what I’ll say: Nope.

And I might sing this song.

And I might make this face.

comeback

On the other hand, if you are brave enough to think about entering into a relationship with a single parent or if you are already in a relationship with a single parent, here are some things to consider:

  1. It’s OK to say you’re not ready. So, yes, you are head over heels for a single parent. Praise Baby J. But you’re terrified to meet the kids. What if they don’t like you? What if you don’t like them? What if they’re naughtier than you expected? What if xn?

Remember, you have a voice. If things are moving too fast for you, just speak up. Slow does not mean no. No means no. Asking to slow down isn’t rude or rejecting; it’s valid and healthy – especially for the kids. The same way kids deserve two happy and healthy parents, they deserve the happiest and healthiest version of YOU as the significant other. If you’re really with your Best Match, they’ll understand and respect your pace.

Asking to slow down isn’t rude or rejecting; it’s valid and healthy – especially for the kids.

  1. Acknowledge what you’re in for. I’m reading this incredible book right now called Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortnberg. A section in the very beginning stood out to me and will stay with me forever:

A friend of mine was ordering breakfast during a recent trip in the South. He saw grits on the menu, and being a Dutchman who spent most of his life in Michigan, he had never been very clear on the nature of this item. So he asked the waitress, “What exactly is a grit?”

Her response was a classic. “Honey,” she said (in the South, waitresses are required by law to address all customers as “honey”), “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.”

Grits don’t exist in isolation. No grit is an island, entire unto itself. Every grit is a part of the mainland, a piece of the whole. You can’t order a single grit. They’re a package deal.

“Call it a clan, call it a tribe, call it a network, call it a family,” says Jane Howard. “Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” It is not good for man to be alone. Dallas Willard says, “The natural condition of life for human beings is reciprocal rootedness in others.” Honey, you don’t come by yourself.

 

None of us come by ourselves. Even if you’re an anti-single-parent dater, you still have to deal with your lover’s mother(s), father(s), sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, best friends, work friends, kinda-friends, dogs, cats, lizards, fish…germs. Everyone comes with an arsenal of people and connections and microorganisms that you’re going to have to navigate anyway. So kids aren’t going to be that much more added to the circus for which you’ve already bought non-refundable tickets.

Kids are a lot of work. They’re needy. They’re loud. They’re rude. They’re dirty. They’re messy. But they’re also hilarious. Compassionate. Honest. Adorable. Gentle. Affectionate. And they’ll teach you more about life than any fancy professor with a ton of letters after their name. You’ll feel drained, overwhelmed, terrified, uncertain, and you’ll probably doubt your decision at least three times a day.

But children are, unfortunately (or fortunately?), temporary; just like any season, phase, and quite frankly, all of life. So enjoy the ride. Savor the moments. Take pictures. Smell the rain. Remember how tiny their hands are in yours. Remember how soft their fingertips are as they touch your face. Remember that joyful giggle.

As I mentioned in PART 1, the kids will grow up, move out, chase their own dreams and start their own families. At the end of the day, you’ve just completed one of the grandest adventures with your Best Match and Life Partner. Isn’t it amazing what you two can accomplish together? It will be worth it.

Remember how tiny their hands are in yours. Remember how soft their fingertips are as they touch your face. Remember that joyful giggle.

  1. Remember what we’re NOT. Single parents are not charity cases. We don’t want your pity. We don’t want favors. We are strong, resilient and dedicated. We are fierce and driven. We’re survivors. We don’t need you to be our hero because we’ve already become our own heroes –for ourselves and for our children. Please don’t date us thinking we need you or that karma is going to come rain goodies on you because you’ve taken in what others have kicked out. Remember that we’re just souls hoping for passionate unconditional human love like any other single person. If you think you’re doing some noble deed by dating a single parent, please leave us alone.

Remember that we’re just souls hoping for passionate unconditional human love like any other single person.

