No Potential Partners Need Apply: Kids, Single Parents, and Dating

I’ve always been amazed when I’ve heard other single moms say that their kids want a new Daddy. Their kids, they claim, actually encourage them to date.

I wonder what that’s like.

Soon after my husband’s sudden death when our son was not quite six, my little boy told me firmly, “No one can ever take my Daddy’s place.” Of course I agreed with him!

But I was a widow at 40 – too young for my life to be over too. After a couple of sad, lonely years, I was finally able to think about dating. It’s a frightening thought (at least, it was for me) when you haven’t done it in nearly 20 years.

Besides being scared, I was also worried about upsetting my young son, who’d repeat his “no one can replace my Daddy” statement every now and then – just often enough to let me know that he hadn’t changed his position on this.

I hadn’t either. No one could replace his Daddy; that was a fact. But I knew that I wasn’t ready to join the ladies I thought of as “Medicare widows,” the “typical” widows who were decades older than me and who, I’d guessed, were resigned to loneliness in the belief that it was too late, for them, to start over.

So, discreetly, I began looking for suitable men to date. At least I thought I was being discreet until one day, as I was sitting at my computer studying ads at an online dating web site, my son, who was maybe nine at the time, burst into the room.

“What are you doing?” he asked me, as I quickly exited the site. (For some reason I felt guilty, like a kid caught looking at something naughty.) “Nothing,” I said. I knew he’d seen pictures of men’s faces, though, so I “confessed.”

“I was just looking to see if there might be someone nice for Mommy to go out and do things with,” I said.

“I don’t want you to look for men,” he said. “No one can take Daddy’s place.”

“No, honey, no one can take your Daddy’s place,” I agreed. “But I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life.”

“You have me,” my little man replied.

“I know, honey. I love you and I’ll always love you and nothing will ever change that. But sometimes Mommy needs grownup company too.”

Needless to say, my boy remained unconvinced. So I remained careful.

If I wanted to go out on a date, I’d make sure that my son had an invite to a friend’s house that evening. I wasn’t going to stop dating, but I didn’t want my son to feel threatened either. He’d lost one parent and it was understandable that he’d want to hang on to the one he had left.

Fast forward things a couple of years, when I first allowed a man I was dating to meet my son. “What did you think of him?” I asked my son after the man had gone home. “I don’t like him,” he said. “Why?” I asked. “I just don’t,” was his answer.

A couple of years later, we had the identical conversation about another man.

That’s when I concluded that my son would never like any man I brought home; or at least, like a reflex, that would be his automatic response.

I’m still with the second man above (hi sweetheart!) and intend to be for the rest of my life. Yet nearly 10 years after his father’s death, my otherwise mature and intelligent teenage son can’t be reasoned with on this subject. His is a deeply felt emotional reaction, one he can’t seem to explain himself.

I won’t fault him for his feelings. How would you feel if the Daddy you adored kissed you goodbye, walked out of the house, and never came home again? How could he possibly process that at the age of six?

All he could do was feel – feel, as we clung to each other, and as I felt too, that he and I were all we each had left in the world.