When children disapprove of your new flame, it may be worth taking a harder look.
THE children of single parents have the right – and maybe even the responsibility – to raise superficial objections to mum or dad’s new love: he’s a dork, or she’s a drama queen, or it’s just plain wrong to listen to Johnny Mathis on the car radio.
But kids are also keen observers of human nature, and they know their parents very, very well.
So how do you distinguish between the usual passing protest and an objection that’s worth serious consideration?
“I think you should always take it seriously (when a child objects to your significant other) and stop and think about why it’s so,” says psychologist Leah Klungness, co-author of The Complete Single Mother: Reassuring Answers To Your Most Challenging Concerns. Kids can be good at detecting pretension or deceitfulness, Klungness says, “so if you’ve got your kids saying, ‘Mmm ... him again? ... Not so much, not so much’, of course it’s your life, but don’t push that conversation aside.
“The least thing that can happen if you have a real, serious, respectful conversation with your kid is you get a real insight into how they’re feeling at that moment.”
Klungness doesn’t see a Johnny Mathis habit or a lack of panache as a red flag, but she would be concerned if a child said, “I think he’s sneaky”, and later followed up with, “When you were upstairs, he looked through the kitchen drawers, and he had no reason to do that” or, “He said he was going through your purse looking for gum, but then I saw he had your wallet”.
Other potentially worrisome observations would include, “I heard him talking on his cellphone to Susie. Is that his sister?” or, “When I said I wanted to see his phone, he got all angry and put it in his pocket.”
Among the questions you may want to ask yourself, Klungness suggests: “Has your child discerned a real clash in values?” and “Has your significant other misrepresented himself or herself?”
Sometimes the offspring who object to a new love are adults. Joan Price, author of the award-winning book, Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex, suggests that parents sit down with their adult children and ask if they really have a problem with the significant other, or if they just feel the parent is dating too soon.
“The conversation can be very different, depending on what the answer is,” Price says. “And if the kids haven’t even considered that (question), it’s especially important, because that’s also a teachable moment, where the kids can realise, ‘Hey, it wouldn’t matter who it was. It could be Robert Redford, and we wouldn’t approve.’ ”
Price also recommends consulting friends.
“If your friends are also saying, ‘Oh, don’t move so fast,’ there could be something creepy or something wrong about the person; it would be worth stepping back,” Price says. “I’m not saying break up with the person, because you may know him better than your friends or your kids, but take a hard look at what they’re seeing that you’re not.”
Among the warning signs that Price would take very seriously: asking for a commitment too fast, acting inappropriately possessive, asking for money or trying to cut you off from family and friends. Older parents often just move too fast, thinking that time is short, she says. But you can’t really know someone in the first few months of a relationship because you’re both on your best behaviour.
Sometimes, younger children won’t tell you that they object to your boyfriend or girlfriend, says Deesha Philyaw, co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive In Two Households After Divorce.
“We have to look at body language,” Philyaw says. “If the kid doesn’t want to be in the person’s presence, it’s worth a conversation.”
Philyaw says she knows of a situation in which a woman doesn’t allow her fiance and his child to spend anytime alone together. The woman even attended a daddy-daughter event. The child is only four, and she expresses her frustration by crying and screaming when her mum tells her it’s time to go see her dad.
If, due to a co-parenting arrangement, you only have a limited amount of time to spend with your child and your significant other is preventing parent-child alone time, that’s a huge red flag, says Philyaw.
She’d also be concerned if a significant other got overly defensive about a child’s objections.
“I think a reasonable adult, and the kind of adult I would like to spend my life with, would be somebody who would be sensitive to this and not be defensive even if they felt, ‘This means our relationship has to slow down,’ or, ‘This means that we don’t spend as much time together’. I’d want to be with someone who was patient with that process and sensitive with that process,” she says.
“That would show me that they cared not just about me as a woman, but me as a mother as well. And with me, you can’t get one without the other.” – Chicago Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
AMONG the best-known examples of kids who question their parents’ romantic choices, from film and literature:
> Hamlet: Prince Hamlet objects to his mother’s hasty remarriage on the grounds that his new stepfather is the No. 1 suspect in his father’s murder.
> The Sound Of Music: Captain von Trapp’s frosty fiance plans to send his adorable kids off to boarding school, and on some level the kids just know it.
> The Parent Trap: How do you convince your divorced dad that his lovely young fiance is a shallow gold-digger? Those adorable twins have a plan.