The INSIDER Summary:
- My parents are divorced. When I went to college, my mom began going on dates.
- I found a way not to be a total jerk about it.
- Through establishing boundaries, seeing it from her side, and staying out of my parents’ fighting, I’ve found a way to be happy for my mom and her new relationships.
As a child of a single mom, I was pretty used to being open with her about most things. While she instilled the fear of God in me that if I ever did drugs or drove drunk that she would pull me by my ear around town, I could generally talk to her about things that were bothering me.
When I was living at home, she didn’t really date: she focused on her job and raising me, which will always be something I appreciate. Once I went off to college though, she began dating, making friends, and going out more. And with that, she started sharing her problems with me, which I can’t say was always easy.
Being an adult child of someone who is dating is a weird as hell feeling. It can be messy and hurtful and just plain weird. But thankfully for you, I already lived it — and I’m here to share my advice.
Be there for your parent, but set boundaries.
I tell my mom basically everything, so initially, she started sharing a ton with me. Because my job is talking about relationships all day, my mom wanted some advice on the guys she was seeing. Some of it was pretty innocuous — she was nervous because a guy hadn’t texted her back yet and after about 10 minutes of telling her it was probably fine, I found out she meant he hadn’t text her back in three hours. But some of it got a little too much for me to handle.
We had a talk pretty early on and I explained what I was — and was not — comfortable hearing about and how often. I was there for her when it was important. Anything else, she could divulge to her girlfriends over happy hour drinks and I could be spared the gory details.
Try to see it from their side.
When I think about how my mom must have felt introducing me to her boyfriend, I feel sympathy for her. I am a pretty kind person, but there’s no way that situation will not be at least a little bit awkward.
Whatever emotions you’re feeling about your parent dating, your parent is probably feeling them 10-fold. It can be an uncomfortable situation, so they’re bound to make mistakes and emotions will be running high.
Your parent is going to need some serious empathy from you. Even if you really wish that you weren’t teaching them how to upload a photo to Tinder right now, remember that they probably wish you were being a little more chill about this stressful situation.
See it from their perspective and try your very darnedest to be happy when they’re happy. Because they deserve to be happy.
Don’t compare your relationship to their relationship.
This goes two different ways: for one, if you’re in a relationship, know that you can’t exactly be a bastion of advice for them. I am in a committed relationship, but it’s vastly different than what my mom has with her boyfriend.
My boyfriend and I argue about what type of food we’re going to eat that week; we don’t have kids and mortgages and retirement plans to worry about. So while it’s tempting to tell my mom “well, my boyfriend does this…” it usually isn’t helpful unless we’re talking about something that is true of all men, like that they cannot handle thinking about more than one thing at once.
Don’t make affection a competition.
Try to avoid competing with your parent’s partner for your parent’s affection.
Anyone whose parent has dated will tell you that there is a moment where you call them and they can’t answer the phone because they’re on a date, and you think “I guess I have to Google how long hard-boiled eggs last in the fridge before they go bad.” Then you begin to wonder for a second if your parent loves their partner more than they love you now.
Obviously, this isn’t productive. Their relationship is new, shiny, and cool, and they know you have your own life. They shouldn’t have to be at your beck and call to answer all of your stupid questions.
Let them have some space for a while and know that nothing good can come of wondering who they love more.
Let them know what’s important to you.
While you definitely want to cut your parents a pretty big amount of slack, you also need to give yourself some kindness.
I live about a nine-hour train ride away from my mom, which means I don’t really see her too often. So when I’m home, I like to spend a lot of time with her and other members of my family doing the stuff we never get to do together.
Not that I don’t want to see the slightest hint of her boyfriend during that time, but I’ve let her know that certain things, I feel, should be gals only. Especially during the beginnings of their relationship, I needed more one-on-one time during holidays and special occasions with my mom.
We worked (or are working, really) out a schedule that doesn’t make me feel like home is this uncomfortable place I no longer am a part of, but also doesn’t completely exclude her boyfriend from the mix. Be open and calm during this discussion and make sure you both are getting what you need out of your time together.
Don’t get in the middle of your parents.
This can be one of the tougher situations you’ll face. If your parents are divorced, it can make interactions with the whole “modern family” very sticky.
Don’t talk badly about one parent to the other one when it comes to their romantic pursuits: nothing good can come of it. If they need a buddy to trash your other parent’s new partner, tell them to call up another family member or friend or congressman’s voice-mail. Stay out of it as much as you possibly can.
Know that they’re still your same old parent.
As much as my mother has changed now that she’s a hot commodity on Match.com (kidding mom!), she’s still my same old mom who loves baking Christmas cookies with me and is always the first person on the dance floor, even when there is no “dance floor” per se.
It may seem like your parent is this new weird alien person who has all of these new interests and focuses in their life, but deep down, they’re still your same old goofy parent. Try not to make things too weird for their new partner and make sure you get plenty of alone time with them. You’ll probably see that everything is not as topsy-turvey as it once seemed.
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