Through the 4 1/2 years since Gabriel’s father and I split up, Gabriel has met plenty of my friends and acquaintances. A few of those friends were people that I was, at the time, dating. Well, very few, as I don’t really date much. Hello? I’m awkward.
The attitude I’ve decided to take to dating is not to sweat a casual introduction early on, should it come up. Gabriel meets all sorts of people in the course of his daily life, and as I don’t attach significance to the moment he meets the mailman, our regular grocery clerk, or the upstairs neighbors, I figure why not just get it over with early in the game, when it’s not a big deal? I know that there’s a consensus among experts that introductions should wait, but I disagree. I think that introductions are less traumatic if they’re made early and casually, in the same manner that you might introduce someone to a friend from out of town or an acquaintance.
That said, I have always been extremely careful to treat dates just as friends when Gabriel is around. No hand holding, no cozying up. Gabriel has never seen the casual phase of a relationship, and I don’t think he, or any child, needs to. I think that children should be shielded from the romantic lives of their parents unless it’s a committed and serious relationship. One aspect of this attitude is my own protective instinct. I think that all parents strive to protect their children. Another aspect is my reaction the revolving door that my son sees on his dad’s bedroom. It’s confusing and emotionally challenging for Gabriel to be thrown in with a constantly changing cast of new people at his other home, to have his attachment to them encouraged, and then to have them disappear without explanation. Right or wrong, it’s made me react in the opposite way, shielding him from my relationships. I am protective of my son.
This year, for the first time, I decided that there was someone who was important enough that he could be my boyfriend, not just some guy I was dating. I can envision this person as a part of my family, and I wanted Gabriel to meet him and know him as such. I wanted him to be able stay the night at my house, I wanted to hold his hand while we walked to dinner, I wanted him to be a part of all aspects of my life, not just the tiny section of it I live when Gabriel isn’t around.
It’s been interesting. Gabriel has, either despite or because of the relationships he sees at his dad’s house, formed a very attached and protective relationship with me. He’s not used to another adult spending time at his mom’s house, and it’s made him clingy. For my part, I do my best to make sure that Gabriel doesn’t feel excluded, that he still feels listened to, that I’m available to him as always.
I talk to him. I want to know if he has questions, and I want to answer them. I want my son to know what normal, healthy relationships are like. I want him to have good examples. I want to set those examples.
Dating with kids is a package deal. It’s not just me, it’s me and my son and my son’s relationship with his own father. It’s scary to find someone to trust, who wants to be with you in the middle of your big ol’ mess. A serious relationship with a single parent involves a relationship with his or her kids as well, and no one who’s been there can tell you it’s easy. If they do, they’re just lying to make you feel better.
I can’t speak for the other side of the equation, for dating someone who has a child. I imagine that it’s hard, and that it’s scary. I imagine that there are a lot of questions, that decisions that would otherwise be easy are weightier and harder to make when considering the additional feelings of involved little ones.
I imagine all those things because it looks like that from this side of the line as well. I’m not just making decisions for myself, I’m making decisions for Gabriel, and I don’t want to be wrong.
I’m forging ahead and doing my best to build my life and my family. I try to make the right choices, and if it’s turns out I’m wrong, I’ll still be here to support Gabriel, to talk him through this crazy life of ours.
If you’re a single parent, what are your dating policies? What have your experiences been?
Have you ever dated someone with kids? What were the challenges? What did you learn?
Jenny Grace has been back in school for a year, raising her son for five, and growing up for twenty nine. She’s not quite done yet. Raised amongst goats and chickens on a ranch in the California countryside, she was sent off to high school at a Hindu yoga center, and spent her youth working at her family’s nightclub and bar. No really, Jenny grew up completely normal. Well, normal for a kid raised by hippies that is. Shrugging off her patchouli steeped roots, Jenny went on to get a Bachelor’s of Arts in Linguistics and a Master’s in Library and Information Science. Now she’s working on her Master’s in Accountancy. Don’t let degrees fool you though; she wastes most of her time with wine and crosswords. Jenny is a cunning linguist, honest beyond reason, and incapable of keeping her mouth shut. You can read more from Jenny Grace on her blog, Miss Disgrace.