Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a question, but first some quick background. I am a single mother to an amazing 8-year-old girl. Her father and I divorced four years ago, and I spent the first three years of that time muscling my way through low-grade depression and working to stabilize our lives. I feel like I’m emerging from that long funk, and the little world I’ve made for my daughter and myself is stable and good. Now that I feel more myself again, I’ve started thinking about dating and new relationships.
I have zero interest or intention of introducing my daughter to anyone I would date. There are a few reasons for this: 1) I really cherish our relationship and don’t want to disrupt that, even though I know it will evolve and change over the years nonetheless. 2) Childhood is just so short—there’s only 10 years before she’s off to college—and I don’t want to miss moments with her because of some dude. 3) My custody schedule with her father is such that I could have a relationship/date without her ever having to meet anyone. 4) My work deals with child abuse and as a result, I do not have a very charitable opinion of the stepdads and boyfriends that many women choose to bring around their children.
However, I do have one concern about taking such an approach to post-divorce romance.
Would I be depriving her of seeing what a healthy romantic relationship looks like (assuming I could achieve that)? Kids pick up so much from what their parents model. How will she learn to navigate romantic relationships for herself? She doesn’t remember when her dad and I were together, and he’s not going to be the one setting that example anytime soon. Am I selling her short here? I would love any insight you might have.
Your concerns are valid, to be clear. Choosing the right partner isn’t simply a matter of pleasure or love for women, it can also be a matter of life and death, and as you know from your professional work, the consequences of dating Mr. Wrong can also have a devastating impact on your child. And even with an equitable division of responsibility between you and your ex, a romantic relationship can create distractions, both large (healing from a bad breakup, caring for a sick mate) and small (missing a recital because it fell during a romantic getaway, missing a call from your kiddo due to, ahem, adult time).
Society often presents us with the notion that moms (regardless of marital status) exist primarily to serve their families and that if a mom prioritizes herself it comes at the detriment of that responsibility. That isn’t true, and one of the most important things that we can do for our children—particularly as mothers of daughters and most particularly as single mothers of daughters—is model what a fulfilling, well-rounded adult life can look like. That means making an effort to prioritize our health, careers, friendships, bonds with other family members, hobbies, and, for those of us who are interested in doing so, our love lives. This is not an easy balancing act, but neither is being an all-sacrificing mother. You can and should do all of those things without it coming at any great expense to your relationship with your child.
There’s no need for your daughter to meet someone you’re dating casually, nor a new partner who seems promising in the long term. However, you can talk to her about the process of dating and share age-appropriate tidbits here and there in hopes of helping her understand what courtship should look like: “There was someone I was dating for a little while last year. He was really nice, but I didn’t feel the same way about him that he did about me, so I chose to break things off. You can’t use someone for attention or affection.” “I really liked this one guy, but he had a bad temper. If someone doesn’t know how to treat you with kindness when he’s angry or stressed, that isn’t someone you should be dating.” Talk to her openly about what love and respect entail, what makes a great partner, and how she can eventually both exemplify and recognize those traits when she’s old enough to date.
If you find yourself involved with someone you’d deem worthy of a substantive role in your own life, you can find appropriate ways to include him in your family without shortchanging your daughter. Be clear with your partners, and yourself, that maintaining a stable environment for her and meeting her needs are your top priorities, but also understand that you don’t have to put yourself on the back burner in order to do that. Let your experiences at work heighten your discernment without being unreasonably cynical. Remember that you were a human being with needs, desires, and feelings before you were a mother, and that you’re still one now. If you find that you are happiest keeping your mom life and love life separate, that’s fine, but let that be a personal choice and not a mandate based on anything beyond your own desire. I’ve been at this for more than five years myself and it’s a difficult, but fulfilling, undertaking. I’m wishing you all the best as you embrace your place in the “Momma Gotta Have a Life Too” club.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter is 5 and in a small pre-K program with just six students. These are all kids who will turn 5 between September and December of this year and have missed the cutoff for kindergarten. We recently received an email invitation to a classmate’s birthday party next month. When you click the link to read it, you can also see all the other invited children and their RSVPs. I noticed that everyone in the class was invited—except for one child. While I don’t typically like to insert myself in other people’s business, this strikes me as very cruel and I’m wondering if I should take any action. I’m not close to the host parents, but their daughter has been to our house for a play date before. I’ve been thinking of a few possibilities: emailing them with the assumption that it was an oversight and providing the excluded child’s mother’s email, talking to the teachers for advice, not allowing my daughter to attend as a matter of principle, or just doing nothing. Do you have any advice?
