When I first read the sentence I used as a title, I read it at least 5 times in a row. It touched deep within me and in an instant, I started thinking of all the people I know that have in fact sacrificed their children for a new partner. All the people that have not taken the time to let the dust settle, the wounds heal, nor a sense of normalcy to set in.
I recently re-read the book Collateral Damage, guiding and protecting your child through the minefield of divorce. Among many of the topics it discusses, it briefly explains how “children should not feel as they are being forced into new family situations”. It also mentions “introducing a new spouse requires a great deal of preparation, empathy and intervention.”
Children are often the last to find out when parents are dating. They are also usually never asked their feelings on the matter before a parent enters a relationship. And sadly enough, many parents do not take into account the effects a new relationship has on their children.
After a divorce or a break up, many people just want to “get on with their life”, “start over” or better yet “finally have the life they deserve.’’ Although I agree you should strive for all of this and you should in fact get on with your life, I also think the days, months, and years after a divorce should be devoted to making sure you and your children are emotionally healing from this terrible loss and trauma. The age of the child at the time of divorce does matter as the level of understanding, rationalizing and healing is not the same for a 3 month old, a 3 year old, a 13 year old or even a 23 year old. And as the child ages through all this, their feelings, thoughts and emotions might change based on the world they see around them, your behavior, and a clearer understanding of it all or at times more confusion can arise. It is not rocket science to know the parents’ relationship during this difficult time has a lot to do with how the children heal from this trauma.
As we all know, most divorces are not amicable and the children end up enduring a big majority of the burden. Their lives can be affected for life by the bad, poor, inadequate and oftentimes self serving decisions of one or both of the parents. And now one or both parents wants to introduce a new person to their life, your children’s lives and to the possible chaos you are living.
What happens when a parent is ready to go back into the dating world, yet they have not bothered to ask their children how they are feeling? What happens when your children, whether you want to admit it or not, are still dealing with the trauma, sadness, confusion and pain associated with divorce? In the best of situations it is challenging, in the worse, it is completely devastating for your children. Ignoring your children’s feelings, pretending they don’t have an opinion in the process or simply not caring enough will put a strain in the relationship with your children and possibly break it with very little possibility of ever repairing it.
It is possible that incorporating a new partner into your children’s life could be a great addition to your family and your child. I know this by personal experience. My oldest daughter Nikki, has had a step mom since she was 6 years old. Although she is now 24 and her step mom and I do not keep in touch, there was a time where I would send Mother’s Day cards to her thanking her for being a second mother to my child. Thanking her for loving her the way she did. At times and when necessary, we would even come together as a family to discuss Nikki’s wellbeing. My daughter’s relationship with her step mother was never a threat to me as my daughter always knew I was her mother and neither one of us felt intimidated or even jealous of each other. I always told my daughter, you should feel lucky, because most people only have one mom, you have two that care for you. My relationship with Nikki’s dad was amicable and my daughter always grew up thinking we were friends and she loved the other woman in her life. Although I do not remember how her father introduced her stepmom to her, I do remember all of us working together for one common goal, our daughter Nikki.
But what happens when your children do not like or approve of your new partner? What happens when you have kept it a secret from your children and then expect them to be fine with it?
I have been a mother for 24 years and I have always told my friends and those brave enough to ask, I know where my long term goals and responsibilities lie, in my children. When it was just my oldest and I, I gave her the power to veto any relationship I had with anyone she didn’t feel comfortable and she made it clear to the one guy she met, she goes first. So when my now ex husband and I started dating, she sat him down and told him “if I don’t like you, my mom will get rid of you.” She was right! But what I truly love about this statement is that I did not find out about it until a few years after it happened. It made me feel great as a mother to know my daughter knew she was first. Years later, my now ex husband used it against her by saying she was mean to him. However, she wasn’t being mean; she was exercising the authority I had given her as she was my priority in my life, not a guy.
Statistically, a relationship with a partner has less than a 50% success rate and after a divorce the chances are even lower. Why would I give up or jeopardize the relationship with my children for something that may half ass work? So I did not then and I do not now. My children always go first. I am focused on making sure my younger children heal from the trauma of not only divorce but of having an alcoholic as their father. Having an alcoholic for an ex husband has made things much more complicated so it just means my children need more time and attention. Time and attention that I am not willing to share with someone else, as the stability of my children is more important to me.
I get it! Some people want to be in a relationship, some people want a fairy tale, others are looking for the financial security of being able to split the household bills, some want companionship and yet others just don’t want to be alone nor do it all alone.
So I ask, Who are you going to choose? Your children? Or a new partner?
If you have just gone through a divorce, give yourself time to heal from the trauma, pain, and heartbreak and don’t hide those feelings by dating someone else. A new relationship will just trick you into thinking everything is ok. If you have either negative or love feelings towards your ex, you should not get into a new relationship. Although there is no magic formula that tells you when you are ready to date, most books and counselors say to wait an entire year. However, this timeframe seems to be when the perfect scenario is present and it does not take into account each individual’s personal trauma nor the children’s. It also does not take into account if abuse, addiction and more were the reason for the breakup. A year might not be enough for you to navigate through this alone let alone with kids, but rather a year can be the beginning of what your new normal is going to be. A starting point of how to start addressing the emotional needs of your children and yours.
I find it extremely important not to get involved with anyone while you are in the middle of a legal battle, or as I mentioned have negative feelings for your ex. Bringing a new person into this drama is seen to me as a selfish act that will just put more stress and unnecessary challenges in your new relationship with that person and your relationship with your kids. No one and I mean no one wants to be in a relationship where the ex is still a talking point in your life, particularly a negative talking point. Unless someone is just as miserable as you and willing to dive into what seems a no win situation. A friend of mine recently said “lost souls typically look for another lost soul without ever finding a way out” or as it is most frequently said misery loves company. Many people tend to bond over past trauma and that can create a negative and possible codependent situation in and of itself.
Also, don’t forget that although you might be ready to move on and put your past behind you with someone else, your children may not be ready to move as quickly as you. Their feelings should be heard, respected and more importantly recognized. Your attention should be to ensure your children get past this trauma, not for you to move on with someone else. Getting a boy/girlfriend is not as important as the long term healing and relationship you will have with your children if you take the time to ensure their emotional well being. Realizing the relationship with your children goes first takes self reflection, as well as, the ability to put your immediate needs to the side for the betterment of your children. For me, it is what it means to be a mom. To put my children’s well being above and foremost anyone else while simultaneously taking care of my emotional needs to ensure a long lasting, stable and loving relationship with them. It is an amazing way to let my children know through my behavior that I am there for them. That I will continue to be their rock and until they are stable, healed and past the trauma of divorce and their father’s alcoholism, my focus will not be spent dividing my time with someone else. Focusing on dating or a relationship might not give you the ability as a parent to truly help your children. Focusing on yourself, as well as, your children will allow you the opportunity to attract the right person who understands and respects they will always be second.
A few months ago, a friend of mine told me a remarkable story. Her girlfriend was dating a man who had a little girl. Although they made several attempts to try for everyone to be comfortable, the little girl was still having a hard time adjusting, was not very welcoming nor accepting of the girlfriend and wanted her time with her dad to be just hers. Contrary to what most people would do or say, my friends girlfriend decided to have a talk with her boyfriend. She sat him down and said, “your priority right now is your daughter and your relationship with her so that she can grow up to know that you love her and always put her first. I will step aside for you to be able to do just that.” Imagine if we all had the power this woman had to put her own personal and immediate needs aside for the benefit of a child, in this case another woman’s child.
As my son Gabe says “your children should always go first”.