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Sex and the Single Mother

Recent question that I had trouble believing:

“I am the grandmother of 3 beautiful children (ages 4, 6, and 10) with whom I live and help raise. Their single mother, my daughter, has been involved in about six relationships over the past 3 years, with a 2-3 week interval in between relationships. I am wondering if it is a good idea for her to have these men sleeping in her bed every night, visible to the kids, and also whether it is OK for them to sleep with her and the men. I am looking for an objective answer.”

Sorry, I apologize to the grandmother who wrote me the above as well as to my readers. There is no way I can be objective in my answer because this letter is too upsetting to me. I am not speaking as a moralist or a prude. I am neither. But my job for over 50 years as a pediatrician has required that I focus on what is best for children’s health, development, well-being, and their future. In my opinion all of these are being jeopardized by this mother’s behavior.

My answer: It is a very bad idea. This kind of maternal behavior gives a terrible message to the children that it’s OK to have relationships that are nothing more than prolonged hookups.

I tell single divorced mothers who ask me when they should start dating again that they should not even introduce their children to a man unless they are sure about the future of the relationship. Why? It is too hard on kids to relate to a new person in their lives only to suffer another loss if he leaves. Even when it is safe to start dating, no overnights in your house.

I don’t know whether this mother was ever married or whether all the children have the same father. I don’t know her age or her occupation or the state of her mental health. But from what the grandmother says I can infer that she has poor judgment and she is putting herself and her needs way ahead of the needs of her children.

When you make a baby you make an unwritten contract with that new person. For at least the next 18 years you will care for that child and will put the child’s needs ahead of your own wants and needs. I do not deny that the mother has needs and wants. Everyone does. But these children did not ask to be born. They are all young and will need loving, nurturing, and understanding maternal care for at least 14 years (until the youngest reaches 18).

If the mother asked me what she should do with her sexual and dependency feelings I would suggest being discreet. Go out occasionally, date again with the goals of finding a partner who will accept you and your children, have responsible sex (do not get pregnant) but not in your house. A mother who “dates” the way described by the grandmother is modeling maternal behavior that can sexualize the children much too early, another bad idea. This could mean “early” grandchildren whose parents are repeating the destructive behavior this mother is modeling.

Having the kids sleep in her bed with a man who is nothing more than a casual sex partner is an even worse idea because it too can sexualize these children way too early.

My advice to you, Grandmother, is to show your daughter my objective answer. She can write to me herself if she likes. Perhaps I can help her understand and deal with her destructive relationship problem.

I am glad you are around for these children. You can try to give your grandchildren the sense of a good future by stressing education and the great jobs and careers out there for educated people. I urge you to avoid fighting with your daughter or nagging her as this won’t help. Try to get her to seek counseling.