I am a divorced mother of two children, ages 8 and11, and I barely even have time or energy to date, but on those rare occasions that I have gone out on a date with someone, my children have been really mean and resentful to both me and my date. I can’t tell if they are just resentful that I am seeing someone other than my ex or if they are just being jerks. It makes me not even want to try to date or start a relationship of any kind. Any ideas on how I can keep my kids from being such brats?
—In a Slump
O.K., what you have here is not a dating problem, but a behavior problem. Your children are being ill behaved. The easy way to go here would be to blame your ex. That’s both attractive and convenient but ultimately isn’t going to solve your problem. Besides, he probably has enough on his plate what with driving around in his Camaro, paying for bottle service at Top Golf, and taking weekend trips to Vegas. You wouldn’t trust someone like that to raise decent, conscientious human beings would you? No, the kids are messing up on your watch and unfair as it may seem, you’re going to have to set them straight.
First thing you are going to need to do is talk to them, either individually or together, and ideally not in a charged environment where you’re likely to lose your temper. In other words, don’t have this talk at Dave and Buster’s. Taking them to Dave and Buster’s is about as desperate as you can get as a parent. It’s like caving in and buying them each a Nintendo Wii if they can maintain a C average on their report cards. The world has enough sociopaths as it is without you adding to the pool.
Instead, have them help you make a spaghetti dinner—what kids don’t like spaghetti? Don’t say sociopaths. And once you’ve started eating, casually bring up the fact that they need to stop busting your balls about your boyfriends. Tell them that no matter how wretchedly ill behaved your children are, you deserve to be happy just like everyone else. You deserve as their mother to be treated with respect and dignity and your friends and guests—no matter what gender—deserve the same as well. Let them know that respect, civility, and even friendliness are not onerous favors you’re asking of them but rather the baseline below which their behavior should not descend.
Here’s the hard part: You also need to discuss with them the reasons why they think their previous behavior was O.K. It might be that they actually have legitimate gripes regarding your men friends or their behavior—or yours as well. You can’t expect them to give you respect if you don’t offer the same. Maybe they don’t like the kind of men you’re bringing home. You will need to find a way to empathize with your children and the feelings they have regarding you dating. You might need to make some adjustments. Maybe they want you to tone it down with the yoga pants or maybe they don’t like hairy-chested guys who show up at the door in Borat slingshots. Everyone has issues—even bratty kids—and every issue should be addressed in some way.
Like it or not, these diminutive people will be your housemates for at least the better part of the next decade and that is much too long to go without breaking off a piece every now and then. I suggest you broker as good a deal as you can with them and then, like a responsible adult, hold yourself and them to it.