Disclaimer: This request came in my email inbox. Names have been changed.
I dated this guy a couple of years ago and he was probably the first guy I had really ever liked. I was in an abusive relationship and it’s always been hard for me to open up and trust people and that’s exactly what split us up. We’ve recently reconnected and I’m determined this time around to open up and make things work. So far, it’s great. I’ve never been more happy. I’m not very good at being a single mom and dating at the same time so I’ve always kept the two very separate. I live with my mom so I would spend all day with my son and kept our routine the same and then at night when I would put my son to bed I would go out with Michael (the guy I’m seeing). It was hard because I never wanted to go out for breakfast, go to any sporting events or do normal couple things because I didn’t want to leave my son behind. It’s been that way now for 6 years and my son is now 7. Yesterday was the first day that I decided to introduce them. It was a nice day out and I wanted to enjoy my day with both of them. I gave Bobby (my son) the option of coming with to hang out with my friend or staying with his grandma so he didn’t feel pressured and thought it was just another day with one of my friends. He said he wanted to come so we went out for brunch, headed to the park then out for ice cream. The boys got along great and I felt really happy.
Then we got back to my house and Bobby ran inside the house so I decided to get a kiss in before Michael left. We were right in the middle of it we heard a huge thump on the hood of Michaels car and it was Bobby! I have never seen a look on his face so upset! He went to my side, opened the door and told me to get out of the car and get in the house “NOW”! Then he took Michael’s ice cream (I think he thought it was his cause they were right next to each other and looked alike) and threw it in the garbage. He immediately started yelling at me saying I’m not aloud to date, not aloud to have any boyfriends, and especially no kissing until I’m married (but I’m not aloud to marry either – go figure). He has been storming around telling my whole family about what happened and has been bringing it up every chance he gets but won’t let me get a word in. I know how he feels. I know he’s upset and he probably thinks I’m going to neglect him. I’ve NEVER brought guys around because I didn’t want Bobby to get attached and then have the guy leave us. And now that I brought Michael around I think Bobby feels like he’s the one that is going to be abandoned. But he won’t listen to me. I couldn’t sleep at all and it’s all I’ve been thinking about all day. I don’t know what to do. Michael has assured me time and time again that he’s not going anywhere. He told me he would talk to him, take him out on a guys day, anything he can do to help and I just don’t know what the next move should be. Bobby’s dad is married now and he did not have this much of a hard time with it but then again he’s always been with me. The timing could not be worse because we have court coming up and his dad is trying to get more visitation and Bobby already hates going with his dad. I feel like I’m just making his whole world crash all at once. Your advice columns seem the most logical so I wanted to see if you had any advice about my situation. Any words of wisdom or advice you can offer is appreciated.
Sincerely, Hide and Seek Dating Mom
Dear Hide and Seek Dating Mom,
I need to say this before it’s too late. If you allow your 7 year old to run over you now just imagine what he will be like later? Pretty soon you will have an 8 year old, a ten year old, a 12 year old and an uncontrollable 16 year old teenage boy with crazy hormones and a bad attitude RUNNING OVER YOU.
I empathize because I also have a very defiant son. One day I asked my young son why he was so angry with me in our very long road trip from San Antonio to Dallas and he told me, “I just wanted to get home so badly.” Can you imagine the shock on my face and wondering why he drove me crazy instead of telling me.
I have found kids around 5 to 7 are not emotionally mature to explain what is bothering them. That is the case with your son. Your son’s behavior upon discovering your relationship was unacceptable and disrespectful to you and it is clear that he requires some patience, understanding and some heart felt communication. He also needs to earn your respect back. Allowing him to treat you disrespectfully in front of your family and to treat his father disrespectfully (regardless of how involved dad is) needs to be managed and maintained before it gets out of hand. We’ll get to that part later but I had to get that off of my chest.
Dating as a single mom is a challenge. It’s an even bigger challenge if you have your child most of the time or full time. Give your support system a tremendous hi-five since I am a big advocate for single moms having a secure support system. Also give yourself a hi-five for getting out of an abusive relationship. The remnants of abusive relationships can still haunt us in the present. Subconsciously we still react and make decisions based upon those past traumas associated with that abuse along with our own self esteem issues and fears of abandonment. In some ways these traumas and behaviors spill over into the present when you begin to date and then wonder how you are going to intermingle everyone and keep everyone sane.
The challenge with keeping your two lives (Dating and Family life) separate is prioritizing and organizing your time. To preserve your son’s emotions the “hide and seek” dating game was played but it is not an accurate picture of your family life. There is nothing wrong with taking your time and easing the transition from this is just “mom’s friend” to this is “mom’s boyfriend.” For me personally I have my daughter full time and she did not meet my current partner until 3 months in. During the time we were not intimate if the kids were around. His kids were much older so we were never intimate in front of them for about 6 months. I understand your need to take your time but now the cat is out of the bag and we need to know how to fix all of this. Your son feels betrayed by you keeping things from him. He thinks you lied to him and he is not emotionally mature to process his feelings so he lashes out at you. He may have felt betrayed that you kept this a secret from him. I can’t tell what he was feeling but we do know that he was extremely upset. So Now what do you do?
I have a few tips that may help for this situation so hope you hear me out
- It’s perfectly ok for you to date. You don’t need permission from anyone to date. You decide on the right time frame to introduce your child. It’s also ok for your son to be upset. You should let him know that it is ok. What is not ok is his behavior and that needs to be communicated. When my son acts up I explain that we can talk and have a conversation but only when he calms down. It will take time and practice but at some point I choose to have the conversation when he is calm.
- Don’t assume anything. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know how your son will react to a lot of things because he has never had to confront those things. The only way he is going to learn is if you stand by him and support him as he lives through life’s changes – yours and his. You really don’t know whether he has a fear of abandonment because at 7 he is not emotionally mature enough to discuss that with you. The best thing to do as a parent is reassure your son that his world is safe and secure and that you will always do your best to provide that for him. The fear of getting hurt just forces people to not understand how to manage disappointment. Life includes many disappointments. It doesn’t guarantee happiness.
- Keep communication open and honest. If you value your relationship with your new guy you should convey your feelings to your son. If your son objects then reinforce your feelings that your new guy is important to you and that he will be coming around more so your son needs to get used to it. If your son doesn’t like it that is ok but he will have to live with it. He can discuss his feelings with you. Ask what his fears are? What does he like or dislike about the situation? Provide reassurance but don’t give in to ultimatums.
- Be a role model through example and not by word alone. I am not sure where your son learned such antiquated ideas about relationships and kissing but it is your responsibility to explain to him how the world is. You can start by setting an example. There are many kids with divorced parents and many who have parents that date people. This is normal. Healthy relationships are a goal and there is so much more to relationships than kissing and getting married. As for your new guy taking your son out – I think you guys should do family outings first before one on one guy time. Of course they may have gone out already before I answered this email and if it went well then fantastic.
- You could talk to dad as well. Let dad know you are introducing a new guy to your son. Maybe dad can have a conversation with him since dad is already married.
Hope this helps to clear things up. Wishing you the best of luck now that things are out in the open.