I’ve seen over and over again women (it’s almost always women) say they aren’t going to date because they’re going to focus on their children and/or their children aren’t ready for them to date. Someone actually threw out this idea that once you divorce your focus should be on your children and you shouldn’t think about dating until they turn 18.
It’s a nice idea. I have no problem with someone choosing that for themselves. To be honest, before I got divorced I thought that same way. Okay, maybe not the exact same way but I did feel that there was no need to rush into another relationship right away; I also thought it was important to make sure you gave your kids the time and attention they needed instead of getting your own needs met. But as with most things there is the theory on how things should work, and then there is the real life application.
I think there is a huge gulf between jumping back into dating an hour after your spouse has left, and not dating for the next 1-18 years because you have minor children. I’m not suggesting moving the first person you meet into your home a month or two after your divorce is final. I’m also not suggesting that a person absolutely must date again after a divorce. If you have no interest in dating for whatever reason then I fully support your right to not date; this post is not about declaring that everyone should be putting themselves out there or that not dating is a horrible tragedy. It’s the opposite. I believe this notion that we do our children a disservice by dating before they graduate high school is kind of ridiculous.
As the mother of an 18 year old and a 20 year old I can tell you my kids don’t really have a lot of time for me anymore. My daughter has been exceptionally busy since beginning competitive gymnastics back when she was still in elementary school. Practice 3-5 days a week. As an optional she went to school and went directly to the gym where she practiced from 3-7. She came home, ate, did homework and went to bed. That was 6th-8th grade. As she entered high school she was busy with friends, extracurriculars and sometimes even a boyfriend. She added a job to that list of things that took her away from me when she turned 16. This summer I spent five days with her. Five. Out of the entire summer. Every weekend she was either running down to Muncie to spend the weekend with her friends and her boyfriend, or her boyfriend made the trip up here. The only reason I spent five days with her and not two is because one weekend I took her, her boyfriend, and Picasso to Ohio to spend the weekend with the mobster for his birthday. That was the weekend we rented a cabin, went fishing, and went out on a pontoon boat. Aside from that- nothing! She also spent the majority of her time in the house in her room where she kept the air conditioning on a chilly 64 degrees. It’s not that I didn’t see her. We just didn’t do anything together. She worked mostly 12 hour days when she was scheduled to work. I work Monday-Friday, 8-5. Weekends she was always busy with her boyfriend.
My son still spends most of his time at home in his room. His meds seem to be working and he’s much chattier lately but he would still prefer to spend his time playing video games, drawing, watching YouTube and hanging out with his friends.
My experience isn’t uncommon. The mobster has four children. Four! His oldest son lives in New Hampshire. He rarely sees him. A and his wife, Little Miss Sunshine, are busy with careers, each other, raising his son, and hanging out with their friends. Taking off for a long weekend to drive 13 hours and see his dad isn’t a regular thing. His next oldest is married as well; even though he lives in the same town as his dad the mobster rarely sees him. He’s busy with his wife’s family and they both work full time. His third son just moved to West Virginia, about 2 hours away. Even before the move the mobster said he didn’t see much of him; he spent all of his time with his live-in girlfriend. This is kind of funny in a sad sort of way because they lived in the apartment that is above the mobster’s garage. Finally, his youngest, his only daughter, is now 19. She works full time and she spends a lot of time with her friends. There are many times he’s all by himself in that big ol’ house because T is house sitting for her brother, or is off with friends. She’s also got a new boyfriend so she’s beginning to spend time with him as well.
The point of these examples is that our kids develop lives independent of us. If we decide we owe it to them to remain single until they turn 18 there is a great chance that we’ll be sitting at home all by ourselves, waiting for our kids to throw us a freakin’ bone in the form of their undivided attention for an hour or two. Please, child, may I buy your dinner in order to enjoy your company?
Rock Star actually tried to pull that bullshit with me towards the end of the summer. When I told her I felt like I never really got to spend any time with her this summer she actually had the audacity to blame it on me being gone to spend time with the mobster. Oh hell no! I quickly pointed out that the time in particular that she was referring to was when I went to court. I didn’t exactly have a choice in that matter. I also invited her to come along (not to court but to Virginia) and she conveniently mixed up the dates. To put it into perspective she saw her boyfriend every weekend this summer. I honestly don’t think she went a single weekend without seeing him. I, on the other hand, saw the mobster three times this summer. Three whole times in the three months she was home. One of those times was the weekend I took Rock Star and her boyfriend with me. Another time I had to go to court.
Maybe she’s not representative of all kids but there are enough of them out there that would prefer their parents don’t have lives of their own so that they are better able to be at their beck and call.
It’s not just at age 18 that they’re off on their own, leaving you to find something to do in their absence. I’ve heard a lot of parents say that once the kid gets his or her driver’s license it’s a whole different ballgame. No longer are they dependent on mom or dad to take them from Place A to Place B. I spent a lot of time in the car with my kids, especially Rock Star since she always needed to be somewhere. Once she could drive that completely changed.
