First- if anyone has a better title suggestion after reading this feel free to edit. I had a hard time formulating a brief description.

My oldest son is the result of a failed relationship that ended when he was an infant. I started dating my husband seriously when he was about 15 months old and then remarried when he was 4. I have always had full custody. He visits his dad more or less every other weekend, less so when he was a baby. All this time, I have been in a monogamous, stable relationship that produced two more children. We have a happy, healthy home that is grounded by a happy, healthy marriage.

On the other hand...my son's father is a womanizer. (Hence, we are no longer together, amongst other reasons.) He had several relationships when we first split; he was often staying with one girl one month and then with another the next month, which resulted in very little visitation due to his reluctance to "freak out" his gf's by bringing a baby home. Eventually, he found a girl that had a kid the same age as our boy and he married her. Kinda all of a sudden. They played house: since she had a kid it was now convenient for him to have his son over, so he went over there a LOT and grew close to his step mom and brother (reluctantly-this boy was not very nice to my son physically or emotionally.) Two years later it was over. On Christmas Day, when my son was FINALLY going to spend Christmas with his dad. Within weeks of his divorce, he showed up at my house with a new gf to take my son to the zoo. I guess the play date with the kid wasn't her thing because he showed up a month later with a different girl. This girl moved in with him after about a month and now they are engaged. My son was devastated when his dad got divorced before. He still misses his step mom and step brother (it's all I can do to be sympathetic. Only because I love him I manage-they were nearly intolerably awful people). He asked me upon return from the zoo-date if he should call dad's date "mom" or her first name. Now, he's getting amped up for the wedding and a new step mom. I'm happy that at least this girl is nice and she seems to truly care for my son (unlike the other one playing house) but I'm concerned that all these relationships are damaging him. He asks me all the time how come daddy gets to get married all the time and I only got married once. When he was young, first of all, he didn't hardly notice, and if he did notice the "frequency of turnover" of his dad's partners I was able to provide fairly "light" and pre-school friendly answers like: "daddy is still practicing making friends-those girls aren't mommies" or when he got divorced I managed the explanation: "everybody is like a puzzle. There are lots of pieces and you have to try different things to see if they fit. The last piece of everyone's puzzle is a special piece that actually fits in two people's puzzles. One piece fits perfectly into both to join them together to make one big picture (our family). Daddy thought he found a fit (like you do when you do puzzles) but it turned out the picture was mixed up and it wasn't the right piece." That explanation was satisfying for him but, I can't help but wonder, how else, besides the strong example we have set in our home, can we teach him the value and seriousness of making good relationship choices? He idolizes his father, so I fear that he gives his father's life choices equal weight. I am not so obtuse that I don't see that equalization is logical in his mind, and in other instances an advantage (in the sense his good experiences are doubled.) But as a mother I can't help but want to mitigate or prevent harm though.

Without preaching, or criticizing his father, how can I teach my son to choose healthy relationships over lust based flings, and ultimately, the value of a marriage? The upcoming wedding is a very very big deal. I want him to have fun, and be happy for his dad, but I wish he could understand that for now, it's his dad's big day not his.

Btw-my son will be entering middle school next year. He's 10.

I realize marriage is often a religious topic, so I should mention that we are not religious, but have taught the children the basics of a few of the major world religions and about spirituality in general, so answers based in any faith (or lack thereof) are welcome.

  • 5
    Your puzzle piece explanation is fabulous.
    – Bobo
    Dec 12, 2014 at 19:57
  • 1
    You seem very intent on forcing a very traditional gender role onto your son. People should focus on what makes them happy in relationships, for some people that isn't marriage or long term relationships. For example his father's mistake was actually getting married in the first place when that life clearly wasn't for him. The high turnover of women in his life might be by design and not because those relationships failed. It is no coincidence that you want your son to choose to behave in a way that would mirror your ideal partner but that might not be what makes him happy. Dec 22, 2014 at 14:22
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    Actually, teaching him the value of a marriage is to teach him it's a big commitment that isn't to be taken lightly. So, if he understands that, he won't choose it without careful consideration. Marriage isn't a game. One person's feelings shouldn't be collateral damage from another's person's reckless quest for personal satisfaction. The only "traditional" gender role I'm forcing on my son is to be a considerate, respectful, person.
    – Jax
    Dec 23, 2014 at 15:47

2 Answers 2


If his father is in his life, your 10 year old son can't be shielded from his choices. Though there's a cardinal rule about not speaking ill of your ex to your son, that doesn't mean you can't discuss your own views respectfully and honestly, especially when he asks.

Speak frankly about what the foundations should be for good relationships whenever he asks and when it seems an apt time to do so. Comparing people to puzzle pieces might send the wrong message; people aren't things you try on until you find one that fits (isn't that pretty much what his dad is doing?) Break-ups are painful for everyone - he's experienced that - and respect for a person's feelings and well-being, including the sacrifices that entails, should be discussed openly.

Model what a healthy relationship looks like to the best of your ability. If there are other examples of good long-term relationships in his life (grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.) make sure to talk to your son about them.

He will learn what he learns; kids are notoriously good at spotting differences between what we espouse and what we do. He can learn from his father's mistake as well as from your example.

If you're really worried, a few visits with a counselor might help you work out a strategy regarding how you might best approach this with your son, and will help to address specific concerns you and he might have.

  • I guess what I'm most afraid of is that he will learn to cope with the heartbreak of divorce/break ups but will also learn to accept it as normal. Learning to deal with a breakup are skills we learn as adults, and the pain of it teaches avoidance. Since he's exposed so young I'm afraid he'll learn to deal with it too well. Also, adults control the situation in their own lives. My son has no control and can't avoid the pain, and so I'm concerned that that will cause him to not bother avoiding it in his own life since he's so accustomed to it. (He'll be numb to it due to over exposure).
    – Jax
    Dec 11, 2014 at 14:25
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    @Jax - I guess my point is you can't shape your son's beliefs. He may very well learn this; it's out there everywhere for him to see. The only thing you can do is talk to him and help him to see the consequences of his own behaviors, good and bad (without coming across as overly critical. It might turn out that your son will be relationship avoidant when he is a man. You can't tell. You hope. As I said, if this is very concerning to you, a counselor might help you find a way to deal with this. Dec 11, 2014 at 18:47

Q1: I can't help but wonder, how else, besides the strong example we have set in our home, can we teach him the value and seriousness of making good relationship choices?

Leading by example is usually the best way to get a point across. If your current marriage is as wonderful as you make it out to be, your son will notice that long-term monogamous relationships can make certain people happy -- and may strive for the same in his own life.

Of course, even after observing your example, your son may decide to follow a different path.

Q2: Without preaching, or criticizing his father, how can I teach my son to choose healthy relationships over lust based flings, and ultimately, the value of a marriage?

Honestly, this question seems like it is much more about your resentment of your son's father's love life than about your son's best interests. At 10 years old, your son is probably old enough to pick up on what you might really be saying here, too.

Be careful not to diminish your credibility in your son's eyes by demonstrating an ongoing resentment of his father's love life. If his father's choices are truly foolish, your son will see that on his own.

  • You're right-I do resent that my son's dad behaves inappropriately around my son. IMO anyone, not just my ex, who emotionally involves their kid in the ups and downs of dating is acting inappropriately.
    – Jax
    Dec 22, 2014 at 5:52

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