Dating After Divorce When You Have Small Children
by Kim Johnson
Dating After Divorce When You Have Small Children
The stress and strain of your divorce is fading and you finally feel ready to move on. Yet, being a divorced parent means there are other things that can take precedence over a social life. Cleaning the house, keeping the kids on track, juggling a career, and spending time with relatives may leave little time for fun. However, you still make the decision to start dating. What about your kids? You may be ready, but are they?
Why You’re Ready to Date but Your Children are Not
Separation and divorce often come after a long period of chaos and pain for married adults. The attempts to heal the relationship didn’t work which ultimately led to its demise. The experience, however, is not the same for the children. In their world, family is still the most important thing to them. So, the grief of seeing it break apart can be overwhelming. And kids may never quite lose the hope that their parents will one day get back together.
Rushing into dating after a divorce threatens a child’s world. Your kids may view your dates as competition for your love and attention or a rejection of their now-absent other parent. The loss of your attention can reawaken fears of abandonment.
Keep in mind, children typically accept dad’s dating more than mom’s dating. It’s hard to definitively say why this is, but the general belief is that mom is often considered the primary caregiver. Thus, the mom is expected to maintain the status quo.
Before You Start Dating
As discussed in a previous article, it is vital to consider where you are in your healing process and why you want to date. Even though it can be hard to hear, waiting is important. When lessons aren’t learned from past mistakes, you will be doomed to repeat them.
Beware of letting yourself think that finding a new spouse will make your family “whole” again. Remarriage based on that agenda often has more “holes” than “wholes.” Filling a void in your life is an unhealthy motivation for jumping into the dating pool too quickly. It is tempting to bandage your wounds with positive attention from someone new. In reality, this kind of attention can actually stall your healing and end up causing you more pain. Giving yourself some time to heal your broken heart, rediscover yourself, and make positive changes in your life is invaluable.
Next Steps for Dating When it Comes to Your Kids
After everything is considered, you now feel free to date. But this is only the beginning for your children. For them, timing is everything. Sharing too early or about every date isn’t a good idea. The relationship may not last and the added emotional stress could be for nothing. On the other hand, you don’t want it to come out by chance and have them think you’re hiding something.
So, when is the right time to tell your kids? Here are a few tips that might help.
• Plan to have a short conversation with each of your children one-on-one to discuss your thoughts about dating. This will, of course, be age dependent.
• If your children are under five, they most likely are not emotionally developed enough to understand. It will probably be enough to say you are going out with a friend which is true.
• The next age bracket, kids five to twelve, will be a little tougher. Children at these ages are old enough to recognize what’s going on. They might feel you don’t love them anymore. You will need to gauge where each child is in their healing process and go from there. The information can be strategic and limited. But for sure, let them know you still love them and they are not losing you.
• Your teenagers will be the toughest. They will definitely know what is happening and will most likely need more explanation. Being truthful and logical is best. Again, evaluate how they seem to be handling the new family situation and let that be your guide. Reassure them that you are still there for them and that this is something you are doing for you.
• No matter what, be upfront and honest with what you share. Children will catch on quickly if you try to hide anything. Answer any questions they have within reason. Remember there can be boundaries to what you do or don’t share. Letting them be mean or rude is not acceptable. You’re still the parent and can be open without overloading them with too many facts.
• Be prepared for diverse reactions. Don’t expect them to be happy about it or be surprised if they react nonchalantly. Your children are individuals and will look at this point in your life differently. And it is okay. Allow them the freedom to show their feelings without guilt.
• Patience will be required. Don’t get discouraged if the first conversation is tough or they storm off crying. This is common, but kids usually come around especially when they realize that it’s something that makes you happy.
• Be aware your children may tell your ex. This can be a sticky subject with dating. Depending upon the relationship status of your ex-spouse, he or she might be angry to know you’re dating, or they may not care. Either way, it is not fair to your children to ask them to keep it a secret. This puts them in the middle and can make them feel awkward. So, you will need to be prepared should your ex try to have input.
When to Introduce Someone New to Your Kids
You’ve been dating off and on for a little while. Now you’re in a relationship that could be long term. So, how soon do you introduce this person to your children? Again, timing is everything. Why be in a hurry? Even if you feel you’re falling in love, a breakup could still happen. That’s when kids can get caught in the crossfire. So, take your time. Even if your new love interest is pushing to meet them, keep your children off limits until you are sure it will last.
Following are things to consider when you are ready to make the introductions.
• A good first step is to ask your children what they think or if they have any questions about meeting the person you’re dating. Start by saying you would like them to meet someone you care about. But, be prepared to wait if your children let you know they aren’t eager about it. Give yourself and them time to get comfortable with the idea if they aren’t ready.
• Just because you think this new person is great, don’t expect your kids to automatically have the same feelings. Keep in mind you have had time to get to know this person but they have not.
• Pressuring your children to be okay with this new love interest isn’t fair or realistic. Too often parents assume they will be fine or should just get over their hope for a reconciliation. Allow them the freedom to form their own opinions.
• When your children are ready, make the first meeting informal, even opting to meet at a park or even a restaurant. This will keep it brief and casual. And just because they’ve finally met, doesn’t mean the kids will want more. It may take a while before they are ready to spend time with both you and your new love.
• Be aware of how you interact with your love in front of your children. Even though you would like to hold hands or lock arms, your kids may not be ready to see any intimacy between the two of you. Allowing time to ease into the new relationship will help them accept it in the long run.
• Avoid including the new person in too much of your family time right away. This is important for you and your children. Once you involve them, your focus may go too quickly to forming a family unit. This can make things get out of balance. Don’t skip important stages in your dating relationship or the kid’s relationship with your new love.
When you are certain this new person is the right one, allow your children the freedom to get to know them on their own terms. Give them space and don’t insist on anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Even just making them hang out with you all the time can be too much. Time is on your side so relax, and take it slowly.
Just remember to constantly reassure you children that you still love that and that no new relationship will ever change that. Let them know you are not replacing their other parent. The more they feel you are considering them in the equation, the less frightened or resistant they will be. If this is truly the right person, it will be worth waiting for the relationships to form in their own time.