by: Cynthia MacGregor
No matter how negative your feelings about marriage were when you first got divorced, there comes a time in almost every divorcée’s life when she starts dating again and even thinking that a second marriage may lie in her future.
But things are different now than they were when you were a young and single, dating men and responsible for only yourself. Now it’s a package deal. Now it’s you and the kids. And now, any fellow you’d consider marrying needs to be evaluated not just for his suitability as a husband but for his potential as a dad.
What’s more, he may well have kids of his own. And they have to figure into the equation, too. Even if they don’t live with him, they surely spend some time with him. This may be every weekend, every other weekend, Wednesday nights or, if he and his ex live in cities that are distant from each other, the kids may spend all summer with him, and probably some time on other school breaks, too.
But even leaving aside the question of whether you get along with his kids or whether your kids get along with his, he himself may be problematic. If you were able to prevent the new man in your life from meeting your kids till after you were sure he had real husband potential — a suggestion I’ve given the reasons for in previous articles in this space— you probably didn’t have a chance to see how he interacts with kids. When you finally introduced him to your kids, though, you may have been disappointed or even dismayed at the way he treated them.
Of course, I’m assuming that if he got out of line you would toss him out faster than week-old garbage. But what if he doesn’t abuse the kids or anything drastic like that, but your parenting style and his simply don’t mesh? What if you’re a lenient, laissez-faire type and he’s a strict, you’d-better-toe-the-line disciplinarian? Or, for that matter, vice-versa? What if your rules and expectations vary radically, and he won’t change his views?
It may be a no-hope situation. But before you sadly shut the door behind him forever, consider what accommodations he might make for you and maybe you’ll need to bend a little, too. If he’s a rational, thinking human being and you point out that the kids have been raised a certain way, with certain rules and certain guidelines, he may realize that even if he doesn’t agree with all your precepts, methodology, or thinking, it’s unfair to change the rules on the kids at this stage of the game. (This is, of course, more true if they are, say, 11 and 14 than if they are three and five.)
He may have to go against his own beliefs and raise the kids your way for the most part — with certain exceptions. And you may have to alter some of your thinking too, if not your actual thinking, then the rules and standards under which you operate with your kids. If your new love is adamant that your 13-year-old son is old enough to shoulder certain responsibilities you think he’s too young for, or that your 15-year-old daughter needs an 11:00 curfew at all times, even though you’ve let her stay out till midnight under certain special circumstances, you may have to acquiesce to his beliefs.
But if your thinking is radically different from his, he isn’t willing to change his beliefs, and neither are you, this may spell the end of an otherwise great relationship. And if his style of parenting strikes you as flat-out wrong — not just different from yours but wrong —run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.
If he allows the kids to engage in behaviors that could endanger them, or if he is so ultra-lenient that the kids have no discipline at all or so ultra-strict that the kids feel like he’s a jailer, and you agree with them, or if their disciplinary infractions result in his meting out seriously humiliating punishments? This man is not for you, no matter how wonderful, kind, generous, caring, thoughtful, and considerate he is to you.
Face it. You’re not a solo act anymore. You’re part of a package deal. And if he’s not a good dad, or he’s not the kind of dad you want for your kids, he’s just not your Mr. Right.