Dating a Divorced Dad: Patience and Bravery Required

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a sixth grade teacher and one of my students became very attached to me during the school year. Her parents divorced eight years ago and I began emailing with her dad a couple months ago. We started seeing each other but didn’t let many people know because we wanted to wait until school was out. The daughter got wind that something was going on and told her dad it was wrong for him to date her teacher and begged him to date anyone but me. I wasn’t expecting this reaction and we stopped seeing each other. He said he had to do what was in his daughter’s best interest. I completely disagree with this, because the girl has not liked any of the past girlfriends either. I’m absolutely devastated. He thinks she’ll come around now that school is over but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Is there any hope? What should I do?

A: Being a single dad myself, I can assure you that dating a divorced father is never easy (that’s what women I’ve dated have said and I know I’m not the only one…). We come with plenty of baggage and there are always unforeseen complications. Plus, children tend to be very protective of their dads (interestingly, they’re often more protective of dads than moms—perhaps because they see that moms already enjoy much more social support than dads).

Part of problem may be that the girl feels betrayed by you. Because the two of you had such a strong bond during the year, chances are good that she looked at you with admiration and respect and even considered you a friend. To have you suddenly dating her father might have made her feel that you were just using her to get to her dad.

It’s also possible that the girl is worried about betraying her mother. Most kids with divorced parents secretly hope that mom and dad will get back together—even if the divorce happened long, long ago. And there’s nothing like having dad start dating someone else to show a child that (a) she has no control over the situation, and (b) that her fantasy of a reunited family might never happen. So the fact that the girl really likes you muddles things even more by making her feel that she’s actually helping shatter he own dream.

As far as the dad goes, you need to understand that his first responsibility (and loyalty) will always be to his child—as it should be. And while it’s certainly worth trying to convince him to give things another go, his primary motivation will be to do what’s right for his daughter, whatever that looks like to him.

One thing you can do to help both dad and daughter come to grips with the situation is to slow the relationship down. In other words, be friends instead of dating each other. While it would have been better to have started the relationship from this angle, going the friend route now might work by giving everyone a little extra time to get used to the new dynamic.

At the same time, be sure to give dad and daughter some space to talk things over alone. I know you want to be there to give your side of the story and try to show them that you’ve got the best of intentions, but don’t.

Dating a divorced dad can be frustrating and infuriating, and the key to success is being very, very patient. Rushing things will only backfire.

Non-Stop Chatterbox

I’ve got three kids. The middle one, who’s five, starts chattering the second she wakes up and doesn’t close her mouth until she’s asleep. On one hand, I love to hear her talk and have conversations about “Why this?” and “Why that?” But she’s exhausting me and I feel like my other children aren’t getting the attention they need because the 5-year-old is constantly interrupting. What can I do?

When babies are born, we look forward to all of their "firsts." First smile, first laugh, first steps, first words. Especially with our first baby, these are milestones that make us giddy with anticipation and cause us to break out the camcorder at every turn.

Then they start rolling . and walking . and talking – and we wonder, "What was I thinking??"

Infants get going rolling, then crawling and we are amazed at how quickly they get good at it and soon are getting from point A to point B in little more than a blink of an eye. Toddlers start walking sometimes just as an aside to running and seemingly thrill at their new found ability to run in the "wrong" direction every time. But we understand that though these may try our patience and challenge our creative problem solving skills at times that, "This too shall pass".

Talking is a whole different ball game. Or is it?

We wait so patiently for their first coherent words, regale friends and co-workers with tales of our baby’s babblings, pride ourselves in how well and early she’s speaking in full sentences. And then it starts – the flip switches on and there’s no off button in sight. And yes it can be exhausting.

But there’s good news! Young children learn at lightening speed with every sense available to them. This is such a good language learning time for them that adding a second language is a possibility. And reading to themselves is close at hand. All good things.

So how to embrace the chatter of this age group without losing your cool? And how do you ensure that the other members of the family get a word in edgewise meanwhile? Here are some ideas:

  • Learn to ask questions that require more than a "yes" or "no" answer. Questions that start with how many? when?, and what if? Are good places to start. How many nuts were in that bag that just spilled? When do you think the apples will be ready to pick? What if we didn’t do the dishes and take out the trash?
  • Take turns (literally at first) answering questions like these … include all of your children. This teaches the art of dialog rather than monologue.
  • Look for projects that the whole family can enjoy together. this way the project is the center of attention and not one child in particular.
  • Schedule reading times and quiet times – children this age are more than capable of entertaining themselves for short periods of time without getting into trouble. This gives everyone in the house a much-needed moment to recharge and regroup. Often a chatty child is a tired child and naps are not uncommon once they slow down.
  • Be as good a listener as you want your child to be. Children learn their talking and listening habits from us just as they do anything else, through observation and imitation. The better listeners we can be, the better they will ultimately be also.

Learning to talk and have co-operative conversations are important stepping-stones to reading. Once she’s reading, you’ll have some of that quiet thinking time of your own (perhaps a dim memory at this point) back. Meanwhile, find ways to appreciate that she does want to talk to you . ’cause this too shall pass . and be inclusive of everyone in the family.

Making the Terrible Twos a Little Less Terrible

Dear Mr. Dad: I love spending quality time with my two-year-old, but occasionally he throws a tantrum that seems to come right out of the blue. It embarrasses me in public and frustrates me at home. How should I respond to his unreasonable anger?

A: Welcome to the wonderful world of toddlers (sometimes known as the “terrible twos”), a place where emotions run hot, and logic and reason are in short supply. The good news is that occasional tantrums are fairly normal at this age. The not-so-good news is that self-control is a skill that’s learned gradually, over a pretty long time, so you’ll need all the patience you can muster.
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