"But there's privilege in the package," said my fiance, Tom. He's known more for being a scientist than a poet, but that phrase was music to my ears.
With just a few weeks to go until our wedding, I was asking him if he was sure he wanted this "package," meaning my complicated life featuring four children and all the wonderful and difficult things they bring to the table.
Yes, I was joking. Tom is all in, and I haven't doubted it. But we were dealing with a week that had been more on the difficult side of the "kid ledger" than the wonderful, and I needed some reassurance.
Yes, Tom is a dad of four wonderful kids himself, his youngest the age of my oldest. That helps when it comes to understanding children. (Most of the men I'd previously dated were not fathers, and I think now it's wiser for single moms to date dads.) But, most important, his thinking is not so much that this is going to be easy, but that there is going to be opportunity and wonder in the challenge of it all.
As he reassured me, again -- we were sitting in my kitchen mulling over some recent events -- that he believes he has an opportunity to impact my children and our family, to really help shape and encourage this little band. My children adore Tom. But I'm pretty sure they adore me, too, and that doesn't mean it's always easy.
The point is that rather than seeing my children as something to be put up with in order for him to have a relationship with me, he sees the whole package as something to happily embrace. Even in all its manifold imperfections. And, wow, are they sometimes manifold. I think that also means he has a better chance of enjoying the package after all.
It's hard for a woman to date if she has kids. All the more so when your kids live with you 24/7. But I think in seeking a new husband we single moms just can't give our children anything less than someone who will eagerly take on our children, too. I don't mean because the fellow thinks, "Hey, this will be fun!" -- although it ought to be, at least at times. I mean a fellow who will see his calling as engaging fully with his new kids even when it's not fun.
I watch Tom interacting with my children, in things like spending hours getting my high-school daughter ready for a chemistry exam. Or listening -- really listening -- to another about her angst one minute and happiness the next when it comes to changing schools next year. And I think: "Really, God? Really?" Just as important, I don't have to be defensive when they misbehave, or when he and I talk about a problem attitude we see here or there. He doesn't judge me; he walks with me as we think things through.
But, of course, that's what a dad should do, and that's the point.
It occurred to me when Tom said "there's privilege in the package" that I was hearing the words for the first time, but it was an understanding I knew him to have, and from the beginning.
(Yes, the flip side is all there, too. As in, a new wife needs to be eager to be part of his kids' lives, however complicated that is. But one spouse at a time!)
Yes, my time as a single mom is coming to a close, and I'm grateful it is. But I was there for eight years, and at times I thought I would always be alone.
From someone who knows that it's hard, I just want to encourage all the single moms out there to hold out for a guy who considers your complicated package a privilege. You will be so glad you did. That's a good man. Your children, and you, deserve nothing less.
(Betsy Hart's latest book is "From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports)." Reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stories, visit scrippsnews.com.)