—Don’t Be Cruel
There are a number of possible reasons for the missing invite, but human error is certainly one of them and it would be unfortunate for that child to miss the party if that were the culprit.
Send one of the parents a polite email mentioning that you noticed so-and-so wasn’t on the RSVP list and that you thought you’d share her mom’s email just in case. Hopefully, they’ll simply thank you and correct their error. If they have chosen not to invite this child, there’s a good chance they’ll explain why. Perhaps she doesn’t celebrate birthdays for religious reasons, or they already know she’ll be going out of town for a vacation that weekend, or she simply doesn’t get along with their little one. If the reason doesn’t sit well with your spirit, you two can sit the party out.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I recently bought a video doorbell, which has been great but for one issue: It records everything, including things I’d rather not see. For example, my 13-year-old son’s key got stuck in the door and he started cursing: “This effing key it’s effing stuck … ” and so forth. Normally I’d punish him for such language, but is that fair in a context where he should expect no one was watching him? Should I continue to pretend I didn’t hear him swearing or call him out?
Your son is 13. There’s a pretty good chance he’s more intimately familiar with the language you caught him using than you’d like to know. Letting him know that (and how) you busted him is unlikely to do much other than change how he speaks when he’s on your doorstep. You could say, “Watch your language. You never know who’s watching” without context, and hope that’s enough to spook him into being more mindful about profanity in public, but it may be worth it to stay mum.
A constant peek at how he behaves when “no one” is watching could be quite valuable; an F-bomb doesn’t really necessitate dialogue, but there are some far more offensive words that absolutely would, as would a conversation with a friend about a party he’s planning to sneak to or a failed test grade he didn’t bring home. Snooping on your kid may seem kinda wrong, but this isn’t like setting up a camera in his room. Your son should be prepared to be held accountable for anything he does on your doorstep, especially considering that it’s literally outfitted with a surveillance camera—this just isn’t the moment for that to happen.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Is a digital camera a good idea for my 5-year-old? She’s obsessed with taking pictures on my phone, so I thought she’d have fun with her own camera. I don’t want to create a selfie monster or have her experience life from behind a viewfinder. On the other hand, I had a camera when I was growing up. But it was film, so I had to wait for the roll to finish and get it developed. Thoughts?
—Mom on Film
Photography is a great hobby that can become a lifelong passion and/or career. Get your daughter a durable kid-friendly option and teach her to take pictures of her family, her community, and anything else she finds interesting. Allow her to enjoy including herself among her subjects, but encourage her to find unique ways to snap her selfies (as opposed to having a folder full of duck-face smirks like the rest of us). Keep a scrapbook of her work, display it in the house, and see what blossoms! She’ll soon find that there are at least a few things out there in the world more pleasing than her own pout, and even those blurry 5-year-old selfies will be the source of great delight when she’s 15, 25, 35 …
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My sister taught my son an incorrect spelling of a word. She said that it was always spelled that way until recently and that it was only changed because people were too dumb to spell it right. (The word is dilemma, which she insists is actually spelled dilemNa.) I don’t want my son spelling words wrong, but more importantly I don’t want him to pick up his aunt’s attitude that “I’m right, and everyone who says otherwise is wrong,” which unfortunately he seems to be doing. Do I need to keep him away from her?
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