My sister is getting divorced after ten years of marriage. Another dear friend is hanging onto her second marriage by a slim thread. Both of these women are loving, nurturing individuals and wonderful mothers. Although only one is Catholic, both of them love God and intended to be married for life. And both of them brought a child into the union who was not biologically related to her new husband.
In at least one of these cases, the woman has endured years of selfishness and immaturity, supporting her family herself as her husband found one excuse after another to abdicate his financial responsibilities to his family. And in at least one of these cases, a child she brought into the union has suffered real abuse at the hands of his stepfather.
When a single mother chooses a potential marriage partner, one of the most difficult -- and most crucial -- considerations is not what the guy looks like in a snug pair of jeans, how fat his bank account, or whether he can make her eyes roll to the back of her head (after they are married, of course). The most important consideration is how is he going to treat her child? Period.
My (other) sister Kathy, who counsels survivors of domestic violence, has experienced both sides of this. Her abusive first husband taught her the importance of choosing a marriage partner slowly and carefully. Thank God, the second time she got it right: Ken is a loving, gentle, patient man and a hard worker who loves Kathy and her daughter equally ... and when they finally married, he pledged himself to them both.
"Marry in haste, repent at leisure," the old saying goes. Heaven knows how tempting it can be to plunge ahead and make a permanent commitment when the stars are shining in those days of wine and roses. He looks good, smells great, says all the right things ... Day and night, you dream of your rosy future with this, your Prince Charming.
But if you have a child, you need to stop. Seriously. Even if you are living at home and can't wait to get out. Even if you are struggling to make ends meet, financially speaking. Even if you really, truly believe that God has brought the two of you together. My grandmother used to call this "seasoning" a man -- seeing him through all four seasons of the year before making a permanent commitment.
The first step, of course, is making sure you are ready to be married. Have you "unpacked your baggage" and worked through the issues of your past relationships? Are you in a healthy place, capable of making good dating choices? If you're Catholic and were married in the Church, have you obtained an annulment? If you are a Christian, have you sought and followed your pastor's advice regarding remarriage? I recently read a book entitled Divorced. Catholic. Now What? by Lisa Duffy that provides excellent advice for navigating the aftermath of divorce with your soul intact. I highly recommend it.
If your friend is indeed "Mr. Right," he'll understand your caution. You aren't thinking just of yourself -- you need to decide what is best for your child. Because that's what mothers do. So ... you need to consider carefully, over time and with the help of close friends and family (who can help you maintain objectivity).
* Is this man pressuring you for premature physical intimacy, or asking you to compromise your moral values in other areas? (If so, this may be a sign that he is does not have the self-control needed to be a good father.)
* Does he have obvious anger, entitlement, or control issues? Is he charming and persuasive one moment, but critical and demeaning the moment you say or do something he doesn't like? (If so, he may be a potential abuser, even if he never hits you.)
* Does your child seek out this person's company, or does s/he "disappear" (keeping physically or emotionally distant) the moment your friend shows up? (Children are highly intuitive creatures, and may pick up on signals you overlook.)
* How does he act around your friends and family? Does he avoid them whenever possible and e resent the time you spend with them? Or does he try too hard to get them to like him, exaggerating his accomplishments or flaunting his possessions? Or does he seem a more-or-less "natural fit"?
* Does he remind you how lucky you are that he picked you, or how difficult it would be for you to find a mate if things don't work out between the two of you? (This is a RED FLAG! RUN!!!)
* Do you ever feel that the relationship is "imbalanced" -- or that you have to give up an important part of yourself to make it work? (Some adjustment is needed in every relationship, but the key is mutual support and respect.)
* If the child's father is still in the picture, does your friend support your efforts to let your child have a relationship with his father? Or does he resent the man's existence (and does this portend how he is going to feel about your child down the line)?
* If the child's father is no longer in the picture, is your friend willing to father your child? Does he express an interest in adopting your child? Have you met his parents, and do they welcome the prospect of becoming your child's grandparents ... And if not, how does your friend feel about this? Does he make excuses for them ... Or encourage them to build a relationship with the child?
* Is he able to support an "instant family" without resentment? Have you talked about your finances, and does he include your child in his long-term financial planning (college fund, wedding fund, retirement planning, etc.)?
* Do you feel you can trust him to make good choices for you and your child, and that his heart is big enough to accommodate you both -- even if no other children enter the picture?
If you are not sure about the answer to any of these questions, it's better to wait until you have an answer than to rush ahead. Take all the time you need. Your child is worth it ... and so are you!