31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Welcome To The New World Of Dating!

New relationship needs careful introduction into single-parent home

Single... with Children


Publication Date: 12/13/00

"So, how does this man feel about snakes?" my son, Justin, asked with a sly look in his eyes when I told him I was going on an actual date for the third time with the same person.

"You know, I've never asked him," I replied, trying not to imagine what my son might have in mind for this new visitor to our home.

My son has quite an array of reptiles - six of the slithery creatures. The display is quite impressive, but entering his room could strike terror in the casual visitor or anyone afraid of snakes. I didn't even want to think what he might have planned for someone taking his mother to dinner.

It wasn't, come to think of it, all that unexpected a question. I've often tried to imagine what it's like for children of single parents when someone shows interest in the most important adult in their life. I try to understand what they might feel, but I can't really know because I come from parents who have been married 54 years and still behave like newlyweds. My parents live the very definition of wedded bliss, and I didn't have a clue as to what divorce really involved until I found myself in the middle of one.

Because I don't have a real knowledge of what it's like to be the child of divorced parents, I try to listen and observe my two teen-agers even more closely. I find keeping the lines of communication open to be imperative in my attempt to understand what my daughter and son think and feel. Of course, not all communication is verbal, and how they act sometimes tells me more than what they say.

Last December, their father married a woman he had been seeing for several months. Katie and Justin had been scheduled to attend the wedding, but because of a snowstorm they were unable to fly to the event. It was a strange weekend for them as they imagined their dad being married. Their dad and his new bride called them prior to and after the ceremony, and both Katie and Justin offered congratulations and best wishes. Even though they knew this woman who was to be their new stepmom, and her two daughters who were now stepsiblings, there is no denying it was an adjustment for everyone concerned.

They had several private conversations with each other and a few with me. Not wanting to force a dialogue, but realizing they might need to talk, I tried very hard to simply listen. Other than reiterating how much I knew their dad loved them, I really couldn't offer much more. I wanted them to feel comfortable talking with me about it, and I believe they came to be, but it was certainly something that rendered them uncharacteristically silent that snowy December weekend. Their family circle was being modified and, as with any change, everyone involved required a little time to become comfortable.

As I watched my kids face and accept a new family situation, I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like for them if I ever took that giant leap. I will be the first to admit that it probably scares me even more than it does either one of them. Marriage is something I still have a huge amount of reverence and respect for. The institution that binds two people together for what will hopefully be life awes me. It is something that I hope, if the right person comes along, to find success in. But in the process of ending the only marriage I had, I find myself very intimidated by the very concept. In many ways, I'm glad that I do because I want to maintain that respect and awe of marriage but, of course, I don't want to become paralyzed by my fears to the point of never considering remarriage. It's a very fine line I walk.

Of course, I'm jumping ahead of myself. All relationships require a first date and, oddly enough, both of my kids have begun encouraging me to develop more of a social life. I'm not sure if they're tiring of my company or eager to see me with someone before they leave the nest. I smile when they remind me I'm not getting any younger, as if I needed reminding! I'm pleased that they appear to feel secure enough in my handling of our family that they don't fear a possible future addition. They both have been models of hospitality to the few dates I have had since my divorce and have, at times, found more positive things to say about them than I have.

I find I'm still a little reluctant to upset what seems like a perfectly stable apple cart. More than anything, it's important to me to assure my kids that their focus in my life will never change. I just need to figure out how people do that and embark on a new relationship. I know more than a few instances where it's worked out with very few problems. I also know of a couple of situations where it's been a disaster. I try and remember the positives and will do everything to avoid the negatives. Still, it is new ground for all of us. Not to mention the unsuspecting newcomer who might visit my house and make the acquaintance of a snake!

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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