Q: My mother recently passed away. Now, after decades of marriage, my father is dating too many women. How do I deal with this?A: It’s tough to lose a parent, no matter how old you are. And, as you know, nobody can ever take your mother’s place.
It sounds as though you feel that your father’s dating —whether he is dating too soon after your mother’s death, dating too many women, or even dating at all — somehow diminishes the loss of your mother and makes you fear she is being replaced.
But his interest in dating now that he is widowed doesn’t mean he loved your mother less, or is dishonoring her memory. In many ways, it means the opposite.
Widowed people who liked being part of a couple often want a new partner, preferring not to spend the rest of their lives alone.
If your father had a joyous marriage, it makes sense that he strives to regain the happiness he had when coupled. I suspect you wouldn’t be thrilled if he declared he was glad he didn’t have to deal with a wife anymore, preferring to avoid women because they were such bad news.
You don’t say how recently your father was widowed. It’s best if he takes some time to mourn his loss. How long it takes to process the loss of a spouse varies individually. The one-year mark, for example, lets someone experience holidays, birthdays and other yearly milestones without their partner. And, over time, the intensity of their sorrow may fade, even though it never disappears.
If your father did leap “too quickly” into the dating fray, he was likely trying to squelch his feelings of loneliness and depression. The danger here, if he hasn’t processed his loss, is that depression might crop up later. Or, in his rush to find companionship, he might use less-than-stellar judgment about whom to pair up with.
If your father is dating “too many” women, he probably hasn’t met someone he wants to get serious with, or he doesn’t want to get serious just yet, preferring some company before he considers settling down. This is perfectly fine. I also suspect you wouldn’t be thrilled if he married the first woman he met after losing your mother. So dating many women is certainly appropriate.
If someone permanent does come along, you needn’t view her as a replacement mother. Your father’s relationship with her will be unique and different — and so will yours. You can forge an association with her as peers, grownups and people who have your father’s best interests at heart.
No matter how much you love your father, there are things that you, as his child, cannot provide him. You cannot be a romantic partner. That is something he may want in his life, and is entitled to seek. It is unfair to ask him not to.
But here’s what you can do, if it’s hard on you to see him dating: Keep out of his dating business and ask him not to involve you in it. You don’t need to know who he is dating or even that he is dating. You don’t need to meet any of his dates until there is one who is seriously (and maybe permanently) in his life.
You and your father together can help each other through your grief over your mother. And I would hope you can be happy if your father finds someone with whom he can have a positive relationship now, in this later phase of his life.
Men who are widowed but remarry live longer than their counterparts who stay unattached. So if your father finds someone else, not only will he benefit, but you will have him around longer, too.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: After losing a parent, it’s hard to observe the widowed parent seeking a new partner — but it’s a positive and hopeful step toward the future.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.