  1. Know your role and know your value. You are engaging in a partnership with someone that could be – or is – your Best Match. Your role in their life and family is their Best Match. You are not a substitute parent (and PLEASE don’t even entertain the temptation to compete with or one-up the other parent). You are not a babysitter. You are not a disciplinarian. If you feel a lot of pressure to fill roles outside of significant other, speak up. Of course, joining in a lasting partnership involves sharing some responsibilities, but take a step back and consider how your presence lands in the kids’ world. It’s better to slow down and limit your time with the kids than to impose and confuse them. Remember that your presence might make them feel guilty; like they’re cheating on their other parent by enjoying your company. More on the kids point of view in Part 3…

Your role to the children varies, depending on their age and developmental stage when you enter the scene, but you are always meaningful. As your relationship with the kids grows, you can be a huge asset – especially to older children. For teens in particular, you might be their preferred adult confidant and listening ear; they might open up to you more than they would their biological parent, trusting that you will guide them without shaming them. You can be a very powerful positive influence for them when they need a consistent and reliable presence the most; something really meaningful, filling a unique space between friend and parent.

Joining in a lasting partnership involves sharing some responsibilities, but take a step back and consider how your presence lands in the kids’ world.

  1. Communicate – comfort level and expectations. I personally hold to the One Year Rule. When you have kids and you’re dissolving a marriage in the state of Illinois, you’re required to take an online course and pass an exam on successful co-parenting. It was actually very practical! (High Five, State of IL!) When it comes to significant others, the course recommends the One Year Rule; that you and your significant other have been consistently and officially dating for at least one year before making introductions to the kids. This is to protect the children – from confusion, from having too many inconsistent people coming in and out of their home, from getting attached and then getting heartbroken when you break up, from setting their relationship norm to a standard of “shallow” and “temporary,” and so forth.

If one year is too long – or not long enough – speak up. As I mentioned in another article on starting a relationship off right, holding back your fears or reservations only plants seeds of resentment. Communication is the foundation to any relationship, no matter how intimate or minuscule. So speak up. Discuss. If you’re not comfortable sleeping over, say so. If you don’t want to watch the kids, don’t. If you’re not ready to be alone with the children, let it be known! Your successful and loving relationship with your significant other’s kids revolves around you being comfortable enough to be your Best Self. Those adorable kids deserve to receive the best version of you when you’re together.

At the end of the day, you’ve just completed one of the grandest adventures with your Best Match and Life Partner. Isn’t it amazing what you two can accomplish together?

So talk about the big things with your partner and check in to make sure you’re still on the same page. Coordinate schedules, make sure you have date nights, make sure your interactions with the kiddies are balanced – neither imposing nor scant – and if the other parent is in the picture, you’d better figure out how to cooperate with them, too! Grits, man. Amirite?

 

Check back soon for PART 3: The Kids.

~OR

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Forgiving Fathers Day

Father’s Day isn’t easy for me.

There are many reasons starting with a father-absent childhood and the depressing jealousy watching daddies and daughters live out a fantasy I’d never have – all the way to the recurring life-theme of pushing away deep relationships to save myself the embarrassment, shame, and agony of potential abandonment.

And now that I’m divorced, we can add another reason for me to want to get the day over with. I don’t want to think about not celebrating this day with the father of my children because we just don’t have that kind of relationship. I honestly just want to go back to work. Or go off the grid. Maybe next year I’ll find a cabin in Alberta for the weekend. Alone.

However, the following story reminds me to be less sad on Father’s Day and be more accepting of the love that DOES surround me everyday – if I choose to see it. Every piece of it is true and straight from the supernatural energies the swirl around us.

Now I try to celebrate Father’s Day by remembering that magic is real and forgiveness can communicate, even beyond the grave.

So Happy Father’s Day to all the dads – the great ones and the not-so-great ones. And to the kids that struggle with this like I do, well…you’re here, in part, thanks to your dad’s super swimmers. Hating/detesting/resenting him only means you’re letting a part of yourself rot right along with your esteem of him. Might as well accept it, make peace with it, and then make the most of it.

