I have decided to put a “rant warning” in the title of my more, er, “serious” posts in case you find them tiresome; although I must say this one is not entirely my fault, as those of you who make it to the end will see. C
Months ago a middle-aged mother sat in my office sobbing, with reason. I sympathized until she boo-hooed this statement: “I have FOUR kids! What man is going to want me?!”
I lectured her on the advantages she has over many other women in her marital boat (she is a professional) and that she did not need to think she needs a man in her life to be complete.
Recently she came back, all smiles, to tell me that she’s found one! She’s having a “relationship,” and she wanted me to know. Glowing. I was happy for her—I like her a lot. But my concern for her came right out of my mouth (I have that habit). She has not long been divorced. I remembered the day she was in despair because there was no man in sight. I was afraid that she was too soon and too needy to be able to determine if a relationship is healthy. I warned her about having her kids around him—as I do a lot of my newly-separated mothers. I ended my little cautionary talk and wished her well.
She’s baaaaack! She came to tell me the “relationship” is over, sniff, sniff. (What am I, anyway? A Therapist?) Seems the new Mr. Right has a bad drinking problem—one that has just cost him his job. She recognized this as the death knell for them, and she has given him up.
She was able—and wanted—to talk about it. I quizzed her because I am so very interested in the dynamic she represents. We got around to the kids.
“That’s the saddest part,” she said. “He was so good with the kids; and they looooved him!”
Really? The Saddest Part? Well, that meant the kids, too, had developed a relationship with this guy. I felt my ire rising…I threw out “the question.”
She brightened. “Why, yes! Several times! We had the best time there!”
I did not have the heart to talk specifics with her; it would have been a little harsh under the circumstances, so I just congratulated her on making a great, responsible decision to end the relationship and let her go.
But, YOU! Now, You don’t get off so easily if you continue to read…
Ah, Chuck E Cheese. In divorce cases, we sometimes find evidence of what we call “Geezer dates.” This is a reference to a setting where an older man (Geezer) takes his honey and her children on a “date” specifically (although maybe subconsciously) to show off his money and his ability to relate to her kids. He intuitively knows that getting along with her kids is a plus in her eyes. If he takes her and the kids to Chuck E Cheese, he can drop $100 or so and get so very much more bang for his buck (ahem, so to speak) than spending that amount (or more) taking mama to a fancy restaurant.
Sometimes it’s not an old geezer. Sometimes it’s someone her age, like in this client’s case. It all spins out about the same, but we see so many geezers doing this, maybe because they feel they need that show of money to hang on to someone younger.
Envision this scene: The happy group arrives at Chuck E Cheese. Big Daddy says, “Order whatever you want, kids!” They order their little pizzas and drinks. Big Daddy and Mama ensconce in a booth, and the kids get more tokens for games than they ever knew existed! When they run out, Big Daddy shovels more their way. This is kiddie heaven!! Big Daddy and Mama can make goo-goo eyes at one another for three hours while the kids run wild in a hedonistic frenzy.
When they leave, the kids are loaded with prizes they “won” at the games, sated with all the pizza they can hold and ice cream to boot, and they have played their little hearts. They are either wired or they are tuckered out, happily ready to snooze on the way home in the car. And Mama and Geezer can smile at each other with satisfaction as they strap these little ones in: Mama has seen her babies be deliriously happy; Geezer has arranged for an exciting evening later on.
Now, let’s look more closely at the payoffs for everyone, because I don’t want anyone to miss them:
1. Big Daddy gets “hero marks” with both Mama and kids. He gets his insatiable ego stroked because there is this tangible showering of largesse to these kids—at pretty bargain-basement prices! He gets to show Mama how wonderful he is with her kids, cementing his access to her. And he now has some powerful allies in this regard—her kids!! They LOVE him!! They will lobby for him, “Mama, when is Big Daddy coming?!!” or “Yippee!! Here’s Big Daddy!!” And Big Daddy, in effect, is saying, “Mama, see how much your kids love me: a kind, wonderful man! And rich, too!”
Is this using the kids? Oh, I don’t know; you tell me…
2. Mama gets all kinds of “warm fuzzies” from this situation. Her kids are deliriously happy. Their unabashed acceptance of Big Daddy’s offerings reinforces her feelings that “he could be the one.” She can justify being with Big Daddy because her myth to herself is that her kids are the most important thing in the world to her (and this is a myth at this particular moment in time…).
Sick as this is, Mama will see this as evidence of her being a responsible mother—after all, she is appraising and assessing whether this man is “good for the kids;” like he would honestly show his true colors at this stage if he did not like them at all.
Mama begins to think (again, maybe subconsciously) that her kids are actually tools with which to hook this man. She begins to tell herself that her cute, wonderful kids are just one more reason Big Daddy will actually stay with her—surely he would not disappoint these kids with whom he is becoming so close and to whom he is being so happily generous. I have had women actually say to me, “I can understand him leaving me, but to do that to my kids…I thought he was crazy about them!” See the hook she is making out of her kids?
3. The Kids are happy as only kids can be when they have their every whim catered to—money is no object!! They feel lavished and so central to everyone—stops are being pulled out just for them!! They have someone showering them with the material things they equate in their little minds as love, and he is seemingly so glad to see them, too. They love this man!! And—to all appearances to them—he LOVES them!!! They are Special!!! What fun it would be to have him around all the time, all the time, all the time!! “Mama, when is Big Daddy coming??!!” Mama interprets this as how much “the kids just love him!”
And, in case you can’t spot it on your own, here’s the big problem: A little kid has trouble distinguishing playtime from permanency. He may come to think of himself as “special” to someone who is only actually using him as a tool to get to mama. When Big Daddy disappears, kid is confused. He can’t understand that he was only the bait—he wasn’t really special to that guy at all. He is left to wonder.
And, don’t forget, mama has used her children as bait, too, to lure someone onto the stage to be assessed and perhaps to bond so that she can have a relationship.
It’s upsetting to me. Can you tell? Very poor parenting by people who are normally very good parents but find themselves desperate.
So, my client’s little kids must be wondering about this guy who used to be at the house almost every night for dinner and showered them at Chuck E. Cheese—where did he go? If they were as special to him as all that he did with/for them, why is he suddenly gone?
It can be a sad, confusing world.
This post is my friend V’s fault. When I spewed this out the other night at our BFF meeting, she said, “You have to post about this perspective.” So, willing lecturer on/to society that I am, here it is. My son now says he’ll never look at Chuck E Cheese the same again. Blame V. C
PS – There is an even darker side to the boyfriend/kid thing that is too lengthy to discuss here but I can’t help mentioning it. Statistically, boyfriends are not the safest things to have your kids around, especially in a cohabitation situation. But, as I said, that’s a whole ‘nother post. Maybe someday…
PSS – I hate to pick on Chuck E Cheese. My son had many a good time there, although “Beach Bear” scared the daylights out of him. The fishing waters could actually be anything: the zoo, miniature golf…whatever showcases Big Daddy’s fathering skills, patience and largesse …it’s just that Chuck E. Cheese shows up so often…