Widower Wednesday: Dating a Widower with Minor Children (Part 2)

Last week I shared stories from women dating widowers who had to figure out how to make a relationship when minor children (his, hers, both) were involved.  This week we’ll hear from widowers from two widowers who both had minor children living at home when they started dating again. The first is a widowed blogger. The second will go by the name “Jack.”

Again, when it comes to commenting on these posts from others, keep in mind that each family and child is different. What works for one family/child may not work for yours. The purpose here is to share ideas—not tear down what’s working for someone else. Feel free to share your own thoughts or ask questions of these widowers.

Enjoy.

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From Split-Second Single Father

Here's how I have handled dating since becoming a widower. I am the father of a seven-year-old girl, who was five the first time I dated someone after her mother died. I am currently in my second relationship. Both times, I have handled things as follows:

I made sure to tell my daughter about the first date prior to the date itself. We sat down and discussed it (over ice cream) as something that was going to happen once and if things went well, maybe a second and third and fourth time. This approach has also helped when she jumps immediately to the "Aah! You're going to marry her!" phase, which it is clearly too soon to determine at this point. (Although I am quick to tell her that it COULD be a possibility someday or I wouldn't be dating her in the first place!)

So far the relationships I've been in have lasted past the first date, so I make sure to keep the lines of communication open. I want to make sure that my daughter knows her opinions/feelings are important to me, while at the same time knowing that she will not be the ultimate decision-maker in the relationship. I believe that having this kind of communication will help if/when there comes a point when I do decide to marry again. (Ironically, I try to keep this kind of open communication with whomever I'm dating as well, which makes that relationship go a lot better also!)

I'm as firm a believer in protecting my daughter as I am enjoying those first few moments of getting to know someone new, so I don't involve my daughter in the relationship early on (but I do talk to each about the other, as appropriate). And even then, I ease her in. It's important to build the foundation for the relationship between the two of you, and that's hard to do with kids around. Plus, it protects the child/ren from getting hurt time and again if Dad has a string of disappointing relationships. The time-frame has been different for each relationship, but I'd say waiting at least a month is a good rule of thumb.

In saying that, it becomes clear that time spent with the new woman will be minimal at first. That's another thing the two of you (grown-ups, not the child/ren) need to discuss. The first woman I dated worked all the time and was also a single parent, so we only had one night a week we could go out.

The woman I am currently dating does neither of those things, but has been fully committed to taking things slowly. Which is why I make every effort to make the time we do spend together about her/us. After all, it IS a new relationship. There's no reason she should feel second-rate because I have a child. Supplementing those other days with phone calls, texts, and/or e-mails helps too. Just make sure not to spend so much time focusing on her that your child/ren feel replaced - especially at first. (For instance I usually call my girlfriend after my daughter is in bed for the night, which also makes for uninterrupted phone time!)

The rules regarding how my daughter treats the woman do not differ from how I would expect her to treat any other adult. She will show respect both to her and about her, even if she is expressing negative opinions (to me - which has happened and really can be done respectfully.)

One thing that has surprised me this time around is how quickly my daughter has started to bond with my girlfriend. It makes me glad that I waited long enough to establish that foundation in our relationship, but it's also a bit hard. I mean, she's been ALL MINE for over four years and now I have to SHARE her! (If things continue to go this well, I'm sure I can adjust). Just be aware that your widower might be experiencing that feeling for the first time as well.

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From “Jack”

My first venture out into dating just seven months after LW's death quickly became not 'just dating'.  I found myself with one woman (the first one I dated after LW passing)  in a very romantic relationship. It was because we had known one another many years before.  But also, I think, it happened as it did because I was filling that void left by LW's death.   I was not out with a plant to use a woman to fill that void and I honestly think if I had not known this woman before earlier in my life, the relationship would not have fast-forwarded as it did.

At the time I had two minor sons still with me in the home, ages 12 and 16.  I made the mistake of pushing forward with this relationship and spent probably too many weekends away from my boys as she lived several hours away.  As the relationship progressed to marriage engagement, I made plans to move to her city after the oldest son graduated from high school where I lived.  My plan, which did not take my younger son's needs into consideration, was to marry this woman and then young son and I would move to her home and the son would do high school in the new city.  A wonderful plan for me.  A selfish one though.

My youngest son did not complain.  I learned later he suffered in silence at the prospect of moving.  In the end, the relationship was not to be for several reasons, the engagement broke off and I found “Anne” a year later online.  As that first relationship ended, then my youngest opened up and it became apparent he really had not wanted to leave the local schools for a strange new environment with no friends or siblings nearby.  Gee....why didn't I think of that????  I realized how selfish I had been.  I was just going to pluck him out of the school system he had enjoyed since 2nd grade and not allow him to finish high school with his buddies. I had rationalized big time that the school system in the new city was one of the most well respected in the region and he would prosper there. But actually, there is nothing at all wrong with our local school.  The realization of what I almost had done to my boy, (my baby) poured shame all over me.

