AT A GLANCE
Names: John (left in the pic) and Mike
Professions: Nonprofit Development (Mike) and Museum Operations (John)
Relationship status: Dating 8 months
Children: Olivia, 20 & Alec, 19 (Mike’s); Twins Michelle & Matthew, 17 (John’s)
Location: Glen Ridge, NJ (Mike); NYC (John)
Always wanted children: Yes
Process to becoming parents: Each conceived two children during former marriages to wives
Favorite family activity: Summer vacations (Mike); Special dinners out (John)
Children call them: Dad
Mike and John have only been together for eight months, but if you saw them out with their kids at a restaurant, it’s hard to imagine a word other than family to describe the six-person troupe. The couple met online through a dating website and felt a strong connection from the beginning. It wasn’t long before they wanted to introduce each other to the two most meaningful people in each of their lives: their children.
Mike’s relationship with his kids did not suffer following his divorce 11 years ago. They knew he was gay the following year. “We lived in a diverse and progressive community so coming out wasn’t a challenge or particularly difficult to explain to them. Plus they were very young, so it quickly just became ‘how it was,’ Mike reports about coming out to his kids. While Mike shared a 50/50 custody arrangement with his wife, his bond with his children was so strong that they actually spent most of their time with him. “Suffice it to say, I raised my kids and we continue to have a great relationship.” Mike describes.
John’s situation is similar, divorcing nine years ago but continuing to have a strong relationship with his children. His ex-wife is the primary parent but this is not a result of their discomfort with his lifestyle. “They’re well-adjusted and well-rounded kids,” John explains with pride. “They had their own struggles with not being a ‘traditional family’ but there aren’t many traditional families out there.” At the end of the day, their experience reflects that of many kids of divorce. “They like Mike very much and their mom’s partner very much and it’s a non-issue.” John explains about having an ex-wife with kids and about dating again.
“They had only been introduced I think...once to someone?” John recalls concerning his dating life post-divorce, “Mike is really the first [partner] where it’s gone a little farther – meeting each other’s kids and family members.” Of course, meeting the family is a huge step in any relationship, but particularly in situations where kids are involved, the stakes are raised.
I think we can all identify with the strange nervousness that settles over a partner’s first encounter with our loved ones. The fear of disapproval and hope for instantaneous accord both roll in on the same tide. Mike and John denied feeling too worried though. “You’re going into it with your own nervousness and stress. I think you should each remember that they’re going through that same thing internally. Everyone wants to make a good impression.” John imparts.
Mike and John’s cool demeanor about the two family’s amalgamation has allowed connections to evolve naturally. No pressure or stress is put on creating a white-picket-fence atmosphere. “It’s kind of like them going into any social situation [with] people their age. They’re not going to automatically like everyone. They could be total opposites, and in many ways some of our kids are,” stated John in a pragmatic manner, respectful of the fact that his kids are young adults on their own journeys of self-discovery.
“All four [are] at an age where ‘blending’ is not really possible,” Mike chimes in. “They’re so on their own already.” Mike states with an acute sense of awareness, that due to their age, the approach to creating closeness cannot be contrived. “I’m sure over the years it will grow. John is very close with his kids and I am with mine; so I’m sure we’ll build some kind of tradition here or there.” Mike states in a hopeful tone. “We’re doing our part to create some kind of unit,” John adds.
I ask if dating someone with kids was always a part of the plan. They have it so well figured after eight months that I am shocked to hear it was never a condition that either set forth. “It’s nice to have that similarity. I don’t think it’s required but it is nice. I think it makes us both feel better matched.” Mike explains. “There’s an understanding of some of the issues and pressures that are placed on you when you have children. For us, [our] children come first, and their needs come first, so having a partner [who understands] is nice.” John shares.
The compassion they have for their children seems to illuminate the nature of their compatibility. Both share that their children had their own unique challenges identifying as a non-traditional family; however, all four have adjusted. “They want us to be happy and they want stability.” John elucidates. “As long as you make sure they have a stable and comfortable life they just want you to be happy.” Mike echoes.
With John’s twins joining Mike’s two children already in secondary education this coming fall, an effort to manage holiday and vacation schedules to accommodate family time has become a priority. The couple currently lives about an hour away from each other, but plans are underway to combine households soon. Needless to say, this raises its own challenges – making sure there is still space for the new family of six to share. It’s a nice challenge to have though; Mike and John, creating their own modern family.