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This blog is in response to comments received on previous entries- Dating in Midlife: When Your Adult Children Refuse to Meet Your New Love and Dating in Midlife: Do you need your Children’s Approval?

Note: Both of the questions were posed by women dating widowers. However, this information is as relevant for men dating widows. It also applies for families who experienced divorce.

Babs wrote: I’m dating a man who has two children 17 and 23. As I agree with your comments…I question how long should one wait for the children to be ready to meet me? Their mom passed 15 months ago and I am dating the father 7 months. I’m willing to wait….but I’m afraid that they will never be ready…..and I may be wasting my time.

Then this from Marianne: I have been seeing a widower for 2 years now. We have a very nice, comfortable, trusting relationship. One of his two adult married children has fully accepted me, as have all his friends and other family members, which include the entire family of his late wife. They have all accepted me and have told my partner how happy they are for us. However, my partner’s other adult married child says that he isn’t ready to meet me, and doesn’t know when he will be ready. I am excluded from all of my partner’s family events whenever this person is present. I have expressed how hurt this makes me feel to my partner. What is appropriate in this sort of situation? Should my partner continue to keep me from attending his family events where everyone else will be present at, just because one of his married children ‘isn’t ready yet”? Another family event is coming up soon, and I have already been told by my partner that he will not ruin his relationship with his adult married child. What about my feelings? I understood this better a year ago as I had not met everyone yet at that time, but now one year later and I have met everyone, and they have been more than accepting of us together as a couple. This hurts me more than one could ever imagine. I feel he is not being sensitive to my feelings regarding this. Please let me know your thoughts. Thank you

What stands out here is the emphasis on the word “ready”. What is meant when an adult child steadfastly maintains, “I am not ready” to meet your new love? Does this mean they are not ‘ready’ to see their parent remarry or they aren’t ‘ready’ to see their parent date? Does it mean that seeing the parent happy somehow defiles the memory of the deceased parent? Or does it mean they are not ‘ready’ to accept the deceased parent’s passing? Perhaps, it simply means that they have had enough change right now and aren’t ‘ready’ for more.

Being “ready” can mean any or all of the above or something very different; in Bab’s situation, the time passed since the death and the father’s subsequent relationship have not been very long. Before we judge this-we do not know the circumstances-had she been sick for many years? Had the marriage been a happy one? How lonely and isolated did the bereaved feel? All of these things can contribute to how long a widower decides he needs to grieve before he dates again.

Of course, for the children, those circumstances have little or no bearing on their own grief process. Whether a parent was sick for years or was in a horrific marriage doesn’t enter the adult child’s grief process at all. Those issues that impact the grief process for the parent do not impact the children. This is critical to remember; because each relationship is different, each period of mourning will be different as well.

Without knowing the details, it does seem in Babs’ case, patience is paramount if there is to be any hope of a future relationship between Babs and her new partner’s children. It is still a relatively short time since the loss and these are young adults still trying to find their own place in a world that now has profoundly changed. The father should not push his children, but rather discuss what it is they need in their own grieving process and how he can support them. He can still be in adult relationship yet recognize and respect that their grief time line may be different. He can also explain to his children that his dating does not mean forgetting their mother. The father needs to be clear with his grieving children that the mother’s memory will always be honored and she is not being “erased.”

In Marianne’s case -we don’t know how long the mother has been deceased. We do know that the couple are dating for two years and despite the entire family being on board with the relationship, one adult married child is firmly holding out- seemingly asking his father to “choose” either a relationship with a significant other or with himself. Perhaps there are other issues here that are being defined as “ready”-sometimes adult children worry about their parent’s finances/ their inheritance or are threatened that the new person will ”take away” the surviving parent’s affection and attention, especially if the new partner has children of her own. Suddenly the bereaved child can feel as if they are losing their father to a new family.

Of course, we are speculating here: without asking the parties involved, then we will only assume and never really know. “Ready” as you can see, can mean many different things. We cannot presume we know. We must ask these children, “What is it that you are not ready for?” In order for communication to flow freely and for the relationships to be healthy, we simply need to begin the conversation, “What does it mean to be ‘ready?’ ” Then we need to listen to their fears and concerns without judgment or criticism.  Sometimes asking what seems like the simplest of questions can clarify misgiving and open up a dialogue that can heal and restore relationships.

