Men With Kids Look Suspicious: 4 Realities Of Dating A Mom
When I was in college, I started dating a woman with a 3-year-old daughter, whom we'll call "Awesomeface Metalsplosion." Evidently not content with the stress of working part-time, going to school full-time, and barely clinging to a passing grade point average, I decided to take on the task of part-time parent as well. Acclimating to being responsible for a tiny human was, naturally, one Benny Hill-esque misadventure after another, but, looking back, there are still things that surprise me even now ...
Disciplining The Kid Will Be More Traumatizing For You
Even though kids look like miniature people, they actually come with a completely different set of rules, not all of which are immediately obvious. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to tell an adult who is being obnoxious to knock that shit off before you set their head on fire, but doing so to a child can be a grievous breach of etiquette, which is unfortunate considering that a child is far more likely to need to be told to knock that shit off, cranial arson pending. Nonetheless, it's best to sidestep that landmine and just avoid disciplining other people's kids.
But when you're dating someone with kids, it's a topic you're going to have to deal with sooner or later. We tried broaching it at the beginning of the relationship, but we didn't get very far, because it's an awkward topic. The only thing we decided was that when it came to spanking, we would [redacted to prevent pro- or anti-spanking comment shitstorm]. In theory, if Awesomeface Metalsplosion was there, my girlfriend would be too, so there was no need for me to take the reins right away, thus solving the problem forever.
And when mom isn't around? It's man time.
That is, until the night my girlfriend had to do a class project and her mom wasn't able to watch Awesomeface. My girlfriend left a thorough and detailed schedule, a list of what she could eat, and who to call in the event Metalsplosion was poisoned, stabbed, sucked into a TV, or Flight Of The Navigatored, but she was crucially silent on what to do if I had to lay the law down. And, like a velociraptor testing the fence, Awesomeface Metalsplosion could sense the weakness in my authority; when it came time for bed, she staged a coup that I had to brutally put down (by raising my voice).
"This is just like how Stalin started!"
She ran off to bed crying while I went into the kitchen and prayed for all the oceans of Neptune to cleanse my hands. I felt terrible, like I had somehow deceived her by pretending to be "cool guy that hangs around mom" for the last few weeks, only to suddenly transform into "douchebag authority figure" without warning. Even though my girlfriend laughed at my anguish and told me not worry about it, it still gnawed at me all night long.
But my girlfriend was totally right. The next morning, Awesomeface woke me up at the ass-crack of dawn like she always did so that we could eat cereal and watch Phineas And Ferb together. It hadn't left a mark on her at all -- she was used to adults putting their foot down. By that point, she had already seen dozens of grown-ups (aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.) make the transition from "friend" to "parent-like adult." She had known it was coming and that it didn't mean we had to stop having fun together. In other words, she was far more prepared for this relationship than I was.
"Pull yourself together, man. We've got cartoons to watch."
You End Up Straddling Two Worlds At Once
Something experienced parents always like to trumpet is that rookies have no idea what they're in for. But no matter how jarring the transition into parenthood is, you at least have a few months' warning that things are going to change (I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant contestants/stars/rubes notwithstanding). When I met my girlfriend, I was a junior in college living in a house with four other dudes, and my most valuable possessions were my computer, my guitar, and my car, in that order. Then, quite suddenly, I was partly liable for another human being, and all that shit seemed pretty insignificant. The truly shocking thing is that society looked at a guy who had, up to that point, spent his weekends getting drunk and playing Red Alert 2 with his roommates (engineering students throw the wildest parties) and decided that he was qualified to be a part-time parent on no basis other than he was hooking up with a mom.
And so I started living a double life. One weekend, while Awesomeface Metalsplosion was with her dad, my girlfriend and I would be playing Super Smash Bros. and doing body shots on our kitchen counter. The next, we would be playing ponies and sneaking off for a quickie as soon as Awesomeface went down for her nap. At first, my girlfriend enjoyed the off weekends because she'd had her child when she was 18 and had never gotten a decent college experience. As time went on, however, the dichotomy between the college party world and the responsible adult world started causing problems.
"So, does this count as a balanced breakfast?"
Parents find out that once they have kids they start to drift away from childless friends. Even though my girlfriend might have enjoyed a short respite from parental life, she still had far more in common with other people with kids than she did with a bunch of sleep-deprived college students. Since virtually all of her friends were parents, she had gotten used to being able to bring Awesomeface with her wherever she went. I, on the other hand, flatly refused to allow her to bring a child to the house while my roommates were there. As adorable as she might be, she was still a little girl and thus prone to tantrums, something I was not going to subject my roommates to while they were studying or relaxing. Likewise, my roommates couldn't grasp it when I had to bail on plans because my girlfriend needed me to watch Awesomeface.
As much as I tried to keep one foot in my old life, I could see myself drifting from it as time went on -- and this was with having a kid only every other weekend. You eventually realize that committing to someone with kids might mean saying farewell to your friends a lot sooner than you ever anticipated.
You trade shotglasses for tiny teacups so gradually,
you might not even notice.
