When divorce happens and there are children involved, there are a number of hurdles to jump over: the announcement, the reassurances, the custody decisions. But there’s one more big step for the kids to adjust to: their parents’ post-divorce dating. It’s understandable that as a parent, you might be worried about the outcome, but it’s important to know that your kids are likely feeling the same way. That’s why it’s vital to discuss the notion of Mom or Dad dating after the divorce, so any anxieties or grievances can be out in the open and any doubts can be expelled.
Talking to your children about dating post-divorce can be a frank conversation, but it also needs to be sensitive. Here are a few strategies for breaking the news, and how to deal with any questions or upset feelings in the aftermath.
Make The Conversation Age Appropriate
The first thing you should consider is the age of your children when you discuss dating with them. If they are still very young and don’t quite understand the concept of dating or relationships, that doesn’t quite mean you’re off the hook—you just need to adjust your language to suit their level of comprehension. For toddlers and preschoolers (ages 3-5), an article at Divorce Help for Parents recommends using the term “friend” to refer to your date—as in, “I’m going out to visit my friend,” or “I’m spending some time with my friend tonight.” You can keep up this language for children ages 6 to 10, but once they’re in the pre-teen and young teen years, they’ll likely have some knowledge about dating and relationships. Since they have some comprehension about who you mean when you refer to your “friend,” they may have questions about what this could mean for them (as well as their relationship with you as their parent). Be sure to reassure your child that you have enough love to go around, and no matter what happens with this potential new partner, being a great parent is still your top priority.
When your children are teenagers, it can be one of the trickiest times to broach this conversation—hormones, mood swings, and emotions could be running high on the surface. Be sensitive to how they’re feeling about this shift, and Divorce Help for Parents cautions that there could be similarities in your situations—you can use this as a talking point. Since your teens are also likely dating, it is important to talk with them about how it may be awkward to have a parent dating at the same time. It is also critical that you remain in the role of parent and not turn into your child’s best friend. As during the divorce process, it’s important that you remain acting as a parent to your child, no matter what age they may be.
Prepare Your Children For Meeting Your New Partner
Now that you’ve discussed the notion of dating with your kids, it might be time for them to meet your new partner. Keep in mind that you don’t need to perform an introduction between your child and every person you date—this can be extremely confusing, especially for young children. Instead, reserve the meeting for when you’re dating a person that you’d like to be in a serious relationship with.
An article at HealthyChildren.org advises that you should be upfront with your child about why you’re seeing this new person and what they mean to you.
“Tell your youngster about this man, and explain why you like him. (Is he smart? Is he fun to be with? Does he have a good job?) Then say something like ‘I was thinking that you might like to meet John. Would you like him to come over for dinner, or would you like the three of us to go out to dinner together?’ Show her that you would like her to participate in arranging this first meeting.”
Making your child part of the process—but without giving them veto rule over your dating life—can help ease them into the idea that Mom or Dad has someone new, and that as the children, they’re still important.
Reassure Them That Their Other Parent Isn’t Being Replaced
Likewise, a piece at FamilyShare recommends that you spend time preparing your children well in advance of meeting your new partner, and then when it happens, don’t rush things or immediately seek approval.
“Spend short intervals together and let the exposure build over time. Ask the kids for their feedback. Discuss their feelings. Watch how your partner behaves with them. Make sure the kids never feel threatened by the thought they are losing their mom or dad to a stranger.”
One of the biggest fears they may have is that this new partner has been brought in to “replace” the divorced parent, so it’s imperative that you reassure them that this new person isn’t meant to be a new mother or father to them. Their other parent will still be a part of their lives, and their relationship is in no way threatened by this new person.
“Children who have close relationships with both biological parents are more likely to accept a new parent partner into their lives without distress,” says the article at FamilyShare. “Because they feel safe in their relationship with mom and dad, they are less likely to be threatened by a new adult entering the picture.”
Suffice it to say, this is just another reason to keep the post-divorce relationship with your former partner civil.
Listen To Their Concerns And Feedback
Depending on the age of your children, you may get some pushback when it comes to post-divorce dating. Regardless, encouraging open communication and allowing your kids to speak their mind about your dating partners shows them that you consider their opinions to be important.
“On one hand, it is important for parents to listen to concerns that their children raise about new partners. Dating after divorce requires some caution on the part of adults. Take your children seriously,” says Divorce Help for Parents, while continuing: “On the other hand, you should not be asking permission from your child to date someone. This must be a decision you make. Putting your child in the role of parental decision maker is not healthy for either of you.”
Additionally, it’s vital to pay attention if your children raise red flags about a new partner, including teasing, bullying, unsolicited discipline, or any form of touching that your child may find uncomfortable. Your children need to feel safe and be safe, and this should be at the top of your mind when you’re introducing a new adult into their lives.
There isn’t one right or wrong time to start dating after a divorce. However, if you have children, the best time to start talking to them about this move is right up front, and then continue to keep the lines of communication open. FamilyShare says it best: “How you approach adding a new partner into your life will affect their long-term relationship with the children. So be careful, considerate and empathic in all your actions.”
How did you talk about the possibility of dating post-divorce with your kids? Tell us about it in the comments.
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