Social media is being used for just about everything these days, from keeping up with friends and family and reporting breaking news, to getting insights into the inner workings of school shooters’ mind and vetting job applicants. Well, now we can add determining custody in divorce cases.
I’m very curious to see how this plays out. At the very least, it seems like it would be be confusing as hell to the kids. Plus, it’s definitely going to open the door for all kinds of bizarre lawsuits.
Dear Mr. Dad: I have been dating a divorced dad for a year now. I’ve met his two awesome daughters. We’ve hung out together but they don’t know that I’m in a relationship with their dad. How do we tell them that we are more than friends in a way that will be least disruptive and will produce the best results?
A: Dating a divorced dad can be a pretty daunting prospect and you’re one brave woman to be doing it. You’re absolutely right to be thinking about this now, but I’d be willing to bet that your boyfriend’s daughters are already on to you. Kids are a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for, and if they’ve hung out with you at non-work-related functions (office parties and picnics, for example), they’ve already connected the dots or at least suspect that something’s up.
Ideally, you’d have kept your relationship with their dad a complete secret until you were ready to tell them. However, the fact that the girls already know you may work to your advantage by making it easier for them to accept you when you make the official announcement. Hopefully, your boyfriend wouldn’t let his kids’ opinions of you dictate whether or not your relationship continues, but getting their “approval” is important. Those girls are going to be a part of your life for a long time and they’ll always have some influence over their dad. Sounds like you’re off to a good start.
The key to successfully dating a divorced dad and getting in his daughters’ good graces is to take things slow. Let them gradually get used to you being a part of his—and their—life. Children are usually very protective of their parents (this is especially true of daughters and their dads) and they’ll lash out if they feel that you’re not the right person for their dad or that you’re “up to no good.” The slow-and-steady approach will reduce the odds that this will happen to you.
As for the mechanics of spilling the beans, dad should be the one who starts the conversation. Something like, “I know you’ve already met Audrey and you know her as my friend. But we’re really more than just friends.” Give the kids a chance to respond. Since they know you, there’s a good chance that their response will be a yawn.
Put some thought into where this is going to happen. There are no absolute rules, of course. Home is good because it’s the girls’ territory and they’ll feel more comfortable there (plus they can go running off to their rooms if they need to get away). A public place could be good because it’s neutral territory (but you may end up incredibly embarrassed if the girls pitch a fit). Either way, leave plenty of time to answer questions.
Even after your status change (from friend to girlfriend) has been confirmed, keep taking things slowly. Hold hands with their dad and kiss every once in a while, but don’t go overboard. And avoid overnighters for a while longer. The kids need time to adjust and having you move into their house—or even just leaving a toothbrush on the bathroom sink—could be too jarring.
Finally—and maybe most importantly—be a friend to the girls, but make it clear that you’re not trying to be their mother. They have one of those already. What they really want to know is whether you’re going to love and care for their dad. All you have to do is show them.
Dear Mr. Dad: It seems like every time I turn on the TV there’s a story about welfare moms with nine kids who are collecting huge government checks, or deadbeat dads who have five kids with five different women and aren’t paying child support. I really resent that my tax dollars are paying for those kids and their mothers. Isn’t there something we can do to keep those men from getting women pregnant?
A: Do you really want to go down that road? Like you, most of us have heard the stories about women on welfare who keep having kids they can’t possibly support. And, like you, many of us have shaken our head and thought something along the lines of, “she shouldn’t be allowed to have any more kids.” But thinking that is usually as far as it goes. In my view, having children is a right, not a privilege. So the idea of actually preventing a woman from getting pregnant—even if she already has 9 kids—is abhorrent. It wasn’t all that long ago that many intellectually challenged (formerly known as “mentally retarded”) women were medically sterilized without their consent.
But what puzzles me is why the right to become a parent doesn’t seem to extend to men. After reading your email, I saw a news item about a case in Elyria, Ohio that tackles this issue head on. Here’s the story: Asim Taylor, 35, has fathered four children and hasn’t paid child support since 2009—he owes around $79,000. Of course, not knowing the exact circumstances (for example, Asim might have been incapacitated by illness and isn’t earning enough money to pay his obligations), we can’t make blanket statements about him. But let’s assume the worst: that he has the ability to pay yet simply refuses to do so. In cases like that, I’m okay with garnishing his wages, seizing tax returns, and doing whatever else it takes to get his attention.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough for Judge James Walther, who has forbidden Taylor from having any more children for five years—unless he can support the ones he already has.
This is what it sounds like to me: It’s okay for a woman to have as many children as she’d like to. Ditto for a guy who pays his bills but completely neglects his children. But it’s definitely not okay for a guy who can’t afford to pay child support but who might very well be an amazingly involved dad. In one of the great understatements of the decade, Taylor’s attorney says that Judge Walther is “overstepping.”
The judge’s ruling reinforces two completely absurd notions. First, that men are 100 percent responsible for contraception. Theoretically, if Taylor’s wife or girlfriend does get pregnant, she could choose between having an abortion or giving birth, which would send Taylor to jail. Second, that it’s a man’s money—rather than his capacity to love and nurture his children—that determines his fitness as a father.
I’m all for expecting high levels of personal responsibility from people. But by trying to legally impose a double standard, Judge Walther is doing a tremendous disservice to men by holding them to a higher standard than women. And he’s doing an equally tremendous disservice to women by treating them like hapless victims of men’s inability to keep their pants on instead of adults who have made conscious decisions about procreation. Having a baby takes two people—and both should be held responsible for supporting it.
Starting January 1, 2013, the state of Arizona is changing the terms of divorce—and that’s a good thing.
Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are going to get divorced. How do I tell my 3-year old daughter and 7-year old son what’s happening so they’ll understand that it’s about their mother and father, not about them?
A: Divorce is never pleasant for anyone. But even if it turns out to be a good thing for the adults, it’s often devastating to children. In a way, it really is the end of their world. It’s great that you’re putting your kids first. Here’s how to break the news.