I ponder never having brought someone “new” into my son’s life because I was afraid of navigating the conversation around, “You’re not my dad!” Truth be told, there are many reasons why I made a conscious decision to not date until my son left for college, but navigating a new man in our lives was just something I chose to avoid. I had enough on my plate.
As we have become a world beautifully filled with blended families and men and women stepping in to be an additional blessing to a child’s life, I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues about how to navigate this. Mostly I can speak to it from my experience of embracing another woman in my son’s life with his dad. I stand firm with one belief…you love my child, and you don’t have to because he is not “yours”. He deserves to be loved. So, as challenging as it may be, I am grateful for your loving him and I would never take love away from him.
That comes from the perspective of what a child needs, but what do partners need in navigating those relationships? How do we support a new partner in developing their relationship with our children and their own concern about hearing, “You’re not my dad!” It’s not easy. Depending on the circumstances and age of the child(ren), the process is different. Any partner we bring in to our family needs to be able to develop their own relationship with the kids. We need to be able to step aside, trust in the person we love enough to bring them into our kids’ lives and allow them space to work it out together…without our constant interference rooted in a need to prevent something “bad” from happening.
There are conversations as partners that we can have about how to support one another in the evolution of these relationships, and there are conversations to have together with our children. Include them in the gray area of what this all is. Allow them a voice in how to navigate it. As the biological parent, we have an innate sense of trust and connection with our children, but people coming into our lives, loving us and loving them don’t come with the same intuitive skill. What is normal, natural for us, is a learned partnership for them. If our partner is concerned about stepping on toes or trying to figure out what their role is and can be, talk about it with the kids.
“I love your mom and I love you. I am excited about being an important part of your lives. And I also know that I’m not your dad. So I want us to be able to talk about all of this if/when it gets uncomfortable. I want you to feel safe in respectfully letting me know if the way I am approaching a situation doesn’t feel right or sit right.”
There is a way to include our children in the evolution of the “plus” relationships of new people in our lives without giving them unbalanced power or unintentional opportunity to manipulate us.
I’m still not certain I did the right thing (a question I ask myself with regard to many, many decisions I made as a parent), but I made it. I also filled his life with incredible men who have loved him and guided him and supported him, and never once had to tread near the notion of threatening his dad’s place in his life. I am blessed with 3 brothers who have had my back my entire life, and picked up that mantle with my son. The husbands of my girlfriends have always seamlessly included us, and him when it mattered most. So whether or not my son witnessed me loved and respected as I should be in a partnership or having a male figure in our home, that absence was mitigated by the male role models he has had.
“Bonus” adult people in our children’s lives are a gift worth embracing.