The Kids Are All Right??
When I was a 52 year old mother of 15 and 17 year old boys, my husband of 28 years decided we should separate and moved into our vacation home. I stayed in the marital home with our sons. The boys were nearly adults and had no interest in the traditional every other weekend at dad’s house so they were home with me 24/7.
I immediately set about the process of moving on by joining OKCupid and doing the online dating thing. I rather quickly became passionately involved with an attentive, alcoholic, professional man. Having been starved for sex and affection for the last decade of my marriage, I was very hungry for that sort of attention, and Charlie was ready, willing and able to provide it in spades. He lived nearby in a home he rented with a female housemate. She did not like me which created a hostile environment in his house when I stayed over so I tried to minimize my time at his place. It worked out that we were able to alternate weekends in the vacation home with my husband when he would move to the marital home to spend time with our sons and Charlie and I could spend time together away from his hostile housemate.
Charlie usually left his car at my house for the weekend and would arrive at my house on Sunday night too drunk to drive home after stopping at a restaurant on the way back. It was an uncomfortable decision to let him spend the night in my bed with my sons in the house. I had to choose between letting him put himself and others on the road in danger, and exposing my sons to my personal life in their home. This was how Charlie sleeping in my bed began. He was quite an affable guy, and had a way of putting my sons at ease with his presence in their space. I definitely felt awkward having someone other than their dad in my bed with our sons in the house. I’m sure it gave them pause as well since they had very little time to get used to their dad being gone.
I struggled with how to do what was appropriate by my kids while at the same time living my own life. I was often angry and envious that their father was free to entertain women in his home without concern for what our kids thought about it, or the awkward discomfort. I knew it wasn’t right to expose “children” to their parent’s sexuality, but I was not ready to restrict my activities. Charlie spent more and more nights in my bed. My therapist cautioned me about what this would do to my kid’s development, but I ignored it. Call me a bad mother. I justified my behavior by thinking that no one is perfect and with the mistaken belief my kids were old enough to handle it.
Conventional wisdom regarding this common dilemma is that children should never be exposed to their parents sexuality and women in my position should either stay at hotels or their boyfriend’s house unless and until we are certain this boyfriend will become a serious relationship moving forward. Some even go so far as to suggest that it is necessary to be engaged or married before letting our kids be aware we are sleeping with a man. I was sure that Charlie would not become a permanent relationship because of his addiction to alcohol.
Charlie crashed a dinner party I was attending with friends at a restaurant across the street from his house one night. He got drunk and embarrassed me in front of several good friends. One of these women is a super smart child psychologist who had some serious questions for me about what I was doing with him. I sent her an email the next day apologizing for his behavior, and we got to discussing how tricky it can be for “single parents”.
This was her take on the question:
“It is all about their age . Adolescents should not be privy to their parent’s sexual activities (even their happily married parents).It is a very important and complicated stage of psychological development. It has been a specialty of mine for more than 35 years and although the world has changed dramatically over the past 35 years as have some of the norms, the adolescent psychological process of separation and individuation remains unchanged. They begin to separate emotionally from their parents and identify with their peers. They begin to define who they are in all regards — intellectually, emotionally, physically and sexually. They incorporate what they see in the world and in the values and morals of their home and they begin to tailor it to their own unique selves. They are a self involved group but need to be self involved so as to engage in this difficult process. They cannot really deal with their parents being sexual beings as they are trying to focus on their own sexuality.
It is very difficult for separated/divorced and even widowed persons who have adolescent children to begin relationships without exposing the children but it is important to try to do so. It is much more difficult when the parent has residential custody as the opportunities for privacy are limited. They ideally should not even have proof that a man is in the bedroom with you unless you are married so ideally you wait for them to go to sleep, lock the bedroom door at all times and come out of the room alone the next morning. Or you find them somewhere else to go.”
I respect my friend’s opinion enormously, but I did not really want to hear it. I know she is right. I made some effort to minimize Charlie’s presence in my house, but he was here more than he should have been for sure. He moved away after a year and a half so that was the end of men being in my bed for a while.
After he moved, I dated others and was never inclined to have any of them stay in my house. I did my best to not entertain any of my boyriends at home. I am not promiscuous by any stretch, so there would never be a revolving door parade of different men sleeping with me. I am trying hard to heed my therapist friend’s advice.
Since Charlie’s departure, I have become romantically involved with Rex over the past seven months. We are hoping to have a long term relationship. He was a friend of my mother in law (my son’s grandmother) so there was more of a connection than with others I met through OKCupid.
Rex met my sons when he came over on a Friday to go away with me for the weekend. He was here for dinner with them, and they were uncomfortably polite. My younger son offered to let him play his guitar which was generous and friendly of him.
Over the course of several months of meeting up with Rex on Fridays and Sundays I believe my sons saw that I was once again moving on with someone new. By Christmas, Rex felt that we had reached a point in our relationship where it would be ok for him to spend the night.
Again, I discounted my therapist friend’s “old fashioned” advice and invited Rex to spend the night after we attended a Christmas party together. It was December 23rd, and I felt it was a nice opportunity to celebrate Christmas with the new love I had found.
My bedroom is very far removed from the living space and the other bedrooms in my sprawling ranch home. It seemed that Rex and I would have minimal contact with my two sons who are very self absorbed, anyway.
Although there was indeed just a small awareness that Rex was there, my sons’ discomfort was palpable. There was more of a known presence in the morning when we were having coffee in the kitchen. Rex went home soon after. He was definitely aware that there was a level of discomfort for both my sons and myself. I explained the therapists’ take on what I was doing, but he didn’t quite get it. I told him that I was going to keep overnights at my house to a minimum because I didn’t like making my sons uncomfortable. Rex does not have children so it’s a stretch for him to comprehend this line of thinking.
Since Christmas, we have had ample opportunities to spend the weekend together without staying at my house. Recently, out of state travel and bad weather made getting together difficult. Rex’s home is not handicapped accessible for me, especially in winter, so I haven’t been there all season.
With the recent challenges related to weather, Rex pushed to come stay with me again. I decided to take a firm stance against it last weekend and again explained that it is my sons’ home as well as mine and I really don’t want to make them so uncomfortable by having him here. His selfish and ignorant response was that he didn’t understand what the difference was between my sons’ girlfriends sleeping over vs. my boyfriend. I took a moment to digest that we were actually having this conversation. I went on to calmly explain that I am a grown, fully developed adult whose psychological development won’t be harmed by my sons’ girlfriends sleeping over. Again, stubborn refusal to accept what I was saying. He ended the conversation by saying “Well, I guess I won’t see you then”.
I was ok with this and figured if it was a requirement that he spend the night at my place against my better judgment, then he would have to figure something else out. I went radio silent until he called late the next day. He offered to take me to dinner. I could tell he was put out by my refusal to stay with me this weekend, but he got over it. I ultimately have concluded that if I am going to have a long term relationship with Rex it is going to become all right for him to occasionally spend a night here. I told him that I really wasn’t putting a complete prohibition on it, but rather keeping it to a minimum. After seven months, it’s not as if he’s the “man of the week”. I have given a lot of thought to my therapist friend’s advice, and concluded that I am not that old fashioned that I won’t be sleeping with men until “ideally, we are married”.
There is a delicate balance required of single parents between living their lives as they wish, and protecting their children’s emotional health. As in all matters related to parenting, there is never an achievable, perfect solution.