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.
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.
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'.