Anne, on the other hand, has made no immediate demands. She wants us to take our time to be sure that all our children, hers and mine, are accommodated as our relationship matures, especially the most vulnerable, my youngest son.  So youngest son has fully accepted Anne being in his dad's life because she is not a threat.  She cares about his well-being and he respects her for it.

I understand that some W's perhaps tip the scale in the other direction too much, meaning they acquiesce too often to bratty children and rude LW family members at the expense of feelings of the GOW or WOW.  But on the other hand, there is my case.  Through this experience I learned that a W (me) can become self-centered as he pushes onward to fill that void left by LW's death.  A very special GOW (as in the case of my Anne) can step in and be a wonderful partner and wise aid to a W like me who needs to be 'reined in' occasionally to be sure 'the kids are all right'.

Dating a Widower with Minor Children (Part 1)

Last week I asked readers to contribute their experiences about how they handled the dating a widower when minor children (from him and/or her) were involved in the relationship. I received a bunch of good thoughts ideas that I hope can help those who find themselves in similar situations. This week I’m posting four responses from women dating widowers. Next week I’ll post experiences sent in by widowers. (If there are other widowers out there who still want to contribute, please email me.)

For those who comment on these posts, keep in mind that each family and child is different. What works for one family/child may not work for yours. Some of the ideas below take opposite approaches to the same issues. The purpose here is to share ideas—not tear down what’s working for someone else.

Finally, please note that just about all of those who sent in emails requested to use pen names or post anonymously. All names below are not the contributors’ real names but characters names on LOST. :-)

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From Kate

It is much easier to talk to the children about their mother than it is talking with the W. With the W, we have romantic feelings and it can be hard dealing with the love he had for her.

I have brought up their mom once in a while and asked how they were doing with it. Usually the answers are very matter of fact and not emotional (it's been a year since she passed) I would not over due the topic, just kind of 'check in' with how they are doing.

I’ve learned not take things personally that the children want to hold onto. For example W daughter can't sleep without her mom's blanket; she keeps her picture by her bedside with her mom's wedding ring. Near it, she has an old hairbrush. I made the mistake of saying she needed to get rid of it not knowing it was her mothers. She didn't like me bringing that up.

I am in the process of making a big photo album of their mother from when she was little to when she died so they have one place with all the pix (instead of the scattered in boxes, albums, etc.) This way, as they age, and wonder for example, "what did mom look like at prom?" they can just look at this one big book.

The men can get overloaded easily especially those with small children. No offense, but it just seems women can multi-task better. If he seems to get overwhelmed with all of the roles he has, it is kind of natural for girlfriend to just jump into whatever role he needs filling (cook, mother, sitter, etc). Be careful with that. It is so important that he DATES you, takes you out alone. It is crucial if this relationship is to survive, to have time alone without the kids.

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From Sun

My W (now husband) had four children when we married—all under the age of 12. I had two girls under the age of 7.  We took them all with us on the second date (he had something already planned with the kids.) Later he called and asked if my girls and I would to go with them—after consulting his kids, of course.  About every third date included all of the kids, and when he asked me to marry him, it was contingent upon our children's approval--which they all gave, after we answered their questions. We each talked about it with our own children, without the other one of us there.

Their mom had passed six month before from a 20-month battle with cancer.  They stood around us as we took our vows--and his kids helped clear space for their new sisters in their home.  After we had been married about 5-6 weeks, LW's mom called my husband at work and asked what the children were calling me.  He told her that they were calling me by my first name (which my 3-year-old was now doing, also.)  She said, "That will not do.  If she is the mother in the home she needs to be referred to as such.  Ask them to call her a form of "Mom."

DH told me about the call and at dinner that night, we asked the kids if they could find a respectful form of "Mom" and "Dad" that they could feel comfortable with. We told them wouldn't mean "You are my birth mom.  It would mean "You are the mother in this home."  He specifically told them that they didn't need to use the same term as when they referred to their "real" parents. That was the last time any of them referred to either one of us as anything but "Mom" and "Dad".  I think that made a huge difference in the way they saw us as a family.

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From Juliet

In my experience with a widower with children, the kid is pretty clear on if they want a new parent or not (the older one didn’t, the younger ones very much did). Respect that. Don’t ever tell a child they have to call you ‘mommy’ now (my son still goes back and forth on it years later. It’s fine. The relationship matters more than the title.).

If you’re a parent, you’re parenting a kid who lost one already, and they’re pretty worried about losing you too, so you need to be consistent and reassuring at all times. You’re there. You’re going to look after them. You’re not going to leave them. Ask them if they want to be adopted, don’t tell them they have to be adopted, if they’re old enough to understand that – otherwise you and your partner have to decide for them.