This story, “February” is a short piece I wrote about eight years ago. Hope you enjoy it.


FEBRUARY

Thrilled to be living abroad for the semester, I planned to go to the south of France for winter break with my best friends Anne and Ryan. Mom called the weekend before our departure and said she spoke with Dad. He didn’t sound well, she had said. She asked if I wanted to come home and see him instead of going on vacation. I said no. Well, call your father, she said. I said no.

* * *

My father, James Reese, was very active in the community.  In the seventies, he and my mother had a radio show together.  I’m told he was called ‘the velvet voice of Detroit,’ for his smooth baritone vocals and charming radio personality. They also owned and operated an adult life and career counseling center called M.O.R.E: Mobilizing Our Reserve Energy.

He was my world as a small child. I was full of hope and my eyes twinkled when I heard his voice. But things changed by the time the eighties rolled around. The success vanished. They said he changed. My parents divorced when I was two years old, and I have no memory of them ever living in the same house. For as long as I could remember, he lived in Ohio.

He was my world as a small child. I was full of hope and my eyes twinkled when I heard his voice. When I missed him the most, I would listen over and over again to his recording of a black empowerment poem, I Am The Oppressed. I wrote him letters too, many of which were never sent.

Daddy, when are you coming to visit, most said. Don’t forget, it’s my birthday soon, I would write. Daddy, it’s almost Christmas. Are you coming home? When will I see you again? I have a dance recital, Daddy. Are you coming to it? Daddy, I just finished another Suzuki book. When will you hear me play the cello?

Many of the replies listed a thousand excuses, but always closed with I’m working on something now; we’ll have a lot of money soon. Pray for Daddy.

He was my world as a small child. I was full of hope and my eyes twinkled when I heard his voice. He did visit sometimes; every few years or some other irregular pattern. The years came and went, many letters exchanged, all the same. Many promises of frequent visits. Promises to send money. Promises that things would change. All of them empty.

In high school, I gave up on having the illusion of that dream daddy-daughter relationship. I gave up on the letters. I gave up on the phone calls. I lost the recordings of his voice. Hey dad, I would say on the occasional brief telephone conversation, so… can I have some money? Hey pop, wanna get me a car for my sixteenth? Hi dad. Yeah, well… uh, I gotta go. It was strained, tense. Forced at best. I gave up. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t care. Apathy was my weapon of choice against the pain. By my last year of high school, it was fifteen years of private cello lessons, practicing, orchestras, camps, recitals, international tours, sixteen years of ballet jazz and gymnastics, countless sports games, college level Calculus, all of this he had never seen. Finally my high school graduation, I didn’t ask him to come. He did manage to come up for that, the first time he ever heard me play the cello.

The summer before my junior year of college, Mom and I went to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Ohio. Dad moved close to them thanks to brother’s coaxing. It was the first time I had seen him in about two years. He looked old. He was already an old man, something like fifty when I was born. But now he looked really old. He tried to give me stuff. Just stuff. Old piano books, his keyboard, a print of a painting and other random things I didn’t really want. But I accepted them. By my junior year of college, I had plans to study abroad. I went to Rennes, France for my spring semester.

* * *

Two days later, Mom called in the morning after my first Monday morning class at l’Universite d’Haute Bretagne. She said something was wrong but she didn’t know what. She would call again. We had a break between classes that morning, and it was a beautiful day. Anne and I were getting so excited for our excursion south, we decided to ditch the next class and take a walk through the park. The bright sun, the sound of falling water in the fountains, the slight rustle of leaves blowing in the fresh spring breeze all tried to hide me from the pang of fear lurking in my heart and tears burning in the backs of my eyes. I knew Mom would call soon. And she did.

I heard the gasp and the 24-hour second of hollow silence that comes before that first big drop in a roller coaster, followed by the struggle for breath to let out a blood-curdling scream. It was the swoop without the thrill and laughter. The ground fell and my stomach dropped with it. I crumbled onto the gravel park floor. I was sure it wouldn’t catch me.

