Nobody is ever fully comfortable seeing their parent be with anyone other than, well, their other parent. Even though, when our parents are together, we understand what that means – that they are romantically and sexually involved – for some reason, it’s really only when our parents date other people that we are confronted with the reality that they are sexual beings. It’s something we conveniently and neatly ignore when our biological parents are together. They’re a part of something bigger than their romantic relationship – they’re a part of this family. That feels natural. That feels normal. So when our parents cease to be together for any number of reasons, from divorce to death, and they start delving into the dating world, it can be confusing at best and upsetting at worst. If your parents are no longer together because one passed away, then it can be particularly complex and painful when the parent who is still alive begins to date. In an ideal world, our parents would all live to be 100 years old and pass away in the same instant holding hands. But that’s not always how things go, and sometimes you have a widowed parent who still has many prime years left ahead of her – prime years to perhaps engage in another relationship. If that’s your parent, it can be hard to know how to behave. It can also be hard to control your behavior, because you feel so sensitive about the issue. Ultimately, you need to be true to yourself, but you probably don’t want to hurt your parent. Here are tips on how to deal when your widowed parent begins dating again.
Nothing’s serious until they say so
First, don’t panic unless there’s reason to panic. Just because your parent is going on a date doesn’t mean that that date with that person is going to go anywhere. Just like when you date, most dates go nowhere. Most lead to no second date. Many fizzle out after a few weeks. Only when your parent tells you she’s getting serious with somebody should you even begin to get up in arms about it.
If they say they’re ready, they’re ready
Don’t try to tell your parent that she isn’t yet ready to date. Only she knows that. And how do you like it when people tell you that you aren’t yet ready to date after, say, a breakup? Or really, how do you like it any time anybody tells you, a full-grown adult, when you aren’t ready for anything? If your parent says she’s ready, then she’s ready. And hey, even if she realizes later on her own that she wasn’t, that’s okay, too.
It may be somebody you know
Know that it’s very common for widows to wind up in a new relationship with somebody who was already in their circle. Perhaps a friend or distant relative of the deceased parent. Or a neighbor. Or an old friend of her own who has always been around. After a certain age, many people like to stick to the people they know rather than go on dating sites.
This is not about lost love
Your parent moving on does not in any way mean she is leaving the memory of your deceased parent behind, or that she loves that parent any less. The heart has an infinite capacity to love. If you have children, then you know this. Your heart expanded to make room for each one of them. That’s what happens when widows get involved with a new partner.
You can say you’re not ready
Though you can’t tell your parent that she’s not yet ready to date, you can say if you’re not quite ready to dive into it all yourself yet. You can set boundaries and say, “Honestly, this is a bit difficult for me. I’m not ready to hear all about it just yet. If you really feel it’s necessary to tell me about someone you’ve met, then tell me. But I’m not ready to hear about every date and phone call.”
But…you can’t say it forever
Just know that you can’t say you’re not ready forever. There is a window of time in which anybody would expect some resistance from you, but that window doesn’t go on and on. Even you, at one point, need to toughen up and be ready, even if you aren’t.
You don’t want her lonely forever
Think about this: what if your parent obeyed your wishes that she never date again. So…she’d be lonely forever. She’d spend every night alone. She’d have dinner alone. She’d go to bed alone. She’d have nobody to walk or travel with. That’s not really what you want for your parent, is it? In fact, that’s quite sad.
In fact, that’d fall on you
Furthermore, if your parent did obey your wishes to remain single for the rest of her life, just know that keeping her company would fall entirely on you. It would have to. You asked for this. So you’d better be ready to call and visit and travel with your parent about as much as she asks you to because you wouldn’t allow her to have another companion. Hmm…a new beau doesn’t sound so bad anymore, right?
Sympathize with the newcomer
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the newcomer. I know it’s difficult. But try. That person didn’t do anything wrong. He was just out in the world, looking for love, which is hard to find, and found somebody who happens to be a widow. For all you know, this person has a tough past, too. He may have lost someone. Few people get to be your parents’ age without something difficult happening. So have some sympathy for the person.
She’s an adult who can take care of herself
You don’t need to figuratively or literally sit on the front porch with a shotgun letting your parents’ dates know they better have her home by curfew “or else…!” She’s an adult. She can take care of herself. She knows how to demand respect from dates. Remember that she taught you all about how to do that.
The new person knows the situation
You don’t need to find every chance to bring up your deceased parent to this new person. You don’t need to remind him, over and over again, that he has big shoes to fill. He knows the situation. And he isn’t even trying to fill anybody’s shoes. He’s not oblivious to the delicate nature of what’s going on.
Don’t compare everyone your parent brings home to your lost parent. Nobody will compare. And nobody is supposed to. Your comparing only encourages your living parent to do the same, and that’s actually very unhealthy for her. Analyze each newcomer as an individual who has nothing to do with your deceased parent.
If your parent gets serious with somebody, make accommodations for this person. Budge a little. If he’s gluten-intolerant but every year, per family tradition, you make gluten-heavy pies, just like your deceased parent liked, maybe you can make one gluten-free option for this newcomer. See what I mean? Don’t force him to uncomfortably fit into whatever traditions you have going on.
Look for the good
Look for the good in the person. I bet you can find a lot of it if you try. Resist the temptation to see the bad because I promise you, you’ll see it. It’s all you’ll see. And it will be a bottomless pit. Don’t go there. Focus on the positives of this person. He must have some, since your mom likes him.
Imagine if the roles were reversed
Actually, the roles are reversed often. Your entire life, you’ve brought home romantic partners. And your living parent was (hopefully) respectful to them. She didn’t interrogate or criticize or chastise or intimidate them. Think of the way you’re treating this newcomer, and ask yourself how you’d feel if your parent did that to your partner.