Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about whether she has to choose between being a mother or being a woman, and whether it’s realistic for her to require her boyfriend to take both her and her children, even though he hinted that he’d rather the kids be financially independent before marrying her.
In my advice to this reader, I provide guidance on how to communicate her desires to her partner, how to uncover what he’s really thinking and feeling, how to deal with her partner’s and daughter’s discomfort about this potential change to their family, and the steps she could take to try and make this work so she, her partner, and her children feel good about the future.
I have been dating a divorced man [with no children] for two years and four months.
I have two teenage children (19 and 16) living with me all the time.
My boyfriend has not openly told me so, but once he very very subtly implied that he is waiting for them to be financially independent to then start thinking on a future together.
We are in our early fifties.
I think we do not have the luxury to date for so many years.
I have been divorced for eight years.
He for three years.
I also understand it has to be scary and overwhelming to start living with children when you have never had any, but I did mention them in my profile – we met on an online dating site- so he knew they were part of the package when he contacted me.
On the other hand, my oldest is not a sweet person, and she could be “too honest” sometimes, so I know my boyfriend would prefer not to live with someone like her (although he has never been mean to her; quite the opposite, he treats her very nicely).
I love this man and want to marry him.
And my son needs a good and healthy paternal figure in his life right now.
I am afraid I might have to choose between being a mother or a woman.
My youngest child is not close to his father.
My boyfriend and my son get along well, and I know he would be a very good influence for my son as a stepdad.
My oldest already told me if I get married, she would stay in the apartment, and would get a roommate, and I am sure her father would help with the rent if she needs it.
I have told this to my boyfriend, but he says he does not want to be a source of conflict between my daughter and me.
Even though deep down I would feel as if I will be abandoning my oldest child choosing a man over her, I really want to marry this man.
We love each other.
There are no constraints.
I want him to be a stepdad for my youngest son now that my son needs him, before he grows into an adult without a male role model who can teach him how to be a man.
Am I selfish or unrealistic on wanting/expecting my boyfriend to take me with my teenage children when/if we get married/live together?
-Mother or woman?
Dear “Mother or Woman,”
Thank you so much for reaching out.
I feel your concern and really acknowledge you for wanting to think this through and make a highly conscious decision for yourself and your family.
You don’t have to choose between woman or mother.
You are both, and will always be both.
You do not have to deny one part to preserve the other.
Both are very important parts of who you are. In my private coaching, I help my clients fully explore these very dilemmas.
Because often, what we really fear is the unknown and the “what if’s.”
By supporting you as you explore those places of uncertainty, we often uncover that you really do have the power, resources, and clarity to handle what you previously feared you could not handle.
Discovering What He’s Really Thinking And Feeling
For example, you said that he “very very subtly implied that he is waiting for them to be financially independent to then start thinking on a future together.”
This is the perfect opportunity for you and your boyfriend to learn more about each other’s needs and desires for the future.
This is an opportunity to deepen your connection to each other.
His “subtle implications” may not necessarily be his truth.
So you can deepen your connection to each other by learning more about each others’ truth.
And from that place of truth is a much better place for you to make relationship decisions.
You don’t want to make life-changing family decisions on “subtleties.”
Rather, I encourage you to find out as much as you can, get to the deep truth, so you can make your relationship and family decisions on facts and on solid information instead of subtleties or what you worried or inferred he might be thinking — because what if that’s not actually what he’s thinking and feeling.
Your thoughts and feelings matter in this decision, too.
So sharing how you feel about all this with him is really important.
Because if he knows where you stand, and how important it is to you that you be with your kids and that you’re scared you might have to “choose,” it might turn out that you don’t actually have to choose and that you both can arrive at a solution that makes everyone happy.
Being In Possibility
Which leads me to my next point: Why not explore all the possibilities?
In my work with clients, I help them stay in the realm of possibility so you’re not stuck making decisions from fear, but rather from the vision for the deeply fulfilling life and relationship that you really want.
So instead of already deciding that it’s not going to work, I encourage you to ask: How will you be able to make this work?
I encourage you to ask the same questions of yourself with regard to the issue of whether you getting married will be a source of conflict for your daughter.
How true is it that it will be a source of conflict?
Have you fully explored the issue with your daughter to find out her truth about the issue, and to make her aware of yours?
Are You Being Selfish?
You’re not selfish or unrealistic for wanting what you want.
Your needs matter.
Your desires matter.
You owe it to yourself to pursue what makes you happy.
Being a happier woman will also make you a happier mom.
Denying your desires in one important area of your life to try and serve another area of your life only leads to pain and resentment because you would be denying something that’s true and important to you.
