The Dangers Of Dating And Child Attachment
Fall In Love, Say Goodbye
I’ve been in two relationships with men who also brought their children along. In the first, five years before I had my own kids, it was with a man who’s ex wife was a serious alcoholic. She was popping open the booze as she walked in from work. She had set up a “safe room” for her and the kids. She would drink until she passed out and the kids would play until they dropped into sleep on the floor.
When their dad and I would get them on Friday afternoon, I spent the weekend getting them back into a normal sleep pattern, providing stability, quiet, calm and structure. I cleaned and trimmed their little fingernails and toenails, watching the bags under their little eyes fade away as they got a couple of proper night’s rests. I taught them how to garden and let them assist me while I cooked, read to them and held them tightly in my arms next to my heart. They clung to me with a fierceness.
In time I learned that I could not sustain a lifelong partnership with their father. What I also came to realize is that when dad goes, the kids go with him. And when I go, the kids must say goodbye to a devoted, second mom. I could never replace their mother, and I never tried to. Even still, the hole this breakup left in not only my own but the kids’ hearts was substantial and for a long while, for me, devastating.
The second time I had to say goodbye to the children of an ex was 15 years later, after I had my own sons and then lost them for three years to a custody battle. Again, I fell right into mothering my ex’s kids, bonding very quickly and deeply. I then stood by helpless, in anguish, as I watched their father do a complete Jekyll and Hyde switch on me due to addiction.
During our rocky but passionate relationship, I was, as always, battling as hard as I could to get back to my own sons. For the first time in three years I was just beginning to get to see them again, for only an hour each week that I drove eight hours round trip for.
Love The Kids First, No Matter If They Are Yours Or Theirs
On Fridays, after spending my golden hour with my sons, I would drive the grueling trip home and in would pop my ex and his kids. Any time we could get them, we would, without question. As our relationship rapidly unraveled, I worked hard at putting my desperate efforts to save it on hold for two days so we could focus solely on the children.
I took his 7-year-old son for endless walks with our dogs and took his 13-year-old daughter and her girlfriend on shopping trips and similar outings. I cooked for them. Read to them. And once again enveloped them in my arms and held them close to my heart.
When the relationship finally drew to its brutal conclusion, I realized once again my loss would be substantial, devastating. He was losing me but I was losing him and his children. I also knew it would be a loss for them too. All of my efforts once again to prioritize and protect these little ones was in vain.
Navigating through an adult relationship when there are children involved is nothing short of daunting. It’s been almost a year now and I still think about them every day. I still miss all of them: the man that I loved and the children who also resided deep in my heart. It still cuts wide and long.
I’ve learned a lot from these experiences. I’ve learned that it’s an absolute must to think ten steps ahead if children are involved. First and foremost for them and their well being, and secondly for your own.
I recently crossed paths with a man who has a son the same age as my sons, and his ex, the boy’s mother, recently passed. Now the stakes get even higher. Not only is the man longing to fill the void in his son’s life that losing his mother created, he additionally wants to fall in love and lift his own heavy heart. That’s certainly understandable.
His son is highly vulnerable as well, even more so. He is desperately wanting his mom back and is searching for her. I don’t even have to meet him to know that.
Holes In The Heart
From my side, I can feel a strong tug on my own heart to scoop this innocent child up and heal him as much as I can from the pain of losing his mother. I want to be there for him to cuddle and soothe him, read to him, put my hand on his forehead when he’s ill, love him like the mother he so desperately needs.
I also realize that there is a huge, gaping hole in my own life where my own sons should be as well as my two ex’s children, whom I also deeply loved. I carry such a heavy weight in my heart made up of the limitless love I hold for these children, but can no longer give to them. Gut wrenching.
A relationship between a man and a woman cannot be based on that, though. It must come about naturally and exclusively between just the two adults. Then if it works, it will also succeed in providing the children what they need.
But what if it doesn’t work? Then there are multiple people going through another heart wrenching breakup, some of which are innocent bystanders: the kids.
So how do we navigate such emotional landmines? I believe the key is to remember that the adults must first determine and build their own relationship before ever involving the children. Any single parent who is dating must first discover exactly who their love interest is and verify they are a person trustworthy of their children’s precious, fragile hearts.
Learning this takes time. It can take months, if not years. Patience in romance is not exactly a common, human virtue, but as a parent we must act responsibly. We must remember that above all else, our child is the number one priority every step of the way. That doesn’t mean fathers and mothers shouldn’t date or seek out their own, personal happiness. They absolutely should because kids want their moms and dads happy.
What it does mean is remembering who the truly important people are here: our children. We must honor and protect their hearts by being very careful with our own. For whatever makes us happy, makes them happy, and whatever makes us sad, will break their little hearts as well.
© 2017 Elisa Fortise Christensen