Carolyn Hax: Advice

Dad’s new girlfriend is not a Mom-replacement

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

DEAR CAROLYN: I need someone to smack some sense into me. My parents were married for more than 40 years before my mom died very suddenly three years ago. My dad is now dating a very nice woman, and I’m truly happy that he has a companion.

But how do I get past the feeling that my mom has been cast aside? I’ve come around to the idea that a person can find love multiple times in life, and his life did not end when hers did. BUT, she’s my one and only mom and I don’t get or want another one.

Somehow I can’t reconcile these feelings, and its causing me to still be a bit resentful of my dad and his girlfriend, which I really want to get past.

Dad Is Dating

DEAR DAD IS DATING: You’re not getting another mom. Your dad isn’t dating another mom. If he marries her, then you’ll technically get a stepmother in the transaction, but that is not the same as replacing Mom.

Just because your mother was at the same time both a wife to your father and a mother to you doesn’t mean any new women in his life will occupy the same dual role. Remember, too, your mom’s relationship to your dad was separate from hers with you. Your dad’s loss was very different from yours, and so his path after it will be as well.

A new woman in your dad’s life is just that — a new part of his life. How she becomes part of your life is something different, and you have a say in how that goes.

Seeing a woman with your dad of course will bring up associations with your mother. That’s what familiarity does — it sends your brain along certain reflexive paths. That’s also what grief does. You’re still adjusting to a painful absence even three years later. It’s normal and OK.

Time has an answer to both familiarity and grief. As you get used to seeing your father with someone not your mother, and as you get to know this woman (or others) as an individual as opposed to just a not-Mom — you will gradually react to them as individuals too. Let yourself.

I recommend not even comparing the way your dad is with other women to the dad you knew with mom. You’ll see a different version of him for sure, subtly or otherwise, because different people bring out different elements in all of us.

Most of all, be patient with yourself. Don’t resist the hard feelings but don’t hang on to them, either, or wait for someone else to take them away.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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