I often am asked to comment on whether it is okay for a parent to begin dating after their divorce. Sometimes it is a question of timing. Regardless, divorce and dating is a challenging topic. Parents are rightfully worried about how this process will affect their children and often acknowledge the separation of parents has been painful for their children. Yet, many parents do date and some do re-marry. Understanding how to balance your child’s perspective with your own needs may help you make good decisions about introducing a new adult into your family.
1. Be upfront with all of your children about your decision to begin dating. Even young children need to know that mommy or daddy needs to spend time with other adults. While you do not need to go into detail, pretending that you are spending time with platonic friends can be problematic. Children often know that this is not true and became anxious about what is really going on.
2. Do not introduce any new adults until a decision about the seriousness of the relationship is made. Children often continue to hold onto a fantasy that their parents will get back together. If you are dating someone who may became a permanent fixture to your family, your children should understand the this person is special. Bringing home casual dates can lead to increase anxiety and anger for some children. Maintain appropriate boundaries. While your child should understand that you have made a decision to date, they do not need to know the details. Respect your time with your child.
3. Put your children first AND talk to them about how adults needs to have their own time with other adults. Women especially put off dating by choosing to put their children first. While there may be times that this is necessary, demonstrating an unbalanced social life is not a good message for your children to learn. Adults need adult time just as children need time with other children. You may not be ready to date but make sure you take care of yourself by developing new social interests and demonstrate that you do have a social life.
It is often difficult to know how a child will react to a parent who has announced that she is dating. If your child’s behavior seems to shift after the announcement that you plan to date, spend some time with your child. Children who have to transition back and forth between homes may worry that you will no longer have time for them. Reassuring your child that you will be their for them and talking with them about their fears will go a long way to easing into this new phase of life. If your child continues to have difficulty adjusting, seek a professional consultation immediately.