A Ready Date and Social Substitutes

One of the things I miss about not having Carrie around is always having a ready date. I am aware that this doesn’t sound too romantic but stay with me a moment. For nearly 30 years (I’m including dating and rounding a little) if I wanted to do something with someone she was my first choice—by far. I’m sure that is part of the purpose of marriage, part of God’s plan when He created humans as social beings, having someone, another other sex adult peer, with whom to experience life.

This morning my youngest, the boy, and I were discussing today’s plans. He’ll spend the late morning through most of the afternoon with a group of friends doing some fun stuff. He’s going with another family so I’ll be by myself. I commented that I might take myself out to lunch while he’s gone. Then I thought about how nice it would be to have someone to go out with just to have some adult conversation. Reflectively, I told the boy that one of the aspects I missed about his mother not being here anymore was that we could spontaneously go out on a date. Jokingly, I said I would take him but he didn’t meet my requirements for a date. Without missing a beat he replied, “I’m kind of glad about that”. We had a good laugh and shared pleasant thoughts of mom.

This highly witty exchange renewed a thought that has been rattling around in my head for a while. A thought about some observations I’ve made as I’ve noticed the interactions of single parents and children. I have realized that my circumstance as a widowered single father has many similarities to other single parents. The single parent tend to be mom in the majority of my observations. …I know. I’m on thin ice here comparing myself to a single mom so I’ll tread lightly if you’ll give me some grace.

In the early months following Carrie’s death I would often take the boy out to eat, to a movie, or some other fun outing. There is nothing wrong with enjoying time with the boy. However, I recall one particular evening when it was rather late and we were enjoying a meal out together. Something struck me mentally. I began to realize that I was making the boy “my date”. In other words, my motives and actions were out of balance. This is not really unexpected after a serious loss in the family; perhaps the behavior is even healthy in the short-term. After this realization I did not immediately stop all the activity but I did become more aware. Many more months have now passed and we still eat out, go to movies and do other fun things but I’m more intentional about using these outings to be a dad and not making the boy a social substitute.

Now back to the thin ice…. As I observe single mom’s, nearly all single by divorce, I’ve noticed what appears to be a similar pattern to what I observed in myself–not always but often. It may not be specifically in the area of social outings, as in my case, but areas where one’s children become a relationship substitute. I suspect one difficulty in evaluating this issue is that the actions give the appearance of good parenting. Consider my case; wouldn’t most people view my interactions with the boy as just being a good dad? So when evaluating one must take a hard and honest look at motivations. Another thought which might be helpful is being aware of a natural inclination in women (and men at times) to “tend and befriend” during times of trauma—becoming a single parent by divorce or death is trauma!  In times of difficulty a woman may be seen focusing (tending) on her children to make sure they are well and will gather social support (befriend) to weather out the storm. In the short run, this is a healthy response. Unfortunately, in my observations, tend and befriend may become an ingrained pattern of living or a defense mechanism which hinders normal, healthy adult interactions in life outside of parenting. In other words, the ongoing tend and befriend pattern may be a perpetual response to trauma even after the trauma has passed.

This observation may be something few have ever considered. I am not sure I would have noticed if it hadn’t been for my personal circumstances. In the hopes of being helpful in re-establishing healthy relationships allow me to suggest some indicators worth evaluating:

  • Evaluate interactions to see if they are driven primarily for the emotional or social benefit of the parent.
  • Is there difficulty in establishing healthy relationships with other adults, especially other sex relationships, because of parenting “responsibilities”?
  • Having little or no desire to establish romantic relationships because of one’s children.
  • Is the parent overly sacrificial of personal time and pleasures?
  • Is the amount of interaction with other families and friends is limited?
  • Has the parent become too “kid-centric” where everything revolves around the child’s activities?
  • Are there thoughts of being unworthy of personal joys because one has failed God’s ideal in marriage so the children become one’s life project.
  • Is there a blurring of boundaries between parent and child toward parent and friend?

I wholeheartedly welcome your thoughts and comments.

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One thought on “A Ready Date and Social Substitutes

  1. Interesting……as someone who has been a single mother for the majority of my childrens lives I would agree with some of this…. but not all. Very intersting thoughts though! I think your relection and questions are very appropriate and normal. I also think you are doing a great job with “the boy” from what I can see in our brief encounters. 🙂

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