I pretended for so long that I wouldn’t care until he cared. That I wouldn’t love until he loved. But I did. I cared. I loved. And I wanted my Dad. I wrote another letter that night; another letter I would never send:

Dad, I waited for you. I waited for you to come to me and be ready to be my father. I wanted you to make it work and to walk me down the aisle. I wanted you to love me and be proud of me. I wanted you to go everywhere and say “Look at my beautiful family. Look at my beautiful daughter. I love her and I am proud of her.” But you didn’t.

Ryan met up with Anne and me for a few silent mournful kirs. They stayed with me all night. Neither forced the words that would never come out the right way. We sat there in silence, save my un-suppressible fits of sobbing that would strike at any random moment, until we fell asleep. I didn’t go to the south of France. I left the next morning for Detroit.

* * *

After the terrible week at home consisting of finding out that Dad died alone in his small apartment that had already reeked of death, that he had a few distant relatives that had to be retrieved to fill a total of ten seats in a small memorial chapel, and that he was cremated because he was found one or two days postmortem, I went back to France eager to get on with my life.

When May came around, I realized I had over packed– I went home with a small carry-on for Dad’s memorial service, and came back with my cello and a large suitcase. I began to mail boxes of my belongings from France to my anticipated self in Detroit. I had been home for at least a week or two before the boxes started to show up one at a time. They all made the journey except one. I figured it was a sign from God that I had way to many clothes for one person and I should accept the loss as encouragement to downsize my closet. I think God had a hand in it all, but the message was not about my closet.

The box showed up a few weeks later, but it did not arrive as it was sent. While the other boxes knocked on my front door looking like old men who had seen one too many hard days in their long lives, the last box was brand new, large with crisp un-bashed-in corners, and wrapped with plastic twine like a gift. On the box was a note from the postman: We apologize but your parcel was damaged en route beyond repair. We hope this contains your items, but are not responsible for any lost or damaged articles. I tore open the box like it was Christmas.

I was reunited with sweaters, shoes and shirts I thought I would never see again. We hugged and laughed about old times. All of my belongings were accounted for, but there was more: a box of Toffiffee candies, some amateur photography, some intricately patterned tattoo-like doodles, a copy of Dante’s Inferno, a few Grateful Dead records, a handwritten copy of DESIDERATA.

Desiderata. Desiderata. It was everything I was looking for at that time in my life; the time when everyone looks for direction aside from blind faith in what our parents taught us about life, love, and religion. I was searching for meaning aside from religious doctrine flooded with room for human error in interpretation. I remembered Shusaku Endo in Deep River writing, “There are varying degrees of truth in all religions. All religions spring forth from the same God. But every religion is imperfect. That is because they all have been transmitted to us by imperfect human beings.”

How much of Truth is lost in translation? I wondered why Creator left it up to us dumb humans to try to translate Life into our own simple comprehension. If it is one God speaking to all of us around the world, then why do so many religions contradict each other? I look to the Bible for inspiration, direction, and guidelines, but what about my other friends who turn to other doctrines, up to and including Dr. Seuss?  How could we engage in deep philosophical discussions if one side is faithless in the other’s foundations of thought? How would we coexist under the umbrella of pure inborn human laws that are not implied by an organized faith? I had asked God for a summary. I asked him for a philosophy of life so simple and unattached to any religion that every sane human can effortlessly agree that this is what Life is about. This time, my wish was His command. Tangibly delivered into my hands.

I took Desiderata with me everywhere, pinning it on the wall above my bed while I worked at camp that summer, then to the wall above my bed in my apartment to close out my senior year of college. In 2005, I focused my college exit paper, my Philosophy of Life, on my relationship with my father, the fact that I had never really grieved him, and how I had come to find closure with his death. I concluded the paper with my narrative of how Desiderata came to me in 2004.

