Single parents, especially young single parents, really seem to get a raw deal when it comes to the dating world. My boyfriend of 10 months has a 4 year-old-son.
Let me tell you I was THE FIRST person to swipe left on any dude that had kids in their Tinder pictures. I cannot even handle my hot mess self let alone a boyfriend with a toddler.
We all are guilty in some way of latching onto our perception of what our future is supposed to look like. Including the dream job, dream partner, and dream situation. Sometimes that very notion is what keeps us from being open to something different, and maybe even something better.
I can honestly say if I hadn’t grown up with my boyfriend, knowing him since we were only 11 years old, I don’t think we would be together now…largely because he is a single father. It wouldn’t have fit into my picture for the future I’d imagined, and I’d have turned the other way.
Which is shitty of me to admit, but it’s the truth.
I am, however, SO glad that isn’t the case, and that everything has worked out the way it has.
My boyfriend and his son fill my life with more joy than I ever could have expected.
It’s also thrown some ridiculous situations my way and shown me that I need to monitor my behavior and mouth around young children.
For example, the other day we were driving in the car and my boyfriend hit a pothole which caused the fresh cup of scalding hot coffee I just purchased to spill all over me.
“-Us SHIT,” parroted the sweet 4-year-old cherub in the car seat behind me.
I choked on my coffee while staring at my boyfriend in abject horror. He laughed patiently while pointedly ignoring his potty-mouthed son’s outburst and said, “Hey buddy look at that train.”
“Oh, wow. Train.”
The kid hasn’t said JESUS SHIT since.
Lesson 1: When it comes to children, 90% of the time it’s not a big deal if you don’t make it a big deal.
Had I turned around and snapped at lil cherub head “don’t say that it’s a bad word!” You know what he would have said for the rest of his life? “JESUS SHIT”
I have seen him faceplant, stumble, thwomp his head into the corner of things, and pop a balloon in his own face. Literally, if I don’t react, he just recklessly toddles over to the next “didn’t think you could turn a Lego tower into a lethal weapon” activity. It is both amazing and horrifying how little pain toddlers feel.
Lesson 2: Kids really do say the DARNDEST things.
My boyfriend was raised by a single mother and from what I understand about his son’s mother, her side of the family is not much involved with their son at all. So suffice it to say he’s had an outstanding Grandma, but not much in the way of a Grandpa.
That little nugget took a liking to my father (who to be fair is literally amazing) immediately. On Christmas, my parents got him a few gifts. When he opened the first one he looked at my dad with the pure blissful innocence of a kid on Christmas and exclaimed: “Thanks Gwandpa!”
My dad, without hesitation, gave the little dude a hug and said “You’re welcome, buddy!” followed by an awkward silence while my boyfriend and I became intimately acquainted with our shoes. There is no rule book that dictates what to do when your boyfriend of 2-months son has decided your dad, whom he has met once prior, is now his GWANDPA. Oy vey.
Lesson 3: You need to have patience and grace for people that you wouldn’t normally have to deal with.
The beauty of being a 20-something is that other people’s baggage, while perhaps mentally agonizing to them, is not something they will actually carry into your relationship in a concrete emotional, financial, or legally binding way. This is something we can expect in the future when 50% of our friends who recently got married are trying to “put themselves back out there” after divorce in their mid-30s to 40s, but as 20 somethings we should be exempt.
Well, my boyfriend is legally bound to this woman who has infinitely more power over his life than I do for the next 14 years. If he were typical he wouldn’t have even tried to begin to summit the gender-biased court system to retain 50/50 custody of his son once the relationship reached its natural conclusion. But he isn’t typical and he has fought tooth and nail to retain equal custody of his son through insurmountable obstacles.
I only know of his son’s mother through what he tells me, and that has GOT to be the single most unreliable narrator you can receive information from. But a lot of it is not good, or healthy, and after they broke up they agreed to be amicable and do what was best for their son. He regularly deposited money into a bank account for both of them while he was deployed to Iraq shortly after their breakup. They had no formal court documentation in place.
She served him with court papers that Christmas while he was in Iraq demanding custody and child support. He had to try and fight a legal battle from a wartorn desert halfway across the world. Needless to say, since then the situation has only gotten worse.
I try to put myself in her shoes every time he goes off on a diatribe about her. I try to be compassionate, sympathetic and understanding about the other biological half of his sweet son.
I read a study once outlining how devastating it is for a child to hear one parent speak badly of the other other. So much so that the researchers found it was less psychologically damaging if a parent said directly to the child: you are a worthless piece of shit than it was for a parent to say: your father/mother is a worthless piece of shit.
His son is a bright boy, I asked my boyfriend not to speak ill of her when we were together and if he was going to say something mean not to use her real name but to call her “Wendy.”
All that succeeded in doing was to redub this woman from her true name to Wendy to literally every person in my boyfriend’s life. While that wasn’t my intention… I do find the whole thing rather hilarious. Hey, I TRY to handle this with grace and compassion but I’m not mother Theresa.
Lesson 4: It’s really not about what you miss out on.
A lot of people, including loved ones near and dear to my heart, have said when I’ve told them of the man I’m dating “But you can do SO MUCH better.”
Trust me, I get it. I used to be sooooo judgemental of single people with kids like it was the ultimate character flaw.
All I can say is, as well-meaning as that feedback has been and as ignorant as my prior prejudice was… it’s simply not grounded in reality.
Sure, my boyfriend doesn’t necessarily have the flexibility to drop everything and go on a spur of the moment trip somewhere tropical. But that’s fine. I’m too broke to do that shit anyway, who am I kidding?
My boyfriend’s son has not taken one ounce of happiness or time from our relationship.
I am dating a man. A responsible, compassionate, will do anything for his son MAN. A lot of people in their wedding vows promise to nurture and love any future children that come into that union, and a lot of people choose their future spouse based upon the fact they believe they will be a good parent.
I don’t have to believe or hope or wonder if my boyfriend is going to be a good father. He already is one.
A few weeks ago I was lamenting to my dad of the financial and emotional stress Wendy was taking on my boyfriend with her nonsense shenanigans. My dad sighed and said “well Honey, I don’t know about any of that and there’s not much you can do about it. What I do know is this: that little boy will never lack for love.”
And he, as per usual, was so right.
The first time my boyfriend’s son snuggled his head into my chest, looked me in the eyes and said “Morgan… I love you. Are we a family now?” My heart freaking melted into a puddle and I said, “I love you too!” And gave him a giant extra-special Morgan bear hug.
So whether you find yourself in a similar situation or are years past the point where I am and find yourself a happy stepmom I would LOVE to hear your personal experience with all of this. It is the 21st century and all of our lives are not the clean cookie-cutter things of the past. Also, any single ladies out there who have wholeheartedly excluded an entire amazing group of men from your dating applications I ask you to pause and reconsider that decision.
Check your bias and really examine why you wouldn’t even consider going on ONE date with a single father. There are plenty of fish in the sea, and some of them have awesome lil Nemos (prob don’t date the guy that loses his kid though… bad look Marlin).