*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Beginning a new relationship when you're a parent won't be just about falling in love and thinking about the future. When you already have kids from a previous relationship, you also need to consider their comfort and happiness.
And the way your new partner reacts to the family connections you already have can influence whether the relationship will last or if you need to reconsider why you're together.
My friend Tammy has been a single mom for the past eight years. She got divorced just before her daughter was born and hasn't remarried yet. Her ex-husband, Troy, was gone from her life for several years, and he hasn't kept in touch with their daughter, Nancy, either.
"He didn't help me when I was pregnant or after. He sent no letter and no money. His parents also pretended we were not related. My daughter only had me, my parents, my sister, and my friends. That was all. And we took turns looking after her. I worked long hours to afford all she needed, but I am still so happy I'm a mom," Tammy said.
In the beginning, she thought her ex would change his mind, even though he told her when he left that he wanted nothing to do with the baby. She waited for him to call or text her, but it didn't happen for a whole year. And as time passed, she realized she didn't miss him that much anymore.
"I got used to taking care of my little girl and me, and I no longer needed him for money or even support. Sure, it would have been nice to have a partner and a dad for Nancy, but after the way he behaved, I couldn't have him back anyway," the mom said.
As the years went by, Nancy was a toddler, then she went to kindergarten, and later she started school. And while seeing her daughter grow happy, Tammy also began thinking about a new relationship. She wanted to have a father figure for Nancy and to try and have a family again.
"It wasn't just about finding someone to replace my ex as a dad. I wanted to be happy too and to feel I have a family instead of constantly struggling on my own," the mom said.
She met Mike at the gym, and they went out the very next day.
"We didn't spend time being friends because we liked each other instantly. We dated for two months before I was ready to introduce him to Nancy. Their first meeting was a little quiet, but after that, she played with him and had no issues with having him around every afternoon. I was so excited my boyfriend got along with her. And my parents liked him too," Tammy said.
The couple dated for another six months, and then Mike proposed to Tammy. She said yes, and the wedding date was set one year after the proposal.
"I didn't want to hurry. I felt like my daughter needed more time to adjust to the idea of having a stepdad, not just a new friend. One year seemed like the right waiting time for such an important step for a new family," Tammy said.
As the months passed, Tammy and her parents looked for a wedding gown, and she also chose the wedding cake. Mike's parents and sisters also got involved in preparing for the ceremony and the reception after.
"They made the guest list with me, gave their opinion on flower arrangements and how the tables should be placed," the mom said.
Just when two months before the wedding, Tammy got an unexpected call.
"I picked up the phone, and instead of the delivery I was expecting, I heard my ex. He said we had to talk and asked whether we could meet for lunch the next day," the mom said.
Tammy agreed, thinking this was probably about their daughter, but she didn't tell her fiance. She went to the restaurant, and his ex and his mom were waiting there.
"I was surprised to see her too, and a bit worried thinking she wanted to blame me for something. She was actually very nice, so much friendlier than when I was married to her son," Tammy said.
Troy and his mom wanted to schedule visits and start seeing Nancy every week and on some weekends and holidays too. Troy said he was sorry for being gone so long but that he understood he should support his daughter, both with money and by being close to her.
"I was still upset about the way he left me, but I felt my daughter deserved to have her dad back. I said I needed to talk to my fiance too, and I would get back to them with a schedule," Tammy said.
The next day she told Mike about what had happened, and his reaction left her wondering what was going on.
He wasn't just annoyed that she'd met her ex without telling him; he actually told her she couldn't let her daughter see her dad. And that their relationship would end if she allowed Nancy's grandmother and dad to get in touch with her.
"I'm not going to have that in my life. If I take on a father role, I won't have her ex watching over my back or his mom. That won't work. I earn enough to cover the costs. And he was away all this time. There's no need to come back now. I want my own family when I get married; I won't share Nancy with a dad that showed up yesterday," Mike said.
While she partly understood his reaction, Tammy still felt it was her decision, not his.
"He said he would leave me if I let my ex and his mom meet my daughter. But Nancy is not his child, and my relationship with Troy was before I met him. I don't see why he would have any issues with Nancy getting together with her dad and grandmother. And if he would leave for that, does he care about us that much?" Tammy said.
Since then, she has argued several times with Mike because he won't change his opinion. He gave her two weeks to explain to Troy and his mom that they couldn't see Nancy or he would pack up and leave her.
What do you think about this situation? Is Mike fair in trying to avoid Nancy meeting her dad? Should he be more flexible and realize his stepdaughter will always have her dad and grandmother, too, even if he doesn't want to know anything about them?
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