My parents separated when I was 11 months old. I came home from nursery school and said to my mother one day, "Mommy, mommy, Damon's parents live together! Why would they do that?" My poor mother then had to explain to me that that's the way it usually goes (and in the 1970s that was the way it "usually" went). But my parents did things very differently from one another, and it gave me great insight when I got older as to what works and what doesn't work as a single and dating parent.
My father was something of a party animal in his 30s and 40s. He was incredibly handsome, 6'2", and the ladies loved him. In fact, a different lady loved him pretty much every night — even when I was with him on alternate weekends. For short periods, sometimes lasting as long as a year or two, my father would get a girlfriend, they'd move in together, and things would settle down for a bit — but with each of his breakups, I lost someone or something special. Each one had provided a snapshot of a life that was possible and then gone in an instant. The wounds of those years run deep.
In sharp contrast to my father, my mother had "friends." Sometimes they'd come for dinner and we'd hang out, play cards, etc. It literally wasn't until I was in my 20s that I figured out what they did after I went to bed. I remember her having a couple of boyfriends — the conductor who conducted with a candy cane on Christmas, and later someone from graduate school with whom she is still very close — and there might have been a weekend away once or twice, but rarely a sleepover, and no one ever moved in. I developed little-to-no attachment to these men, so when they disappeared, I barely noticed.
Needless to say, it was with heightened awareness that I went into my singlehood as an attractive 38-year-old mother. I had perhaps a rare understanding of the effects different kinds of dating can have on a small child, and I knew from experience that the way my mother did things was the way to go.
And so, my son has been introduced to exactly two men I've dated, and I only introduced one of them as my "boyfriend."
On the other side of the coin, my ex has introduced my son to three very important women in his life, two of whom my son thought of as step-mothers, both of whom he lost. One of them produced a child with my ex, of whom my ex now has full custody. My son has been embroiled in some pretty intense relationship drama at his dad's house, including pretty dramatic court and custody proceedings, social worker interviews, and the like. My ex is now living with a third woman who has a child my son's age, and while the family unit over there looks and feels pretty solid, I can't help but be very very concerned. If that relationship falls apart, my son loses another step-mother, a step-brother, and my ex's younger son loses the closest thing to a Mommy he's got.
As a single parent, we have a much higher level of responsibility not to engage too quickly in "playing house." It can be so seductive, and for someone like me who never had that real sense of "family" — I'm always looking for ways to create it. The cold hard truth is that I can fantasize all I want, but I can never bring my child into it until the future is really, really clear.
When do you think is the right time for a single parent to introduce a new beau to his or her child? Is there ever a "right" time? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Kate Anthony is a Rockin' Single Mother who works with Single Moms to weed through all the craziness of what this new life has to offer, and find within themselves the amazing, powerful and relentless love-goddesses that they truly are. For more information about how to work with her, visit her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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