(finding parenthood painfully funny)
Hey Mom. Hey Dad. Wanna date someone else? Without me resenting you and being scarred for life? Here’s how you can avoid being the subject of all my future therapy sessions. (I said “all.” Not none.) I know we live in the land of “forget you kids, it’s my life! I deserve to date and be happy too!” You do. I respect that. You have the freedom to live your life to the fullest. But as a professional child/adult child who has experienced you dating over the last 3 decades, I’d like to rein in on the subject, as an expert witness, if I may.
And for you future stepparents, if you are dating someone that has children, RUN! (Unless they’re great in bed. The parent, not the kids.) If you’d like to win over the children of that MILF you met on Match.com, here is a tip from one of those children. And if you are one of those children, like me, now your parents can discover you’re not the only child of divorce who is still pained by the aftermath (even 29 years later).
But first, my backstory: I have been married to the love of my life for almost 13 years and together for over 19. We have two children and are still happy (with each other, not our kids). My own parents, however, divorced when I was nine. I watched my parents date. I watched my parents re-marry. I watched one of them re-divorce. And date again. And again. And… you get the point. Each time they brought someone new to Hanukkah (Chanukah? Hanukah? Jew Christmas.), Thanksgiving, or my semi-annual Pap smear, they really, REALLY wanted me to accept this stranger they met on Tinder last Tuesday. I get it. You deserve to be happy. I understand the importance of having a life partner, a best friend, and permanent booty call. You should be free to date whom you please. But, the kid (and by kid, I mean me, obviously) should have the freedom to be themselves.
So here it is, my golden pearl of wisdom: Make sure the parent still spends quality time alone with their kid(s). Give them (me) some of your free time. That’s it. Whether the kid is two or inching dangerously close to 40 (still mid-thirties!), if we can still have quality time alone with our parent, if we can still feel like a priority (not the priority, but a priority… after all, we can’t compare with your lover – at least we better not), we will slowly begin to get to know your new special friend, and maybe, just maybe grow to like (or at least tolerate) your latest ebae (ebae – defined on Urban Dictionary as “simply your internet bae,” [bae – defined on Urban Dictionary as “baby, sweetie, etc…”]).
And now, for the extended explanation: When children are young they need to feel safe and cared for. That cannot happen in front of a stranger (even if said stranger does not have a subscription to Barely Legal like my former step-dad). Even if you know in your heart of hearts (the same heart that recently divorced the person you chose to have children with) that this person is the most incredible person who finally fulfills all of your needs that were neglected by your ex (you know, the father of your children). Even if this person is Matt Damon wrapped in a Brad Pitt fur with a sprinkling of George Clooney on the side, and just happens to love reading late 19th century Feminism pamphlets, we need some space, some freedom from this new impenetrable separation between child and parent. Introduce this new spice to the soup you’ve cooked (and we all loved before) slowly. They do not need to be glued to your hip 24/7 from the first moment you met for skinny lattes at that new hip coffee place all the kids on the interwebs are talking about. Do your kid(s) a favor. Show us that that you’re into us. Show us that you are there to love us, protect us, and actually want to spend time with us. Maybe pretend that we actually fill some of your needs when it comes to having a good time. Back when you were married to our other parent, we knew both our parents loved us. Now that you’re madly in old person love with this new guy, we know they don’t feel the same way towards us. They can’t. It’s science. (I’m not a scientist, but I’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth). A parent’s love for their child is unconditional. And J-Date Joe cannot feel the same way about us. And we know this. So don’t force us all to be together all the time in the beginning. Give us freedom to explore this uncharted territory. Please don’t America our native homeland. Maybe we’ll eventually give up our old customs. Maybe we’ll adapt to this new way of living. But not if you force us to relocate our way of life like Andrew Jackson. Our feelings have staked claim to you, and when you forcibly relocate your priorities, you force us down a trail of tears. Happy Independence Day, everyone!
Give us reasonable time to get to know and trust this new person. Maybe actually date them for awhile, without making them a permanent fixture of the family, tattooing their name on everyone’s forehead, then just leaving them in a few years so that your kid(s), or grandkid(s), if they actually got attached to someone, have to also break up with this person, and maybe start to think your relationships aren’t too serious, and therefore may have trouble taking your future relationships serious. But back to the point: More important than giving us time to get to know Eharmony.com’s latest suggestion for you, give us quality time with you, so we can feel free to be ourselves, relax, and feel safe and loved. When we are around this new friend of yours we cannot fully relax and be ourselves. You know how kids are on their worst behavior when alone with their parents? It’s because we can just be ourselves. And that’s important to let us unwind. Unfortunately for you, even if you have been with your new partner since pagers were a thing, the truth is we do not feel fully comfortable around your partner. My parents both remarried and were with my step parents for at least 20 years, and I still don’t feel like I can completely be myself around them. The result? As a teen, I started to forget who I really was, or how to fully relax, because I was living with someone who did not unconditionally love me, and therefore could not fully accept me for who I was. There was no alone time with my parents. So I always felt like a guest in my own homes (it may have been that one house was covered floor to ceiling with pictures of my parent and step-parent’s new child, while I only had one picture on display, where I happened to be standing behind my half-brother). The security of feeling 100% safe was gone. For good.
Don’t force said new person down our throat. Whether young, or barely out of our 20’s, we will feel like you don’t want to be with us, that we can’t make you happy like this person whom you didn’t give birth to can. And that hurts. That rejection is more cutting than the time you cut us from the umbilical cord. Not only do we not feel safe, we start to question our own self worth. Maybe we start to feel like we don’t deserve to be loved. Maybe in high school we end up in a sexually abusive relationship for four years and have to go to years of therapy just to be intimate with the man who saved us from the abusive relationship and with whom we want to spend the rest of our lives. I don’t know, maybe that could happen. It’s a hypothetical.
Hey, New Person! Write this down, and say it to those little ankle biters that came from that person you like to sleep with: “You kids are, and always will be, the most important people in your parent’s life, and you should be. I support that. So I want to give you and your parent some alone time. You need to have special time with them.” And then actually do it. Every few weeks or so. Forever. Or until you break up. You’re in like Flynn. That would have changed everything for me. I would have felt like this new friend actually cared about me. I would think that they were secure in their relationship with my parent, and were not threatened by, or jealous of, me. I would think they had a life. How nice that they aren’t totally codependent with my parental unit. (These were all thoughts I had when I was nine.)
Model the behavior you want from us. If my own parent chose to actually spend quality time with me, if they showed a genuine concern for my happiness, they would be setting a wonderful example for me to show a general concern for their happiness, and I would want them to pork this random person they met on the internet in the bed they used to share with the other person I love more than anyone else in the world.
Or maybe us kids would just think this person was cool, and be okay with them hanging around a bit more. Give us the freedom to be ourselves with our parents, and we will give you the freedom to be yourself with whomever you want.
So, to sum up:
A. Feel free to date a new person before forcing him/her on your kids.
B. Give your kids time to be “Free To Be Me” by creating special time between parent(s) and child(ren).
C. Avoid perverts and lunatics.
D. If you have new children with your new partner, hang up pictures of your old kids, asshole.
For more information on Nicole Blaine or to see her perform stand-up: www.NicoleBlaine.com