Also, when your children see you taking a stand for your needs, desires, and dreams in a healthy and conscious way, it sends the message to your children that it’s ok to care for oneself in that way and to respect your own needs and desires.
Dealing With Your Daughter’s Discomfort About You Getting Married
I feel you.
You’re worried that you’d be abandoning your daughter.
But let’s take a look at what abandonment really means.
To abandon means to desert, to cease support for, or to give up on something completely.
By marrying the man you love, how true is it that you would be abandoning your daughter?
I understand your concern that your daughter might feel abandoned if you marry your boyfriend which is why, if you’re worried or sense that she might feel that way, it’s really important to have a conversation with her to listen to and validate her feelings around your relationship with your boyfriend and to address her concerns.
While you go into deeper levels of commitment with your boyfriend, it’s also important to communicate and assure your children about what this change in your life and in your family life means to them.
Change can be scary.
Even if it’s positive change.
They want to feel loved and safe.
They want to know that they’re not going to lose their mom.
So listening to their feelings and providing that reassurance goes a long way.
You Have A Right To Your Needs And Desires
However, with that said, you have a right to arrange your life the way that you want to and in the way that feels right for you and your family.
You’re not neglecting your children or being irresponsible for wanting to marry the man you love.
In my coaching work with clients, I help them to get really clear on what truly matters to them so that they can communicate dreams and desires to their partner, and help them decide if this partnership can support their dreams and desires.
So getting clear on what truly matters to you — get clear on what your truth is — is really important.
For example, if you really want your daughter to live with you for a few more years, if deep down in your heart that would make you happy, you have a right to want that, and you have a right to require it for yourself and your family.
And as you said, your boyfriend was well aware that you were a single mom with school-aged children, so your sense of responsibility to your children and your desire to provide for them should come as no surprise to him.
The right man for you would be very understanding of your needs and desires, he would be supportive of your relationship requirements, and he would want to make you happy.
Dealing With His Discomfort Around Your Daughter
You’re very compassionate and considerate for wanting your partner to feel comfortable.
Yes, teenagers can be self-centered and too honest and your daughter may not always be pleasant to be around, but it is your boyfriend’s responsibility to take care of himself and “protect” himself from the things that bother him.
For example, if he doesn’t like your daughter’s attitude, he does not have to engage with her.
But if she is being outright disrespectful or belligerent to him, then that needs to be addressed by you as her parent.
Everyone is entitled to their feelings, but no one deserves to endure mistreatment or disrespect.
Plus, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect him to have the same warm fuzzy love, openness, and affection for your children that you do because he hasn’t had the many years of memories and emotional connections that you have had with your children.
Plus, he doesn’t have children of his own so he doesn’t have first-hand experience of that visceral parent-child bond, and may not fully understand or identify with what you are feeling in that regard.
According to stepfamily research statistics, it takes an average of seven years for a stepfamily to start experiencing the level of emotional intimacy and connection that you might feel with a first family.
So discomfort in a stepfamily, especially in the beginning, is not unusual at all and is to be expected.
Your needs and desires as a mother and as a woman do not have to be to the exclusion of the other.
It’s not selfish to want the man that you love to also take you with your teenage children when you marry him.
And it’s not unrealistic to require it either.
It’s only unrealistic if you try to change your partner or insist that he should conform to a certain way if it’s truly not his desire or path.
In other words, you have a right to have your relationship requirements, AND he has a right to accept or not accept your relationship requirements.
You have a right to your needs and desires, and he has a right to his needs and desires.
But neither of you has the right to force your force or insist that the other person take your path.
You have a right to want what you want and be who you want to be, just as he has a right to want what he wants and to be who he wants to be.
You do not have a right to make him be who you want him to be.
But your needs matter.
Your happiness matters.
Taking a stand for your needs and desires as a mother AND as a woman are important for your long-term happiness.
You can meet the needs for both those parts of yourself.
You can give yourself the permission to have what you really want.
I know these things take time and thought to consider, but I hope this helps provide some guidance.
Have a burning relationship question? Send me your question here.
How to Decide if He’s Right for You
Whatever the issues are in your relationship, if you find yourself agonizing over questions like…
Is this relationship worth it??
Should I give him a chance or walk away??
I totally get you. I felt the same way when I was dating, which is why I created a free guide to help you get clarity.
In my free guide you’ll discover:
- 30 questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you should give him a chance or if you’re wasting your time
- 22 red flags you should be aware of if you want to avoid heartbreak and painful surprises
- How to assess your compatibility with your partner to know if your relationship has long-term potential
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