Ask Dave-Dating A Woman With Kids
I want my girlfriend and my kids to know and like each other. How do we make it easy for everyone?
My girlfriend and I been seeing each other for a few months. We are both in our early forties and feel lucky to find romance at this point in our lives. After getting out of my marriage five years ago, I went through a period of dating a lot, mostly from online personals, but now I’d like to be in a
relationship again. I was married to a man for 15 years and have two children, ages seven and nine. I have managed to separate my “mom” life from my romance, but it’s getting harder as I get closer to my girlfriend. Coming out wasn’t nearly as hard as figuring out how to balance kids and romance.
|The first thing you can do is keep your expectations in check.|
I share custody, so I do have some weekends free, which helps. And my girlfriend says she is interested in spending time with my kids, but I can tell she’s a little apprehensive. She hasn’t spent time with them, so who knows what will happen when she does? I know she likes alone time with me and I’m worried that my relationship with my kids might make her jealous. But the real issue is my nine-year-old son. He is not happy about sharing me with this new woman. He has even made some comments to me about not liking her, although they’ve barely met. I am starting to get uptight about the whole situation. What can I do to merge my kids and girlfriend better?
-Both Mom and Girlfriend
The first thing you can do is keep your expectations in check. After all, it’s just been a few months. That’s no time at all when you are merging your girlfriend with your children. Corporate mergers sometimes take months or years of effort. Why should merging your girlfriend and kids, which probably has more heated emotions attached to it, take less time? Despite the fact that you want to resolve all conflicts ASAP, life doesn't work that way.
Conflicts between kids and significant others take time to manage and overcome. There are no shortcuts. Your girlfriend is well within her rights to find the role of "mom's girlfriend" or "insta-step-parent" daunting. Your children are well within their rights to feel nervous or upset at the thought of mom involved with anyone, let alone another woman. Remember this definition of fanaticism: "When you find you're going in the wrong direction, you double your speed." Don't be a fanatic about togetherness and harmony.
In terms of baggage, being a single lesbian mom who dates can be a heavy load. Here are a few dating rules for single lesbian moms that will help you lighten that load and minimize the conflicts:
Find out if your girlfriend wants “the package.”
Before you integrate your girlfriend into your kids’ lives, and vice versa, make sure that your girlfriend really wants that. Kids are part of your package. Find out sooner rather than later if she's only interested in you, because if she doesn't like kids, this is a huge red flag that you shouldn’t get more involved with her.
Focus on your feelings, not on what your kids should do.
Instead of the obvious choice, which is to scold your son when he makes comments about your girlfriend, consider another approach. Make sure that he knows how you really feel about your girlfriend and that he’s putting you in a tough spot. How could you possibly choose between him and the person you love? Put it in terms he can understand.
Be cautious about introductions.
In your case, you’ve known your girlfriend for several months now. But in general, it’s important to know your dates
well before bringing them into your home. Be slow and methodical in your approach to mixing kids and romance. And especially when your kids are younger, it's best to introduce your dates as friends (and nothing more) until you are seriously involved. Gradually make it clear to your children that your girlfriend is becoming more meaningful to you.
|Chances are that they are generally happy for you…|
Don’t force affection.
There's a difference between appropriate behavior and real affection. Keep that in mind with all interactions between your girlfriend and your kids. You can enforce good manners and respect, but you can't enforce affection—nor should you try.
Keep "alone time" sacred.
Maintain your private time with your kids so that they don't feel your girlfriend is threatening their relationship with their mom. At the same time, take advantage of your custody agreement and plan special weekends for you and your girlfriend that allow you to really focus on your relationship.
Maintain strong boundaries.
Kids are kids, not confidantes. No matter how tempting it might be to blur the roles with your children, don't. Their first concern is your relationship with them since they depend on you for everything. Chances are that they are generally happy for you, but don’t want to know too much about your relationship. This might seem obvious, but when you do share details about your relationship, keep them strictly G-rated.
Bottom line: Following these guidelines will help you to smooth things out between your girlfriend and your kids. But remember to be patient. Integration takes time. If you need support, reach out—as a single gay parent, you are not alone. In addition to private counseling, there are places you can turn to for information and support:
Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit Dave’s website and send your dating questions and comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Families Like Mine (www.familieslikemine.com) is a web site dedicated to decreasing isolation for people who have parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and bringing a voice to the experiences of these families.
- Organizations such as The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center in New York City offer support groups and resources for single lesbian moms, such as "Single Lesbian Moms/Wannabe Moms." (www.gaycenter.org/program_folders/Families). The goal of this group is for lesbian moms to support one another, share experiences, and develop strategies to meet the challenges of parenting and/or creating families.
- Finally, there are resources for the kids as well. Children of Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, or COLAGE (www.colage.org) is a support and advocacy that focuses on gay and lesbian family issues from the child's point of view.