By my late 30s, I've had my fair share of heartbreak. But how much of my hurt should I show my child?
Maggie Vink: A new TV show is coming out, called "Romantically Challenged." I can't imagine it's going to be any good. After all, they didn't cast the most romantically challenged person in the U.S.: me! Maybe when I watch it, I'll just pretend that I look like Alyssa Milano. A girl can dream, right?
Two years after adopting my son, I put my romantically challenged self back in the dating world. At first, I wasn't sure how to handle it with my son, so I opted to keep it hidden from him. My phone conversations and texts were from "friends," and I set up fun sleepovers for my son whenever I was going out on a date. I thought that was the best plan of action. Why introduce someone else to our lives until I was sure they were going to be around for a while? Soon enough, my bright 12-year-old son showed me that my line of reasoning was trash.
My son was too smart, and he knew something was going on -- he just didn't know what. Maybe if he were younger, I would have been successful with dating incognito ... or maybe I just have no future as a double agent. In any case, by not being up-front with my son, I was making him anxious. I spoke to other single parents of older kids and got mixed reactions. While a few agreed with my hide-it-from-the-kids tactic, most felt that explaining dating in an honest and reassuring way was the best route. So I talked to my son. I kept it light, but told him I was dating. My son had several questions and was still a bit nervous, but felt much better about everything.
Recently, however, I was faced with a new challenge: After months of meeting the wrong men, I finally met a guy I connected with. Then one day, everything crumbled. My Mr. Right turned into Mr. Not-Right-Now. He has some things to clean up in his own life, and we can't really date until it's all cleared up. Though I completely understand his situation, I was still heartbroken. My son was skating outdoors, but he quietly came back in and heard the last bit of my breakup phone conversation. He heard me crying.
When I realized that my son was back in the house, I wiped away my tears, put on a happy face and went downstairs. I felt the need to move, so I asked my son if he wanted to help me with some yard work. My son was mowing the lawn while I worked in the flower garden, and I thought I was hiding my hurt well. Suddenly, my son stopped the mower, walked over to me and said, "I'm mad at him. He hurt my mom."
Once again, I was confronted with a decision: Do I hide what I'm going through? Or do I fill my son in on the situation? I opted to let my son know what was going on. I didn't give him all of the details, but told him that the guy I've been talking to didn't do anything wrong and I was just a little sad and disappointed that he and I couldn't date right now. I told him I would be fine and that he didn't need to worry about me. My kindhearted son gave me a huge hug and calmly went back to his yard work.
Instinct still tells me that my son is better left completely out of my dating life, but my son's anxieties have proved to be more in control when I explain things to him in a calm and age-appropriate manner.
So single parents, tell me: Do you explain loves -- and loves lost -- to your kids?