Learning to Live With It

Learning to Live With It

Part of growing up is coping with the awkward choices of loved ones

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 07/17/2014

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Dear Patti,

On the surface, everything about my life looks pretty good and probably better than most kids my age (16). I have a lot of friends (including a potential new boyfriend), my GPA will definitely get me into college, and I just made captain of the soccer team. My parents divorced when I was 9, but they get along pretty well. I like my dad’s new wife, and both sets of grandparents are supportive of everything I do. 


The problem is my mom. She comes to all my soccer practices and my games, but I found out recently that it’s not just to cheer me on. My soccer coach is single, nice-looking (for someone his age) and my game is awesome because of his coaching. My mom admitted they’ve secretly been dating since March, but they want to make their relationship public because she feels like they’re sneaking around. 


This is so embarrassing and could ruin everything, because now it will look like the coach is playing favorites because of my mom. What if they got married and he lived with us? What if they break up? Would it affect how he treats me afterward because he’d be mad or sad about their breakup? 


I want Mom to be happy but I’d prefer she be happy with someone else or stop seeing my coach until after I graduate. Should I say something to him to discourage this relationship?


Dear Dana,

Love is complicated at any age, and I certainly understand how your mom’s decisions — and potential choices — are impacting your life. As well as you adjusted to your parents’ divorce and had the discipline to excel in sports as well as socially and academically, I can empathize with your perceptions that this relationship between your mom and your coach could turn into what you could perceive as a disaster. It’s one of the reasons, in fact, that I recommend parents not date their children’s teachers, the parents of their children’s friends or any other adult personally involved in their children’s lives.


Although I don’t know your mom and know very little about your relationship, if you feel comfortable, I encourage you to sit down with her and find out just how serious this romance is. It may be difficult to do, but it’s important you openly express your concerns and fears that your teammates and other students might assume you are getting preferential treatment. Keep in mind, though, that as much as she loves you, there could be a bond between them that she’s not willing to give up. As she has probably already discovered, dating as a single parent is a lot different from dating when you’re still single. Her responsibility to keep you emotionally safe makes it incumbent upon her to continue to take things slowly and to test different aspects of this relationship before she and your coach officially introduce themselves as a couple to the rest of the world … and to you. As adults, they both need to respect the difficulties their relationship creates for you just as much as you need to respect their allegiance to each other.


New experiences can sometimes dredge up other emotions being held inside. If, for instance, the conversation brings up feelings about your parents’ divorce, talk about those, too. If you feel you need more support, talk to your mom with a counselor present. From your letter, it doesn’t sound as if you dislike your coach but just feel uncomfortable with his new dual role.


If for the time being you’d rather not have anything to do with this relationship beyond their separate and respective roles as “Mom” and “Coach,” my recommendation is that they continue to keep their dating private for three more months and not add additional stress to your life. If after that time they’re still exclusively committed to each other, they can gently start the process of bringing you into the equation and helping you to adjust. As time passes with this new dynamic — a year perhaps — you can then decide as a unit how to handle the complications of going public. While there are no easy answers, part of growing up is learning to protect oneself and cope with the awkward choices of loved ones.


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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