If you had told me three years ago that I’d be in a relationship with a man who is a father, I wouldn’t have believed you. As a rule, at the time, I automatically swiped left to anyone who mentioned children.
But then it’s never that simple, is it? If I could go back and tell the version of me sitting in a cafe on that Friday morning that I could love this man all I want but that love doesn’t matter when it comes to making a relationship work when there’s a child involved, then I would. Falling in love was easy and right, making it work has not been.
Dating a man who has a kid has challenged my views on society, feminism and many, many preconceived notions on shoulds and should nots. It’s also challenged my sense of self on a scale I wouldn’t have imagined.
I love this man who became a father at 18 more than anything in the world and he has a wonderful son. But it appears to me that parents are forever fearful for and on behalf of their children and decisions about the future are made from a place of fear, not love which is where hope lies. So it’s no use beating yourself up because some situations need more than what you can offer.
To understand, we must see, in TV and hair salon folklore, single men with kids are so often in the wrong. It’s the dad who left or cheated and the dad who only sees the kids at the weekend. While we live in a society where divorce is likely, there is still no concept or easy comparison for a man who was left with a kid by the mother who walked away or who couldn’t cope.
In my search for reassurance, help and guidance in this relationship between two adults and a sidekick kid, I have discovered that there is no real or wide advice for dating a man who has majority custody with a child let alone one whose own parents are helping to raise that child.
And I heard myself start saying and thinking that the child should be told about who I am and shouldn’t be indulged so much and shouldn’t be lied to and that my partner should emancipate himself from his own parents and look after this child with me and why wasn’t it happening NOW?!
Dating a man who has a child does not give you the licence to say what should and shouldn’t be done to and for a child. It just doesn’t. You’re not the parent. Now, it definitely does mean your views and feelings on decisions and actions that affect you should be heard and respected but shoulds and should nots are not yours to make.
What experiences and values gave credence to my shoulds? Well, they were the ones based in the stories of the dads who leave and nothing more.
My partner is a rare breed of fathers being granted full or majority custody. He has had to fight for it and is winning but it has been very, very close. Fathers For Justice have jaw-dropping figures such as this simple one: 200 children lose contact with their fathers every day in secret courts.
‘A child should be with its mother’ is so engrained in society’s view that it has taken me a great deal of effort to view my partner’s family independent of society’s expectations at a conscious or subconscious level and definitely when explaining my relationship to friends and families.
I am finding my partner’s family incredibly challenging but by not respecting their role in bringing up this child and not thinking it to be the right way, I am being a hypocrite.
I recently read Anne Marie Slaughter’s book, Unfinished Business, (review to come later) in which she explains that women can’t have it all. They simply can’t raise a family and have a fulfilling career unless we change the vocabulary and stop talking about children being a women’s issue and start talking about it as a community issue. That in order to make the most of the female talent pool, as well as dealing with a crisis in the NHS where elderly relatives can’t get the care they need with paid help alone and that we, their children and grandchildren will have to change our lives to be able to care and have a career. Care in the community is essential to our future and I know that for me, available care and ad hoc help from parents, family and friends will be essential to me having children while still running my business.
Dating a single parent has to involve dating their family too because they had to rely on them to bring this kid up. They had to create a community of care. To say they shouldn’t be as involved can jeopardise my future needs and rule out any validity in my belief in Slaughter’s views and advice for the future of western society.
It takes a village to raise a child, that’s nothing new. But here’s the point I have to make about dating a man with a kid that is the real flashing light moment for those seeking advice.
If the village doesn’t open its doors and let the newcomer in, how can they expect them to raise the child? For the child to be happy, doesn’t everyone have to be in the village?
In the same way that chastising a grandparent for not looking after the child in a prescribed exact way detailed by the parent isn’t necessarily fair or easy because they’re still making sure they were fed and looked after and were indeed helping the parent, neither is it fair to not respect or welcome in the newcomer – that’s me, the girlfriend. Without respect in the village and community be it to the grandparent or to the newcomer, then the whole village including the child, suffer.
And so, this is my point for those who would date a man with a child, do not expect to parent and let the shoulds go, but do expect and ask for you to be involved and included and respected. These are simple and basic things for life and not just dating and parenting.
For those who are the parent with the child, do not think that your partner is being ridiculous to be asked to be let in, to know and to understand. You’ll find that they want to love and be loved.
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But here’s why it is not.
Letting someone into the village puts everyone in a vulnerable position. There’s a reason bullies pick on the new kid for example because deep down they are scared of the newcomer replacing them.
There is the fear that if the newcomer leaves the village then the child is damaged from it. To get the child to a place where he is safe is foremost on a parent’s mind, especially a parent who has battled against the legal system where my case of the shoulds has come from.
From this point of view, to invite in more love, abundant though it may be, is seen as a potentially jeopardising move to the child’s safety.
And this is where I am. My partner had promised me we would all live together in an honest and transparent village with grandparents on hand but for there to be a chance of a family of three. I am struggling to live in a web of lies, white or not.
Sadly, when you’re the girlfriend, as soon as it seems the relationship set up is difficult then you’re the bad one acting out in a way which suggests you don’t care or want the child. As the partner of the parent, your more negative but very human and natural feelings only push the potential further away from happening. To succeed in a relationship with a parent involves swallowing your feelings.
If no one talks or hears about the girlfriend’s feelings then it’s fine. Is it fine for you, that girlfriend, to have your emotions echo silently in your mind with no outlet?
When pushed on making progress as a family of three, my partner has said he needs to know our relationship is stable enough. He is in such a place of fear that love won’t do. So now we are in a place where fear rules over the heart and where love can’t triumph.
And if we can’t show the next generation – that child – that faith and love will carry us through the tough times, then they are learning to make decisions from a place of fear. What way is that to live now and for the next generation to live in the future?
Postscript: information was removed from this blog because my partner feared it would antagonise his child’s mother and he is desperate to protect him.