Friday, December 11, 2015

The Break-Up: The Effect on the Single Father Family Part I

“And I may be advised to defend every love, every ending, or maybe there's no obligations now.” - Paul Simon, Graceland

So, single dad, you’ve been dating, huh? You know, of course, dating is quite a bit different now that you’re a single father than it was when you were an unencumbered guy living alone. Given the fact that you’re a parent on your own, chances are very good that you’ve already had at least one committed relationship that stopped short of “happily ever after.” Now that you’re dating, if you’ve introduced your love interest to your children and involved her in your life, well, the stakes are just a little higher.

In The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball, I include as “Golden Rule #15: It should be an exception that you introduce your children to your romantic interest, and do so only if you are reasonably certain there is potential for a relatively long-term relationship:”

I haven’t introduced my children to my romantic interests any time during the first several encounters to avoid creating unrealistic expectations or misunderstandings for just about everyone .  .  . At the point when I want to spend more time with a woman I’m dating, I clearly have an interest beyond a casual friendship .  .  . (and) I consider the benefits .  .  . of commingling my personal life with my home life, considering my needs and those of my children first.

Sometimes, sadly, that person you fall for may not be ready to catch you. So, what do you do when you’ve had some form of a committed relationship with a woman, involved her with your children, and then the relationship ends? The short answer is, “Take care of yourself so you can take care of your children.”

Easier said than done, right? Maybe not.

“And she said losing love is like a window in your heart.” - Paul Simon, Graceland

When that special relationship ends, how should the single father react? What does he need to do to maintain that happy environment that he’s worked so hard to create for himself and his children? Considering 76% of single fathers in the United States are either divorced or separated[i], chances are you’ve had some experience with ending a relationship. In case you didn’t handle the first break-up very well, didn’t learn anything from your mistakes, or have forgotten what you did learn, I have a few suggestions.

Enlist a Wingman
Whether you ended the relationship, your partner ended it, or both of you did it together, you will experience a sense of loss for something that had been an important part of your life. After any sort of loss, it is not uncommon to grieve. Call on a close, trusted, and sensible friend to serve as your "wingman" while you navigate your safe landing. Wingman qualifications include the ability to put you in a headlock and say, “I love you, man,” and the ability to put you in a headlock and punch you in the face, both with equal enthusiasm.

Take a Step Back
Remember, the person with whom you’ve ended a relationship cared and, perhaps, still cares about you a great deal. After you get over the initial disappointment of the break up, anger may be one of your first reactions. You may even feel obliged to tell your former partner, in no uncertain terms, exactly how you feel. Whoa, boy. While you may think it will make you feel better to scream and curse, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice in the long run. That person who you loved and with whom you’d been emotionally and physically intimate, hasn’t changed. It’s likely she’s hurting too. What benefit to anyone could possibly come from hurting her any more? It should go without saying that drunk-dialing, perpetual texting, and driving-by her house will accomplish nothing other than to erode her respect for you and destroy the beauty of the memories of good times. This is a time when your wingman can really earn his stripes.

Don’t Try to Change Your Ex; Don’t Promise to Change Yourself
By this time, you should know for yourself that we, as adults, are who we are. Pretty much the purpose of dating, in case you’re wondering, is to find out whether you and another person are compatible enough to commit to a long term relationship. By virtue of the fact that you’re not together, obviously, you’re probably not compatible enough. You can no more change who you are than a leopard can change its spots. You certainly can’t change who you former partner is.

Find an Outlet to Relieve Your Stress
If you have a wingman, have behaved rationally, and haven’t wasted any emotional energy trying to change what can’t be changed, then you’re rewarded with, get this, stress. At least you didn’t create any more for yourself. Still, you may be dealing with a range of emotions. Find the outlets for the stress and for understanding it. Although I neither encourage nor discourage counseling, the enlistment of a professional is a way to discuss and better understand your problems. Talking with a trusted friend may also be helpful. Some (ahem) write or create art, while others exercise or practice a hobby. The point is; find a way to process the stress and grief you’re feeling so you can be everything you need to be for you and for your children.

Get Back on the Horse, Slowly
Don't rush back into an intense relationship. If the relationship that ended was meaningful enough to create feelings of grief, then you will not be emotionally equipped to have a new person in that role right away. Genuine, real love, what I refer to as, "It," may happen only once, or perhaps twice in a lifetime. For many people, sadly, It never comes. Pretending, rushing into a relationship, and involving your children with a new love interest and, perhaps, her children, puts your kids at risk for another disappointment and sends the message to them, "Anyone will do."

Sooner or later, you’ll probably feel like giving romance another try. In the meantime, enjoy all the aspects who you are, what you are, and where you are. Talk, socialize and enjoy life. I’ve found the most beautiful relationships happen when you least expect it.

The Dr. Seuss Rule
Unless your former romantic partner was some kind of a malevolent ogre, (which, if she was, why would you have been with her in the first place?), then there must quite a lot about that person and the two of you together which made you happy. While grieving may hinder your effort for a while, take the advice Theodor Geisel, “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.”

That will be important because, in case you’ve forgotten single father, you’re still responsible for providing a safe and constructive environment for your children. You still have to be a dad.

[i] “Facts and Features,” U.S. Census Bureau,, April 20, 2011.