Dear Joan Actually,
I’ve been separated from my husband for over a year now and even though I’ve put dating on the back burner for a while now, I think I’m ready. The only thing is, I’m not sure if my kids are. I’ve got two living with me at home, and I don’t want them to have trouble adjusting to the new person, whenever that may be. Should I talk to them first? When is it OK to introduce them to someone new? I have to admit, I’m at a bit of a loss as to the best way to move forward. Any advice you could give to a mom who’s new to the dating scene would be wonderful.
– St. Peters, MO
Dating with kids at home automatically ups the ante of your future relationships—afterall, you’re not just finding a match for yourself, you’re also finding a match for your children. As challenging as dating is for a single parent, it’s even more challenging for kids. Between negotiating loyalty to a former parent with learning to accept a new parental figure, children can get caught in an emotionally stressful situation. However, with some extra planning, you can have that amazing relationship without compromising your children’s well-being.
Rule # 1: Keep your dating life and parenting life as separate as possible.
Regardless of the way your previous marriage or partnership ended, kids need time to adjust to the change in their family dynamics. They may still be grieving the loss of their original parent or simply not ready to develop attachment to a new person. Even if both parents split amicably and are dedicated co-parents, the child will wonder why the marriage didn’t work out and need to time to process the upheaval.
Even though your marriage might have ended long before the divorce or separation, your kids were familiar with two parents living at home. As you rebuild your romantic life, keep your kids out of the loop; they don’t need to know about the process, just the final outcome.
Rule #2: Unless you’re in a serious committed relationship, avoid introducing your new significant other to your kids.
Introducing the kids to your dates may seem like a good idea, but if the dates won’t be around for long, your child may feel abandoned or re-experience loss. Younger children are especially likely to develop attachment to new parental figures. To keep things simple, reserve introductions for the most serious, established partners.
Rule #3: Be a parent, not a friend.
As they grow and develop, your children view you as the parent. When you share your romantic disappointment or excitement to your children, it clouds your child’s perception of you and, subsequently, the parent child relationship you’ve established. Suddenly, you’re not just a parent, but a single person encountering the ups and downs of dating. Of course you wouldn’t share your dating life with a seven year old, but you might discuss it with your teen who is also navigating love and dating.
Older children are aware of romantic and sexual relationships, but they don’t want to envision their parents in these roles—especially with a new partner. “You don’t need to lie, but you can omit details,” says licensed marriage and family therapist, Lesli Doares. “For example, you can say that you’re grabbing dinner with a friend instead of saying that you are about to go on a first date with an interesting coworker.” Keep your kids in a state of blissful ignorance and save the details for your close friends.
Whether you’re just getting back into the dating game or simply considering it, be aware of how your new romantic adventure will affect your kids. Practicing a little extra caution until you meet the right one will make things easier for everyone when you do.