Getting back into the dating scene after a split or years of not dating can be overwhelming yet exciting (and even scary) for some. And this experience can be even harder for people dating as a single parent because you’re not just worrying about your own feelings, but also about your children’s.
“One of the tough things about dating as a single parent (especially if you are recently split up from or divorced from your child’s parent) is that children often hold onto hope that their parents will get back together,” says Bethany Raab, a licensed clinical social worker who works specifically with teens and families who have experienced divorce. “This is usually an unrealistic expectation, but one that children need guidance with no matter what.”
Regardless of the child’s age, seeing a parent with another partner can stir up all sorts of emotions, but not all of them are negative.
Here are some specific ways dating as a single parent affects your kids. We promise, they’re not all bad.
Children may get resentful.
Expect there to be some level of resentment from your kids even if they seem OK with the idea of you dating. “It’s extremely difficult to see your parent with someone new, especially if they’re showing affection. Remember that your children are most likely only used to you being with their father or mother and this is all new to them,” says Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer of PeopleLooker, an online background check platform. “Your kids may feel like their safe haven is being violated by the new person.”
Children can get sad, and withdraw from you.
“Children need to grieve about the reality that their parents will never be together again. The presence of a new boyfriend or girlfriend in their parent’s life can intensify this grief for children and teens,” says Raab. “It can open up feelings of sadness and anger in some children. These are typical responses and will pass in time and with compassionate support from parents,” says Raab.
Your children may attach themselves to your new partner.
Some kids, especially younger ones, sometimes become overly attached with those you date at a rapid rate, says Lavelle. “Kids don’t fully comprehend what’s ahead for them and sometimes still feel the burn of the separation and are looking for attention wherever they can get it. Although it’s awkward, it may be your child’s coping mechanism in a very new experience.”
A new partner can improve a child’s life.
Celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert, Susan Trombetti, says, “Lots of times the reason they divorced is because the spouse is a less than an ideal person or parent. The person the divorced parent picks can be a real role model and have a huge influence on the children for the better.”
Kids can feed off of how a relationship impacts you.
“It can stress the kids if there is a constant slew of dates or new relationships that never last. Kids can also feel committed and attached to these new people and then these attachments are broken over and over as long as you keep up the pattern of compulsive dating,” says Trombetti.
Children can see their parent healing and moving on.
“One positive impact of single or divorced parents starting to date is that children can witness their parent’s healing and growth. Starting to date after a long hiatus or a difficult break up takes courage. Children learn a great deal from watching their parent be a part of a healthy relationship. Plus, step-parents can enhance a child’s life with time, attention, and affection,” says Raab.
While it’s important for single parents to still pursue love and a new partnership, it’s just as—if not more—important to continue to validate and acknowledge their children’s feelings.
“Whether the new relationship is received well or poorly by the children, it is important to be mindful about how you introduce a new partner,” advises Raab. “My suggestion is for parents to date in the way that suits them, but to only introduce their children to serious partners who are dedicated to the relationship and willing and able to warmly receive introductions to the children.”