Last week, I watched a Dr. Phil show about a mom, her new hubby and his daughter, and her daughter. Her daughter was doing drugs, steeling her step sister’s clothes, not coming home at night, and more. The new hubby didn’t like the daughter and openly admitted that he wished she were gone and it was just him, his new wife and his daughter living in their home. The step sister didn’t like her either. And Mom said she didn’t blame either of them. Dr. Phil was horrified. Stepping into this girl’s shoes, she was living in a home where no one liked her. Three people against a 16 year old. What was this girl supposed to do to try and survive living in a household where she wasn’t wanted?
Which brings up a very real dilemma. As we start dating again, what happens if our new love isn’t all that crazy about our children? And what if our children don’t like him either? Who gets top priority? Our wants or the wants and needs of our children?
I was part of this scenario in my past marriage, and it was awful. I went into that marriage totally naïve and clueless. No joke– The Brady Bunch, one of my favorite TV shows of all time, taught me everything I knew about blending families. After all, I am not the product of divorce and neither were most of my friends. The only real blended family I “knew” were the Brady kids and, minus some hiccups, they were one happy crew.
So when I met Rob and we decided to get married, I thought everyone was happy. My daughter, Morgan, was getting a dad, so she was thrilled. And his daughters “Kellie” and “Nicky” were getting a nicer and bigger house with a pool. No problems, right?
WRONG! Seriously, I had no idea the trauma and turmoil that was still going on in their heads. I had no idea that their mother had just moved out of their home because Rob lied to me about the timing. I had no idea how much they disliked and resented me because on the surface, all was great. Wanting the “perfect” home, I came up with a list of household rules (like curfews, chores, a strict “no drugs” policy– Nicky was partying like a rock star,” and no boys in bedrooms) and Rob agreed and presented it to his two daughters. I wasn’t there for that meeting but I can only imagine the conversation.
While I was clueless, Rob knew– and he discounted their feelings entirely in his pursuit to satisfy his own needs. Kellie and Nicky were confused and hurt and not at all “settled” with anything when Rob disrupted their lives even more by finding a new girlfriend (me), selling their childhood home, introducing a new wife and child (and an adopted child on the horizon), and basically throwing it all (with glee) in their mother’s face.
Throughout our relationship, Rob spent quite a lot of time fighting with Kellie, Nicky and his ex-wife “Tina.” And he often blamed me for all of it. One day I found drugs in our home and told Rob that either Nicky was moving out or I was. The huge fights that ensued after that were legendary. Nicky, who by then was then 20 years old, moved out and Rob blamed me for the fact that he had a troubled relationship with his daughters.
Finally, I had an epiphany and told Rob. “You are, or at least should be, your children’s advocate, not me. I don’t know them like you do. If there is something you want to do differently with your kids, then do it! Do not blame me anymore for your problems with them. You’re a grown man, you’re their father, so act like it.”
From then on, when he blamed me for these problems, it just went in one ear and right out the other.
When I left Rob, he sent me one text that just cut straight through my heart. He said, “Kellie and Nicky are so much better now that you’re gone.” That stung and hurt to my very core. Because if Rob was a horrible father, it wasn’t my fault. He was just simply a horrible father. If he didn’t have the relationship he wanted with his children, well, that was his fault, too. He shouldn’t have slammed a new relationship down his daughters’ throats. Still, ouch, that was hard for me to hear. I sent his ex-wife, Tina, an apology. Tina, bless her heart, said that Rob was responsible for his relationships, not me.
Still, at what point do we put our children’s wants above our own? If we are madly in love with a guy who are children can’t stand, do we pursue it? What if they don’t like the guy simply because he’s taking attention away from them? What if he really is awesome and there’s nothing he can do to turn the tide? Or, what if the two factions simply don’t like each other and don’t mesh and there’s nothing we can do to fix it? Then what?
As hard as it is to hear, the reality is this: Our moral, ethical and legal obligation is to our children. They came first. They didn’t ask to be the victims of divorce, to have a mom and dad who couldn’t work it out and split. And if there isn’t a connection– a real connection — between our kids and the new guy, it’s time to sever it. Because if we marry a guy, or live together, the home will quickly become a battle zone and that’s fair to no one.
A friend of mine, “Sally,” married a widower. He had a five year old daughter and Sally realized early on that she couldn’t stand this little girl. From what I could tell, she was extremely jealous that the daughter received so much attention from her dad when Sally thought that she, the new wife, should come first. “The marriage is the most important relationship in the household,” Sally said. (I wanted to smack her.) That aside, seven months into their disastrous marriage, Sally was told to pack her bags and get the hell out of his house. Divorce papers quickly followed. At least the guy chose his daughter over his new honey, so I give him kudos. He did the right thing.
I know this is a tough one. I’m dating again, too, and dating when we have children is far more complicated than when we didn’t. There are a lot more people to consider than just the two adults. And that is one of the most important things I look for– how does he interact with my daughters? Are they comfortable with him? Because if they answer is “no” or “not sure” then the relationship is over. And it takes time, lots of time, to ensure that things are going well. Impatience and short-cuts are impossible when you have kids. But if there really is a choice, the happiness and well-being of the children versus a guy, the kids must win.