When do your responsibilities as a parent take a backseat to your own happiness?
Question: My question is a little unique. I am considering remarriage to a wonderful man, however; I have a daughter who is legally blind, and she has a beautiful 3- year-old daughter. If I remarry, I would be moving out of state. My daughter is not anywhere near being self sufficient and I am not going to just abandon her. My fiancé has said that he would wait as long as it takes for me to help my daughter become independent. Neither my fiancé nor I have plans to break up if this process does not move as fast as we had hoped. I would like to start my own life, but I have always been there for my daughter and granddaughter. I feel like I am abandoning them and trying to usher them out the front door. I figured at my age marriage was not something that would really be in my future (I'm 44, divorced). A marriage proposal should be a joyful event, why do I feel so crappy about it? ...Lynn
Answer: First let me say that I sympathize with the position you find yourself in. It is a dilemma familiar to many parents; having to choose between their own happiness and their commitment to their children. At best it is a precarious balancing act and at worst, an exercise in self-sacrifice verging on martyrdom. And in addition to the common concerns everyone has, you also have to take into consideration your daughter’s disability. Certainly your decision is one that demands a great deal of assessment and soul-searching.
Though you did not mention your daughter’s age, since she has a three-year-old of her own, I will assume that she is, at least legally, an adult. You didn’t indicate whether her legal blindness is the result of an accident or progressive illness, something she’s been dealing with for a few years or a congenital disability. You also did not indicate if she lives with you or what specific needs she depends on you to provide. That said, however, I do believe I can bring some clarity to the situation you find yourself in. To do so, I am first going to address your relationship to your daughter. While you state that your daughter “isn’t anywhere near being self-sufficient,” I am assuming that is something you would like to change, and that you would want that regardless of your own personal situation. And though I understand your daughter’s legal blindness may present certain obstacles, these can certainly be overcome with careful thought and planning.
As far as you feeling bad about abandoning your daughter – stop that right now! Just because you’ve “always been there for your daughter and granddaughter” doesn’t mean that is the way it always has to be…or that “being there” for them 24/7 is necessarily in their best interest or your own. Your availability and willingness to be your daughter’s go-to person, even as an adult probably contributes to her lack of self-reliance. Why should she develop the necessary skills to be independent when her mom cheerfully picks up all the slack? Far from “abandonment,” allowing her to do things for herself and her daughter is probably the most nurturing, productive, encouraging thing you could do. Yes, you had a duty to care for her in her formative years, but it is equally your obligation to give her the tools to care for herself and her child. You’re not abandoning her, you’re giving her the opportunity to grow up. Please don’t take this as a criticism. All parents are guilty of this to some degree. And it is only natural that breaking this pattern is difficult and painful. After years of having our kids depend on us for everything, suddenly relinquishing control to them can be terrifying. Nonetheless, that is something every parent must do if they want their offspring to become responsible, contributing members of society.
Now to perhaps the most important part: you. Despite the fact that you may have never considered marrying again, you have found a wonderful man who brings great joy into your life and offers you happiness both in the present and the future. Having parental obligations, real or perceived, do not release you from the responsibility of providing for your own happiness. If you let this opportunity for your future slip away, you will not only be hurting yourself and the man you love, but you may be jeopardizing your relationship with your daughter. You see, at least subconsciously, you may blame her for ruining your romantic chances and develop animosity toward her. And even if you don’t, always subordinating one’s own needs in favor of the needs of others is the perfect recipe for discontentment and bitterness.
So what does all this mean? It means that you need to guiltlessly set your daughter on the fast-track to adult independence and take pride and pleasure in her newfound self-reliance. And yes, a marriage proposal, when it’s from the right person, is a joyous occasion. Embrace your new relationship and start making plans to get on with your life as you simultaneously give your daughter the ability and incentive to do likewise.
© 2009 David M. Matthews. All Rights Reserved.
Besides being a relationship coach and author of the controversial book, "Every Man Sees You Naked: An Insider's Guide to How Men Think," David M. Matthews is an Emmy-winning TV Writer/Producer who's worked on some of television's best shows.
For more information on David or to get a copy of his free report on "The 3 Things Men Are REALLY Looking For In A Relationship," go to www.EveryManSeesYouNaked.com.