I received this email from a divorced dad seeking advice about blending families:
I’m a divorced dad of two teenage boys and have been divorced for over 12 years. I’ve dated many women over the last decade and haven’t connected with “the one.” I thought I would remain single forever. Eight months ago, I met a woman and we instantly hit it off. I haven’t had feelings like that for another woman since I was married. She has two younger kids—grade school ages. Her lease was up this summer and we made the decision to move in together even though my gut said it was a little quick. After the move in, I started feeling anxiety over whether we did the right thing and whether I’m spending enough time with my own kids now. But the biggest source of anxiety is the fact that she has a fourth grader, and my youngest will be out of the house in a few years. It will be another six years after that before her youngest is out of the house. I question whether I will have the energy to go to his events (school, soccer games, etc) after having been through all that with my kids. I spoke with her about it and she says we should just take things as they come but I’m still anxious. Is that selfish of me? Should I give it more time?
First of all, I have to say that I am thrilled that this guy met someone and fell in love! How great is that? That is something to be celebrated and enjoyed, after a decade of dating! So, both should feel immense gratitude for finding one another.
All that said, did this divorced dad move in with his girlfriend too soon? I’m thinking maybe. I feel like they did what so many divorced parents do: they date and date and date, and things seem hopeless, and then they meet someone and fall. And when they fall, they fall hard. Big time. And when they fall hard, they take it to the extreme by moving in together and/or getting remarried. AND, they do that way too soon.
If I had a rule of thumb, I would say a divorced parent (with kids still living in the house) should wait a minimum of 2 years before even considering moving in with someone. That is just my opinion, because I think that it takes 2 years for the infatuation to wear off and real love to emerge. Two years might seem like a long time, but I think as a divorced parent, it goes by in a flash.
OK, now all that said, do I think this relationship is doomed? Absolutely not! I do think no couple should move in together because someone’s lease is up, or someone has no place to live. When it’s time, and both people feel healthy about it, that’s when to make the move. So what if you have to break a lease or put a place on the market. Moving in together should not be a circumstantially based decision or a decision of convenience. It should be because the two people decided the time is right.
But, by no means is this relationship in danger. First of all, the girlfriend sounds really cool. I like her response of “take things as they come.” That is wise. Why worry about the future when you don’t know what it is yet?
This guy might end up loving going to his girlfriend’s son’s activities at times. But, when he doesn’t feel like going, he should not feel obligated, the girlfriend should not feel hurt or upset, and her son shouldn’t either.
Here is a great strategy for blending families. You must set some boundaries. What I mean by that is, when divorced parents blend families, I think many of them fail because there are these unrealistic expectations that they put on it. They think that the blended family has to be together 24/7 and that is very much not the case if you want to be happy.
When a family blends, time spent needs to be divided into four things:
1. The parents should do things by themselves as a couple, go on dates, weekend trips, etc.
2. Each parent should do things with just their own kids, without step brothers and step sisters and the other parent.
3. The family should spend time all together.
4. Each parent might need some time alone, while the other parent watches all of the kids.
If you strike the right balance of these things, then no one should feel hurt or resentful. Everyone will feel good about it.
But, when most people blend families, they fail to set boundaries, and they have these expectations that “since we blended our family, we all have to do everything together,” and that’s when disappointment, frustration and resentment might start to build.
This guy sounds like he is a few years away from being an empty nester, and quite honestly, he sounds like he is looking forward to that, and he has every right to! So, the girlfriend needs to understand how he feels, and that he might want some time alone and some space, he should not feel guilty about how he feels, and the kids need to understand that he is not their new dad, but rather a mentor, a friend, another source of support and someone they can go to for help and advice if they need him.
I think this relationship has a lot of promise, and that they really have no problems. Despite his anxiety, I think it sounds like things could turn out great for this family if the two go about setting the boundaries in the right way, right from the start.
Like this article? Check out my blog post, “Is He Second Marriage Material?”