I wrote: Desiderata was my little present from God. It was beautifully scripted on cloud-print paper, emphasizing its supernatural state. I was so excited. I had been thinking of how I could summarize my beliefs, my passions, and my mystic view of life. This was it …I read the poem and I said out loud smiling towards the sky, ‘Thank you’. I read Desiderata so many times it was partially committed to memory. It had become such a part of me that one familiar word in an unrelated conversation triggered a flood of phrases from the poem that I would recite over and over in my head. I made copies of it and passed it on to my classmates during my Philosophy of Life presentation. I loved Desiderata.

Having its impression on my heart, I had realized the painful truth: I never really did trade optimism for apathy. I used apathy as a cover to avoid getting hurt, just in case Dad never had a stroke of courage to develop a bond with me. I was devastated with his death; not mourning the loss of a great life full of memories, but having the potential of Daddy-daughter redemption stripped away from my soul. Ultimately, I came to peace with Dad within myself. I forgave him for not being the 100% Daddy that I wanted, and I forgave myself for not rushing home to see him one last time. I thanked God for sending Desiderata to help me retrieve my childlike optimism about life and love.

It was 2005 and I was graduating from college. After commencement, my family gathered in a hotel room to have a bit of a celebration complete with champagne and gifts. I opened a card from my godmother Aunt Marcy.

I heard the gasp and the 24-hour second of hollow silence that comes before that first big drop in the roller coaster, followed by the struggle for breath to let out a blood-curdling scream. It was the swoop with all of the thrill and laughter. The ground fell and my stomach flew up into my throat. Inside the envelope was a wallet-sized excerpt from Desiderata. I glanced blankly back and forth between the wallet card and Aunt Marcy’s face.

“I looked all over for it,” she said, “It was the last one.”

“Did I tell you the story about this?” I sputtered out.

“No…”

I began to recant from the part about having too many clothes. After I closed with the part about passing out copies to my fellow students, Mom looked at Aunt Marcy and said, “Should I tell her or should you?”

Aunt Marcy smiled and said, “You should”.

“Remember how I told you about M.O.R.E.,” Mom began. “Your father and I used to teach a class on this poem. It was his favorite poem. He used to read it to you when you were a baby.”

A few years afterwards, my mom found copies of Desiderata, branded with the M.O.R.E. logo, just like my dad had designed. I keep one framed in my bedroom.

Desiderata - Max Ehrmann

to read all of Desiderata, click here


Happy Father’s Day, dad.

~OR

Smother’s Day

My five year old woke me up this morning with a giant Bionicle in my face. 

“Look what I made!!!!”

It really was a work of engineering art. 

“Can I open my next one?”


I sighed. I smiled. “Yes”

It’s Mother’s Day and somehow the only thing that matters to the boys is still the Legos. I mean I get it. They are really really cool toys. And what kid doesn’t love toys? Plus most men have one-track minds. And for many of them it’s themselves. (Harsh? Maybe. But I said many, not all…and maybe I just keep dating jerks. But whatever. Not the point today.)

I felt a little defeated. How I can I tell them to put others first when the other to put first is me? Who will coach them to shower me with affection …and maybe some breakfast in bed? 

I couldn’t make that make sense in my head. I couldn’t utter the words that would essentially say:

Hey child, stop thinking of yourselves and start thinking of me. Just one day. Think of me. 

But then it happened. 

“Oh, Happy Smothers Day, mommy.”


That’s all I needed. I needed to be more than the diaper-changer, Lego-buyer, Bionicle-builder, food source. I needed to not be invisible. 


So, I hope all you biological, step, adoptive, surrogate, sister-aunt-grandmother-moms are indeed getting smothered today. With affection and gratitude. 

Here’s to the love, the weight, the swelling, the gas, the pain, the stretching, the crying, the worrying, the labor, the bundle, the bonding, the sleeplessness, the colds, the fevers, the tears, the laughter, the hugs, the kisses, the snuggles, the games, the crafts, the movies, the holidays, the sweets, the memories, and the love the love the love that the wild world of mothering brings.


  


It’s a tough job. You always put them first. You do it all. You are appreciated. You are beautiful.


~OR