A Man Alone With A Kid Is Viewed As Suspicious As Shit
One day, my girlfriend and I took Awesomeface to Chuck E. Cheese's so we could eat terrible pizza and let her play in the ball pit while I dominated children in air hockey.
"Next birthday, forget the Spider-Man toys; tell your parents to buy you some skills! WOOOOOO!"
My girlfriend wound up having to leave early, so I was entrusted with taking Awesomeface back home. Not long after, she got tired and cranky, so I picked her up and carried her screaming-and-crying butt to the exit. As we got to the door, I saw that the black light was broken.
You see, when you enter Chuck E. Cheese's, they stamp parents and children with the same number in ultraviolet ink, and when you leave, they check that everybody has the same number. Until I saw the broken black light, it hadn't occurred to me why they do this (my willingness to blindly submit to whatever security personnel ask me to do is what makes me such a favorite among TSA agents). And with the epiphany of why they checked the numbers came the slow, dawning horror of knowing what was about to happen.
An FBI agent hides in Pasquale The Singing Chef just for this purpose.
The sweet woman in charge of preventing ball-pit kidnappings tried in vain to get the light to work before turning to Awesomeface Metalsplosion and asking, "Sweetie, is this your daddy?"
And with tears streaming down her face, she screamed at the top of her lungs, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
I was eventually able to get my girlfriend back down to the restaurant to confirm that I wasn't a kidnapper, and the Chuck E. Cheese's staff should be applauded for not instantly Tasering me and calling the cops. And while this was a totally understandable cause for concern on the part of Charles Ethelred Cheese's LLC, it was the first time I realized how darkly we tend to view lone men with children.
Fun Fact: We don't all drive used ice cream trucks.
When I started taking Awesomeface to the playground by myself, I began to notice that a routine very similar to the Chuck E. Cheese's debacle would repeatedly play out. One of the moms there would come up to Metalsplosion and strike up a conversation, asking her who she was and following it up with, "Is that your daddy?" Naturally, she would say no and I would quickly have to explain who I was to this now extremely suspicious stranger.
The third or fourth time this happened, I told my girlfriend about it, and she replied that that's probably exactly what they were looking for. She explained that it's not uncommon for women to investigate lone men with kids at playgrounds to make sure they weren't kidnapping them. She also said that when moms asked me, "Which one is yours?" they were most likely checking to make sure that I wasn't some creeper watching kids.
Fun Fact: Parents super don't like "I haven't decided yet" as a joke response.
Dads being investigated, confronted, or excluded for being "suspicious" is depressingly common (for a fun experiment, just Google "man playground suspicious" and see how many police blotters have calls about a "suspicious" man near a playground). And if you have the gall to be taking pictures of your kids, you might well end up having to explain yourself to the fuzz.
Nobody Tells You How To Handle The Breakup
After two and a half years, my relationship ended. Once we decided to break it off, we had a long, agonizing discussion about how we would explain it to Awesomeface Metalsplosion to minimize the impact on her. She was only 5 at this point and obviously couldn't really grasp the concept of breaking up and the fact that I wouldn't be around anymore. When I said my final goodbye to her, she gave me a curt, annoyed goodbye back because I was keeping her from playing with her friends. That was the last time I saw her.
I quickly discovered that, though there's an endless deluge of information dedicated to the topic of helping children cope with breakups with a step-parent, there's virtually nothing to help an adult deal with a breakup from a step-child. You're already dealing with the emotional toll of a romantic relationship ending, only to find out that nobody gives a hot squirt of piss that you've essentially lost a child too. At the time of the breakup, Awesomeface Metalsplosion was spending more time with me than with her dad, I was engaged to her mom, and I had already come to think of her as my kid. Then, one day, it was all gone.
And, as mentioned earlier, you don't even have any shotglasses left to help.
The only helpful thing anyone could think to say also happened to be the most insulting: "Don't worry; you'll have kids of your own someday." Most rational people could never fathom telling a parent who lost a child, "Buck up; you can just make a new one!" But you get that kind of response because nobody considers you a parent. Best case, you're a step-parent, and that's only if you get married. If you're just dating or engaged, there's not even a word for how insignificant you are in the parenting scheme.
You're the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!" of parental figures.
By far the most devastating moment was when I realized that because Awesomeface Metalsplosion was so young, she would more than likely grow up without any memory of me -- I sure as hell don't remember my parents' friends from when I was 5. The lack of support for someone in my situation exacerbated the heartache to the point that it felt like some kind of punishment that would be given in Hell, doomed to forever remember and love someone for whom I will be, at best, just a vague memory.
Or, on the upside, she might remember me from the night I made her cry before bedtime, and one day seek me out for sweet, sweet revenge. Complete with swords and lots of back-flipping. It's really the most a sorta-step-parent can hope for.
Watching someone else's kid can be tough, but watching your own kid can be just as rough. Read 5 Hallmarks Of Good Parenting That Screw Kids Up For Life to see why giving your child a timeout is as useful a punishment as taking away their toothbrush. Or check out 8 Insane Ways Parents Are Politically Brainwashing Children because nothing says "good gift for your significant" other like a politically charged T-shirt about 9/11 for their child.
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