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Should I Get Involved?

Question:

I am a single mother of two boys 20 and 18. I have raised them on my own for the past 6 years….through the toughest years of their lives so far and I’ve done it by myself. I haven’t had a break from the responsibilities that come with that, i.e. their experimentation with alcohol, waiting up for them to come home, wondering how they will come home. We have turned the corner and I am burnt out. I was dating a man who has two boys younger than mine. We stopped seeing each other last year because he was assuming sole custody of them with the same problem as me….he was doing it by himself. We recently hooked up again and his kids are now 15 and 12. Although I have huge feelings for this man and he wants to give it another try….I can’t help but feel that I would be going backwards..that the new found freedom I have now that my kids are older is well deserved. I don’t know how much a part of his kids’ lives I can be and how supportive I can be of him through the upcoming teenage years. I have tried to express my concerns to him but I think he thinks we can do it. I don’t think I can do it. How do I explain this to him without hurting him…I don’t want to go backwards as much as i love him. The kids mother lives in another province so he will be the sole parent as was I. It is a hard job but I’ve done it.

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Answer:

This is one of those life situations that isn’t really difficult to figure out, but which is very painful to make decisions about. It’s simple really. You love this man very much, but you also know that you do not want to risk the vulnerability that you fear would come from getting involved with this man; an act that would seemingly require you to take on step-parent responsibilities for his soon-to-be teenage boys. Many people solve this sort of problem by taking counsel from their gut feelings. It would appear from your letter that your desire to guard your new-found and hard-won freedom is stronger than your desire to be with this man. I would think that if you were to go with your gut on this one, that you’d act to protect yourself rather than to expose yourself to new responsibilities. If you were to act in this manner, you’d forfeit an intimate relationship with this man, and that will hurt, but there is no way to avoid getting hurt in this either-or scenario you’ve described. Either you choose the man and sacrifice your precious freedom, or you sacrifice the man and preserve your freedom.

Sometimes people want to act in a self-protective manner, but have difficulty doing it because it goes against personal feelings and societal expectations. Many women are raised to be conforming and self-sacrificing. They don’t want to think of themselves as selfish, so they give away more of themselves than they are ultimately comfortable giving away. It is also true that choosing to be alone often takes more courage than choosing to stay in a relationship. Being alone can be lonely. Many people find that the prospect of being lonely seems like it will be more painful than staying in even a bad relationship. This often is not the case, but people fear it just the same. Finally, beyond fear of being alone and fear of appearing selfish, is simple loss. If you love a man and choose not to be with him, you will miss him and that will hurt.

You’re asking me for advice, so I’ll tell you that I think that you should go with your gut feeling, even if that gut feeling means that you might be seen (or see yourself) as somewhat selfish, or if you will risk being alone in the process. It is perfectly alright to assert your desire to not take on responsibility that isn’t already yours. You will pay for your freedom, but then, freedom is never free.

I can’t help but wonder if your situation is really so black and white as you make it out to be. Is it really the case that if you allow yourself to become involved with this man that you will have to take on parental-style responsibilities for his children? Could you be involved with him and even live with him but not accept responsibility for his children? Where is this demand that you parent his children coming from? From him, or is it your own demand that you’re placing on yourself? Also, is it necessarily the case that this man’s children will be worrisome teens as your own were? Every child is unique and not all teens are terrors. I really don’t know your situation and am not suggesting that your perceptions are necessarily wrong. I’m only suggesting that you talk over your options with some third parties who can help you to consider your options in the most objective light so that you don’t cut off your options unnecessarily. A counselor or therapist can be most helpful in this sort of situation if a good friend or trustworthy relative cannot be located. Good luck.

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