How far does this extend anyway? Is it anything that might take your attention away from them? Am I allowed to volunteer? What if my kids want me to take them over to a friend’s house at the same time I’m supposed to be packing backpacks for the local food pantry? What if I take a night each week to answer phone calls at the domestic shelter? Can I go out with my friends on a Friday night? Do I get to go to grown up concerts or movies ever? Can I go listen to a band playing at a bar? Is picking up a new hobby allowed? What if I join a community theater group and I have practice every night for three months? What if I immerse myself in knitting or playing hockey or paint pouring? Can I sign up to run a race? Can I even go running several times a week? I don’t see the difference between me dating and doing any of those things. All of those activities take time away from my kids. If I’m doing any of those things instead of spending it with my kids then I’m taking time away from my kids. Are we not supposed to do anything except sit around waiting for our kids to want to do something with us?
Look, I believe I was an involved mother. I’ve received some positive reviews from my own kids. I chauffeured them around plenty. Most summers were spent on the go- museums, amusement parks, water parks, lakes, rollerskating rinks, arcades. I took them to horseback riding lessons, we hiked in the mountains and toured caves, and on Rock Star’s late start Fridays I took her out to breakfast. We went shopping and got pedicures. I went on field trips and volunteered at their school. I took them to Moab where we toured Arches National Park and The Hole In the Wall, went white water rafting and took a HUMVEE tour up on the red rocks while Jerry Lee stayed behind in the hotel room. I took them to Yellowstone another year; we toured the park and went white water rafting (again!) and horseback riding. I took them to the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, and Florida. I even made a trip up to Twin Falls, Idaho to go camping. I made numerous cross country trips with them and always did my best to stop at attractions to break up the time and make things interesting for them. I took them to the movies and to play putt putt golf and bowling and a whole lot of other things.
Of course, that was all while I was married. Then I got divorced and worked two jobs and was exhausted all the time. Getting up at 3:30 in the morning will do that to you. Yet, even if I hadn’t gotten divorced my kids would still be growing up. They’d still rather do things with friends than with me.
I’m not saying you never see your kids once they get a driver’s license or once they hit a certain age. I am saying you’re a fool to think that once they’ve hit that magical age of 18 you’re suddenly free to go build a life for yourself independent of your children. It’s far better to have an actual life outside of your kids before they graduate high school and/or college and move away.
All of those things that are listed above- volunteering, going out with friends, hobbies- I did all of those things as my kids got older. When they were pre-kindergarten age I spent most of my time with them and didn’t do very much on my own at all. Then again, I didn’t have a supportive husband. But once they got a little older I started to spread my wings. Yes, most of the volunteering I did centered around their school and was done while they were in school. And true, most of the time I went out with friends I did so when they were in school as well. But there were the occasional times that I wasn’t around in the evening. They survived.
I wouldn’t recommend that a person who is married close themselves off that much and live a life completely dominated by child rearing. I sure as hell don’t recommend it for a person who has divorced and is forging a life with no other parent to help out.
I think the mobster and I have done a very good job of balancing our relationship and our kids. From the very beginning we agreed that the kids came first. That’s why no one moved when we had kids in high school. At our best we got to see each other every other weekend; that left plenty of time to do things with our kids. Most of the time we did not see each other every other weekend; it could be 4-6 weeks between get togethers. If either of us had a kid related event we scheduled around that. One weekend that meant meeting up on a Saturday instead of our usual Friday because my daughter had Prom on Friday night and I wanted to see her and take pictures. Another weekend he didn’t leave to meet up with me until after his daughter’s softball game. There were weekends we had planned to get together and he had forgotten it was his daughter’s birthday so the weekend together was canceled. We’ve stopped phone calls in the middle of the conversation because a child needed us, and we’ve delayed calling because we’ve been busy talking to our kids. It is possible to balance dating/being in a new relationship and raising your kids.
I want to say once more that I don’t think you absolutely must date. I know there are plenty of single women and men out there that have no desire to do so. They find the single life suits them just fine. For those people I say, “Good for you!” I wouldn’t advise that they change a thing. But I do have a problem with this idea that if you have children under the age of 18 and you choose to date, you are somehow not focusing on your kids and they are suffering for it.
If I can spend time with friends or take up a new hobby or spend time volunteering and not somehow take away from my children, then I can go on a few dates and/or begin a new relationship. And if the people who think you shouldn’t date also think you shouldn’t do anything lest it take away from your kids… well, I would advise everyone to have a life outside of their children. It’s not a bad thing for them to realize you are a person, too, and that you have things you like to do. Sometimes you might even do those things without them <gasp>! If you spend every moment of your life focusing on your kids, and only focusing on your kids, you are going to end up a very lonely person.
Your kids are going to grow up; they’re not going to live with you forever. They’re not even going to want to spend all of their time with you. Their own boyfriend or girlfriend, sports, high school activities, and weekends spent with their friends are going to take precedence. Getting their license is going to be a game changer. Enjoy them! Cherish all of those memories that you get to make with them. Gobble up every minute of time you get with them. Celebrate their achievements. By all means, put them first. At the same time, don’t be afraid to spread your own wings and develop a life of your own- with or without a new partner. It’s a lot of pressure on kids to be the center of their parent’s world.