He meets her in a swirl of passion, limerence, best intentions, human hope and perhaps a wee small dram of beverage alcohol. The relationship takes off like a rocket on Fourth of July, where it explodes and crackles in brilliant colors beneath the firmament of their hearts.
A week later he meets her little girl, too. Age five. The man is not a father, and certainly not the girl’s father, but rises nonetheless instinctively to the office, befriending the girl and accepting her willing entrustment.
The girl’s father is still around, as it were. But, as happens too often, he’s the sort of father that has allowed his heartbreak over the divorce to distance his daughter, too. The girl is lucky to see her father maybe twice a month. She is ever so vulnerable, seeking warm, admiring competent attention from a healthy man the way a flower turns to the sun on a crisp winter desert morning.
The man seeks to explore love with the woman. What he didn’t expect was to fall in love with the girl, and the girl with him. He becomes grafted into her world. Each night at bedtime, the man stands in her doorway and says, “Sweet dreams, good night, I love you.”
And now, ten months later, the love affair ends. They have broken up. And the man suddenly sees that this break up has cost him not one love, but two. Not to mention what it has cost the little girl.
Your mother and I/ I guess we said goodbye tonight/ Your mother and I/ We don’t have what it takes to be right/ So I climb the stairs to tuck you in one more time
Your mother and I/ We held our breath when I met you/ So fragile and shy/ I did not plan on loving you, too/ But you trusted me so much to care for you
Sweet dreams, good night, I love you/ Another man is leaving you/ And as I close your door I know/ It is two loves that I’ve lost here tonight
Can you see why I relentlessly pound on divorced parents about the rules of post-marital dating? While no one made me king, if I was, here would be my decree:
Thou shalt not introduce thy new courtship to thy minor child(ren) unless and until the new courtship is serious, solid, stable, and (as best is possible) committed to the intention of permanence.
See, children have a hard enough time with divorce. They are already frightened, unsettled and confused. It’s wrong for them to wake up on a Saturday morning and find a strange woman in their father’s tee-shirt rummaging the kitchen cupboards for coffee: “Oh, you must be Billy! I’m Barbara!” When you’re a child, it’s wrong to come home and hear some man singing in the shower while your mother says casually, “Oh, that’s Ralph. I want you to meet him.”
It’s wrong to take a new courtship and presume upon your children’s intimacies. Who is this man/woman suddenly joining us around the Christmas tree, the family vacation, the kids’ sporting events or piano recital, or awkwardly choreographed into a ‘family’ photo!
And it’s wrong, so very wrong to allow your children to develop bonds of love and trust with this new man or woman only to find that, a few weeks or months later, the relationship has sputtered out, ended. It’s wrong in any case, but especially egregious if that little boy or girl has an already distanced, alienated or now absent relationship with the divorced birth father/mother.
If you’re in the first months of a new and promising love, and your minor children inquire about it, here’s the script …
Children: Where are you going?
You: I have a date.
Children: With who?
You: It’s “whom.” But, nobody you know.
Children: Can we meet him/her?
You: I promise that if I should ever be lucky enough to fall in love again and be in a serious, committed, healthy relationship … you’ll be the FIRST to meet him/her.
Or, if your date says …
Date: Can I meet your kids?
You: No. Maybe. Someday.
Date: I want you to meet my children.
You: Whoa! I’m not ready to meet them. Too soon. You and I are still meeting, learning, exploring.
Introducing someone new to divorced kids is NOT a part of the courtship; rather, a natural ‘next step’ after a courtship that matured into a mutual, serious commitment.
It’s a really, really, really big deal.
You reach Steven Kalas at firstname.lastname@example.org. StevenKalas is a therapist, author and Episcopal priest. He is the author of the book “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing.”)