Communicate: what do you hope to get out of adoption? A stronger bond? Reassurance of your permanence for the child? The former in laws to go away/learn their place/whatever? Legal rights and responsibilities (especially big if you want to be sure you retain care of the child should the widow(er) you’re married to die themselves)?

If you’re not the parent to the child emotionally you’re a step-parent. Co-parenting is always important, but it seems like expectations of backing each other up and making joint decisions are clearer when you’re both at the same ‘level’. The widowed parent really has to step up here, so talk about it before it happens. You’re an adult and it’s your household as much as it is anyone else’s, and everyone needs to treat each other with mutual respect. You’re an adult on their side who is not their parent. Be kind. Make few rules, and try to keep them neutral – things you need for your home, not ways the kid needs to be. (‘You have to do this because I say so’ goes over badly. ‘House rules: no music other people can hear two rooms away‘ sounds better. ‘Stop being so introverted/extraverted’ is a loser however you say it)

Big choices are up to your partner, their parent, and you wish them well but stay out of it when it’s not a crisis or something that really affects you directly. Agree with your partner when the child is not there about what your contributions – time, energy, money (activities! college!) will be. The kid has been through a lot, and they can use more kind, even tempered adults who want things to go well for them. They will ask you for things and need support from you that they would never ask for from their parents as they become adults.

Parent or step-parent, in-law or feelings, these kids aren’t just ‘til they’re 18. They’ll have kids, they’ll call freaking out in their 20s, they will count on your home as the backup when things go wrong for most of their lives if you form a good relationship. Don’t go in if you’re counting the days ‘til you can have your widow(er) all to yourself without those pesky children from the previous marriage. Don’t go in if you can’t bear them talking about and loving their late parent (and wanting pictures of her in their room, say, if you don’t have them around the house otherwise). As time goes on, there’s less of this, but you have to be pretty completely okay with it.

Little kids want to go over their memories, and they get conflicted about loving you and the deceased. You need to be someone they trust to talk about this, so you can help them work through it being okay to love both, and to be sad about their lost parent and happy about their relationship with you at the exact same time. Bigger kids don’t like that their parent is less and less a part of the milestones of their life, and they need to talk about that sometimes, and it may be hard to talk about with the surviving parent - someone they resent a bit for moving on and starting again with someone new. I have the ‘I didn’t know your mom, but I know she would be so proud of the adult you are becoming’ talk every few weeks. It’s not much, and I wish I had more to offer, but it’s something and I think it would be very tough for the teenager if they didn’t feel like they could seek it out.

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From Claire

Four years ago I became a widow after a loving and successful 23-year marriage. We had 3 kids, two boys 21 and 17 and a daughter, 13. In March of 2007 I met a W online. By this time I had been widowed 10 months with no idea or desire to date or marry again only a desire to support and be supported by others in my shoes. He widowed 5 months after a very loving 13-year marriage. He had 2 young children both under the age of 9.

In the beginning of our friendship we talked about the issues of bringing our kids through the grieving process all the while trying to grieve ourselves. Not a fun or easy task at all. As time went on we learned much about one another and eventually agreed that we would "meet" in April. It went very well. The next month the W drove to my home with his 2 children to spend a long weekend with my daughter and I. (My boys were away in college). Both of us were nervous about meeting each other's kids and having the kids meet one another as well. Being spiritual people, we prayed that the initial meet would be successful and although we hoped for the best we prepared for the worst. To say it was fabulous is an understatement. W’s kids bounced out of his van and hugged me with tight squeezes. My son embraced the W and accepted him immediately. That weekend was magical filled with, what an outsider looking in would think was, normal family behaviors. After that weekend we met every other weekend and we all vacationed together. We married soon after.

By the third month the newness was wearing off and little scuffles between the kids began. Now our parenting skills and discipline skills needed to kick in. Being a teacher, a mother and the chief of discipline for years in my house, it was quite natural for me. For my W it wasn't so. He was a dad, the bread winner, and his eldest was merely 9. Now he was thrown into being the "dad" to a 14 year old daughter. All of those nights of long discussions on parenting and discipline issues began to play back into my head. He was clearly a fish out of water and it showed. But as the weeks marched on he battled his anxiety and slowly pitched in and tried. Our family was becoming a "real" family. The 2 youngest called me Mommy and my kids began to refer to W as Dad. Here's the key...all unprovoked. In their time they did it. We both had laid the law that the ONLY requirement we had of them was to RESPECT us as their parents. They did...above and beyond!

Today, I have adopted the younger kids and thereby am their Mommy. They were asked two years ago if this was something they wanted and we proceeded. We all live together in a very large, new home that is OURS. We still have those days where we are down or sad and yes the process of grieving is still happening and will continue to happen for years to come both for us and our children. The only difference is that now we handle it together and we support each other and our kids the best way we know how....with love, acceptance and understanding.