I get letters, often from other divorced men who are either full-time single fathers or part-time dads. All of them have one thing in common: they love their child or children and are trying to do the best they can while also trying to have a life of their own. The latest guy to write to me had this question:
My question to you is about parenting first and secondly personal wishes. Two years ago, my sons mother and I split up. We are two different people. My family is my extended family. My friends are my friends. My ex, her family is her friends. She always fought with her family. Lots of drama. I always told myself, “her going out is her way to be with family.”
I accepted that. What I didn’t accept was her going out all the time always left her exhausted. No room for us; that’s why we divorced. Heck, by the time we split, I was dropping off, picking up, cooking, showering, and putting my son to bed. Every day.
Shortly after I met a new girl, who became my girlfriend. Loved her values. Loved how thoughtful she was. Loved how much she prioritized “us”. With that said, she hated my son’s mom.
Which presented a problem because I made a promise to my son when he was born to never keep his mom away from him. I still stand by it and my boy’s now 5.
My new girlfriend hated that my ex came to my place and stepped foot inside my house. I had no feelings for my ex and am far more dedicated to our son than she is. That’s why I have full custody.
My girlfriend didn’t like that, didn’t like my ex, didn’t want her to come inside if we were having dinner to see our son. My ex hated my son’s mom because she parties and is not an ideal mother. It came to a head and my girlfriend made me choose between her and allowing my ex to see our son. And I chose my son’s mother because I believe having her in his life is the best option. Because of that, my girlfriend broke up with me.
Did I do the right thing? Am I supposed to listen to my ex and not let my son’s mom inside? Does this promise doom me forever from having another relationship?
My response to him was this:
I would say that you’re spot on that your child’s mom needs to always be important and a presence for your son, even when that makes things tricky. However, their meetings don’t need to be in your home and I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to challenge your ex to find a place where she and your son can spend some time together. Perhaps a play area at a public venue like a shopping mall? Or a kid friendly restaurant? Or a playground at the park, for that matter.
Thing is, I can understand your girlfriend’s unhappiness with your ex being in the house, sitting on the couch, using the bathroom, etc. So much easier if you don’t overlap living spaces, in my opinion. Then again, I have a friend where the ex-wife moved out of town and when she came back to visit, he’d let her stay in his unused bedroom (and generally would find things to do out of the house so he wasn’t present during her visits). It worked for them.
I’m also a bit puzzled why you couldn’t work something out with your ex-gf where she’d know in advance when mom was heading over and simply take off for a girls night with her friends? Or lunch, or an afternoon, whatever. Seems like she could have tried to help come up with a solution that was workable, however suboptimal it was.
Still, whether your ex is a party girl or whatever, there should be some neutral spaces where she could have a reasonable visit with your son. You could also call and ask social services or even your attorney about whether there are play spaces for this sort of thing in your community so it wouldn’t be happening in your home.
You definitely haven’t lost the race by being a great dad, devoted to your son and doing your best to keep his mom in the picture too!
And one more message from him after receiving my note:
I try to tread lightly with my sons upbringing, he’s 5, and I did not want to instill any negativity about his mom. At the end of the day, I figured my son would realize the good and bad about his mom later in life.
My ex-gf wanted complete separation, however. For me to have only one family; with her. I always felt that I have two families, though, as bad as that may have sounded to my ex-gf. I assured her that my “new” family would always take priority, but that my son’s mom was always going to be around in some way. That is my promise to my son that I couldn’t and can’t break.
You are suggesting that one solution would be a neutral space. I agree. But the situation is hard based on time of day. Then again, maybe this is really my fault because I “bent” over too much to make this work for my son and his mom.
Now, rather than me offering additional thoughts, what’s your thinking, fellow parents? Prioritize your child’s parent over your new relationship? Or ban them from the house and your life entirely so that it’s not an ongoing shadow over your new family?