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How to Navigate Dating with Kids After a Divorce

A man dating with kids after divorce, on a roller coaster with a date and his three teenaged kids.

The dust has settled on your divorce and now you find yourself ready to open yourself up to finding love again. While it’s perfectly healthy—and amazing—that you’re willing to give companionship another shot (after all, divorce is ranked as one of the greatest stressors of our modern lives) there are a few things to consider if you have children. Dating is stressful and tricky enough for a single person without children; add your kids into the mix, and things can easily go from tricky to complicated.

So how do you make things easier for you, your kids, and whoever you’re dating? Here are a few things to consider.

Make sure you’re truly ready to date again. 
Loneliness is a killer. And while the idea of being admired and adored by someone, and not to mention a warm body, seems awfully appealing after the emotional roller-coaster of a divorce, it’s imperative to enter dating, at the risk of sounding like a contestant from The Bachelor, for all the right reasons. Divorce is traumatic. Don’t rush into a new relationship to fill a void. Examine your motives for dating. Be honest with yourself: are you truly ready to open your heart again or do you need more time to heal? It’s okay if you need more time. Be patient and trust that you’ll be ready when you are ready. And for those friends who tell you that the best way to get over someone is under them? Tell them, “Thanks for your advice but I’m doing me right now.”

Be open with your kids. 
Obviously this will work differently depending on your kids’ age but if they’re old enough to understand the concept, introduce the idea to them that you would like to date again. Ask ask them how they feel about it. It’s better to ease them into the notion that you’re going to be actively dating someone other than their mother or father rather than springing your new lover onto them out of the blue, like, say showing up for breakfast one morning.

If they resist (which is very probable) you don’t, and shouldn’t, have to put your dating plans on hold. After all, you get to call the shots when it comes to your life but at least you will have a better understanding as to where they stand on the issue and it’s something you both can work out and discuss over time together.

Don’t rush to introduce the kids.
While it’s understandable that you would like your new date to meet your kids, especially if things have been going well, it’s important not to rush this milestone. Depending on how fresh the ink has been on your divorce papers, your kids have already been through the emotional wringer. Your love life has a great impact on them, and introducing a new lover—and someone who very well might not last longer than a few weeks or months in your life—can be confusing to your kids. What if they like him or her, and you break up? What if they don’t like him or her, and their distaste drives a wedge between you and this new person? Hold off on the introduction until you’re absolutely certain this is someone who you can see a viable future with in order to avoid the potential upheaval.

Take things slow.
Even once the introduction between your kids and your new love interest has been made, it’s best to continue the relationship slowly. This is a marathon, not a race. So don’t spend all of your free time with your partner no matter how excited and giddy you might feel.

And while it’s helpful to include your kids in some of your activities with your new partner in order to lay some new relationship groundwork, don’t rush into creating Family #2. You’re not dating their second mom or dad. Your family unit must remain your first priority and your kids must know that. Demonstrate to your children how a mature relationship unfolds: slowly and thoughtfully with respect.

When in doubt, talk it out.
Communication is imperative in any relationship, so don’t be afraid to voice your fears or concerns to your new partner. It’s important that you’re both on the same page when it comes to your relationship. Is he or she open to the idea of your kids in their lives? Does she or he even like kids? These are key topics that must be addressed because if you’re worried about how he or she will react to your kids, then that’s a red flag. Be honest and always put your needs and the needs of your kids first, no matter how charming a new love interest might be.

Moving forward and entering the dating world can be challenging post-divorce, but by keeping your children a priority and by being decisive about what you want and don’t want, reentering the dating world doesn’t have to be so intimidating. And, remember, the path to true love is a patient one. Take the time to heal yourself, and you might just discover that your second shot at happiness is a lot more peaceful this time around.

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