 

Looking for support on issues relating to grief, step-parenting or your parents’ divorce? Please check out the services page for new women’s groups being offered this month

© 2014 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

8 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 06. Jul, 2014 remarked #

    Glad you wrote this one – I know of two instances where the children weren’t “ready” – in one case the father of the “not ready” children married his new love any way and they moved out of state. Presumably to start a new life in spite of the children’s objections. I have no idea what the result was as I lost touch – this had been a business relationship that we had and not a close friend)

    In the other case it is the sister and parents of the deceased woman and they could not/would not accept a new wife for their son-in-law – which estranged them from their daughter’s children.
    I will see the surviving sister next month (they live a distance away and I have not broached the subject via our email communications) and will find out if they are now accepting of the new woman in their family.

    I recognize how fortunate Joe and I are for the relationship and acceptance of all of our children in our marriage – although it was a divorce situation and not a passing of a spouse, that is often just as tricky

    • Donna Ferber on the 06. Jul, 2014 remarked #

      This seems to happen fairly often. Families who try to impose their values on each other often find that, unfortunately, no one wins.

  2. Marianne on the 08. Jul, 2014 remarked #

    Just an update…I will be meeting my boyfriend’s adult married son this coming weekend. I am hoping all will go well. It will be a picnic outing where all his family and close friends will be at. All I can do is be who I am, and keep in the back of my mind that hopefully he will come to accept us as a couple as he works thru the various stages of grief that children go thru…no matter what age they are at. We have a very nice relationship, and all of his family and friends have accepted us as a couple and are happy for us! My boyfriend says ‘it’s time’ for me to meet his son. The late wife has been deceased almost 3 years – she was seriously ill for many years prior to her passing.

  3. Alan on the 17. Jul, 2014 remarked #

    This article lets me know I need to have more conversations with my daughters to see what they are ‘ready’ for.

    Thank you for great insight. Simple as it is — dad missed it.

  4. Ann on the 14. Oct, 2014 remarked #

    My father remarried after 10 years. He asked and I told him he should do what makes him happy. That doesn’t mean I am interested in the relationship. He and I talk on the phone and he and his new wife had Christmas dinner with us, however, I am not interested in a relationship with his new wife so we do not have contact otherwise. (They live several hundred miles away) So far this is working fine. Why are you so pushy? You don’t need his son’s approval or a relationship with the son to marry this man. This man can easily continue to have a relationship with his son without your involvement.

    • menotyou on the 17. Feb, 2015 remarked #

      Exactly! My father has been widowed for 7 years now and is on his second serious relationship. With both ladies he’s pushed them at me. Its uncomfortable! My parents were married nearly 40 years. I love my dad, want him to be happy and have companionship but I don’t want to be a part of their equation. I’m polite and nice to her but I don’t feel its my job to be her shopping budy or even her friend. Its baffeling to me why these girlfriends can’t continue their apparently happy and fulfilling life with dad without the need to whine about the grown children not embracing them with open arms. Their relationship is with dad, not with me by proxy.

      • Donna Ferber on the 22. Feb, 2015 remarked #

        agreed. Sometimes girlfriends are extremely insecure and feel they need you approval to be with your father. In truth,many adult children DO feel they have the right to make the decision who their parent dates. You may be able to gently have a chat with her-tell her to relax, she doesn’t need to befriend you to date your dad and that she needs to allow things be evolve more naturally. She may thank you for your candor!

    • Missourineedshelp on the 09. Sep, 2015 remarked #

      Ah….but can the widower have a separate relationship with his adult children and you? In my case, I think not! After his wife of 30+ years ago died he began dating me within 17 months with the approval of his daughters. “All we want is for him to be happy”. Well guess who his happiness falls upon…..me. If daddy isn’t happy it’s because of me. They constantly ask how our marriage is going. None of their business. Our marriage is teetering on divorce and we’ve only been married 3 years.
      I spend at least 2 weekends out of the month having grandchildren over so my widower husband can spend one on one time with them. Currently there are 4 grands. We attend all functions his 2 adult girls and their families attend. God forbid we move more than 30 miles away. My widower is playing father and mother!