After nearly three years together, the issue that Griff and I could not resolve was how to move in together. Between us, we have seven children. His four children live in another city, so we wouldn’t have had a Brady Bunch scenario on our hands. But even trying to work out how things would look if he moved in with me and my three boys was a prospect so fraught for us that we had begun avoiding the topic. Our relationship was stuck. It was still loving and playful and passionate, but it was also stuck. At the end, neither of us could envision how to make a future together.
For the last two years, we had a routine that sort of worked. During the week when I had my kids, he would come over later in the evening, usually after my younger two were already in bed. During the week when I didn’t have my kids, we’d spend nearly every evening together, going back and forth between our two houses, which were in completely different parts of the city. It always involved negotiation and compromise, but we seemed to manage.
I have friends who’d joke about the perfect scenario I had: a playful, passionate relationship with a man who worked every day to make sure I felt loved; “Cinderella” weeks, without my children, when I was free to work as late as I wanted, exercise every day, write to my heart’s content, and spend my evenings with my guy; and weeks with my children when I could completely focus on them. “I want your life,” more than one of my friends declared. But the truth is I wanted to share my life with someone completely and so Griff. And we just couldn’t figure out how to do it.
I had always chalked it up to the fact that we had such different approaches to parenting. He is a principles – and rules-based kind of parent; I’m more laissez-faire. The irony is that we both have polite, positive, hard-working children, so apparently both parenting approaches have their merits.
But as we were breaking up, Griff admitted that he didn’t feel there was space in my house for him. And here’s some hard learning for me: he’s right. Sure, I was happy to empty out closet and drawer space so he could leave clothes and toiletries at my house, but there was little physical or emotional space available for him at all.
The truth is that I shielded my children from my relationship with him. I didn’t want them to get close; I was too afraid that they’d be vulnerable to losing another man in their lives. When I look at it rationally, I see that my boys never lost their father. They spend every second week with him now, and they stay in touch on a daily basis when they are with me. I see now that I was working so hard to protect them from further possible pain, that I was jeopardizing a really good thing in my life.
The other thing Griff brought up as we were breaking up was his concern about what we were teaching my boys. And there’s some hard learning there for me too. In my efforts to protect my children from the possibility of future pain, I was teaching them that in a romantic relationship, it’s not necessary to make a full commitment. I was also teaching them it isn’t necessary to make a partner feel like part of the family. I’ve still got more thinking to do about all this, but I suspect there are other things I’ve been teaching inadvertently by keeping my relationship and my family life so divided. It might have been a good idea, for the sake of my boys, to keep the relationship separate for the first six months, maybe even longer. But three years is too long.