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Ex, friend should consider child's best interest before embarking on relationship

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Consider child's best interest when starting new relationships

Q: I'm newly divorced, having split with my ex-husband just over a year ago. He told me this week that he is considering dating one of my closest friends ("Anne") who is a huge part of my 5-year-old daughter's life, practically an aunt to her. They've been spending a lot more time together, with my daughter, and he said they've discussed dating.

Setting aside the fact that I feel like I would be losing a very close friend (on whose shoulder I cried when we split), I am really concerned about my daughter. He doesn't have a great track record; I was wife No. 2. If they don't work out, my daughter would lose someone she adores. As long as she could talk, it was always "My Daddy," "My Mommy" and "My Anne."

I want both of them to be happy, but I feel like he's being selfish and not thinking about our daughter, let alone my feelings. I'm internally screaming at him while externally saying, "Be careful, don't tell our daughter yet," etc. Any suggestions on how to handle it?

Virginia

A: Yours is an extreme case, but it is fairly common that when you're struggling the most to do something the right way — raise your child, do your job, manage your home, etc. — that's when people do something that makes you want to say, "A little help here, please!" I mean, for your ex and your best friend to throw you an emotional sucker-punch and a new parenting challenge just as you're trying to get a 5-year-old through her parents' divorce? Wow.

Yet no matter how desperate you are for an ideal outcome, you're still stuck without any control over anything except: 1. your actions; 2. your reaction to others' actions; 3. your ability to articulate what you want while respecting the boundaries set out by 1 and 2.

From your question, it sounds as if you haven't talked to Anne about this. You are entitled to explain to her: "I can't tell two adults what to do with their feelings, but I can, as (daughter's) mom (let's call her Boo, a la Monsters Inc.), ask you to make your choices with Boo's needs in mind."

One reason to keep beating back your rancor is that Ex and Anne might well go the distance — who knows, right? — and that would give Boo three adults who love her. If past is indeed prologue, these three would be willing to work together to raise her.

This willfully adult approach would also give Anne a blueprint for doing the same, which is the best chance she'll remain your friend through this. Complicated dances are much easier with instructions, right?

Finally, don't let the understandable agony of this distract you from your main job, which is to provide steady, loving care to Boo. You can't control external (flak) storms, but you can give your child a model for how to weather (flak) storms, which is one of the most valuable gifts you can give.

That's why none of this is to be mistaken for a mandate to be perfect and/or unemotional. You can have and show feelings during a tough time. Just be sure also to show that feelings don't have to control you.

Ex, friend should consider child's best interest before embarking on relationship 06/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 6:26pm]

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