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Carolyn Hax: Marriage not a dad-replacement system

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: I am considering getting remarried three years after an awful divorce. I had young twins, now 5. The man I’m with has a lot of parenting know-how, and we can meld our families really well. But the person who is a better fit for me is someone I was with a few years back, who “gets” me and is more selfless than anyone I’ve ever been with.

If I pick the guy who’s best for my kids, I lose out. If I pick the guy who’s better for me but has no parenting experience, my kids lose out. How can I pick? – C. Marriage is not a father-replacement system! You can’t separate the quality of the parenting from the quality of the primary relationship in a child’s home. Ack.

If you “lose out” with Mr. Know-How, your kids do, too – and that’s before we get into how the man himself feels about his selection as unpaid nanny under the false pretense of being your intimate life partner. The selfishness of what you’ve proposed here is breathtaking; I can only hope you’ve had post-traumatic-divorce, child-centric blinders on and will get this when they’re removed.

If Mr. Better Fit is just that, better than the other guy, then the answer is: You don’t have to marry anyone. Don’t force it.

If instead you’re certain about Mr. B-F (how that’s possible on memory alone while “with” and contemplating marriage to another guy, I won’t even try to parse), and “has no parenting experience” is your only concern – then, remember, that description fits the best father in the history of humanity the moment before he first held his child. What matters is that he’s kind, trustworthy, flexible, and committed to doing right by your kids.

Of course, if he’s not these things, he’s out.

We could spend days pointing our flashlights into every corner of the decisions you’re facing, but that’s its own answer: You don’t even have your feelings and priorities straight yet, so any decision is premature. The commitment to make now is to getting your rudder fixed.

Even if you feel calm and assured in your purpose, when a decision to marry is either-or, the answer is always neither. Marry when there’s no doubt it’s the right person, right time, just right.

The scorched landscape of your last marriage is still fresh in your mind, so please summon those images as a reminder to be patient anytime you feel pressured to choose this partner or that, my needs or theirs, marry or not. Your job is to maintain a loving and stable home for your children now, today, with what you have. Introduce change only when you’re confident it brings more love and stability to all, in proven, sustainable ways.

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m.each Friday at www.washington
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