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How Honest Should You Be With Your Kids About Dating After Divorce?

How Honest Should You Be With Your Kids About Dating After Divorce?

The kids come first: all divorced parents know this. That’s why they approach dating with an abundance of caution. If you’ve landed on this blog post, you’re doing the responsible thing: discovering what’s at stake for your children once you share your choice to start dating after divorce. Honest discussions may or may not go smoothly. Still, it’s only fair to include your children in your plans for the family structure going forward.

Why the Struggle?

Many divorced fathers dread explaining to children that they’re going to meet a “new friend.” Fathers can feel like they’re betraying their current loves — their children — by sharing themselves with a new love interest.

Father’s’ concerns are warranted. Kids have robust fantasies that their parents—the two most intense love objects in their lives—will reconcile. Gary Neuman, creator of Sandcastles, a popular and court-mandated divorce therapy program for children, explains that witnessing a parent date is so difficult because it makes it very clear that their unification fantasies will never come to pass.

That’s a tough message to absorb.

Neuman and many psychologists explain that when the family breaks up, a child’s identity may be at risk. Where a child comes from vigorously feeds his self-concept. Neuman relates the story of one child who said, “I feel now that my parents are separated, I don’t exist.” That’s tough. No wonder divorced parents are reluctant to start dating. The good news is that, as time goes on, this fantasy fades. Introducing a girlfriend two years or more later goes far better than introducing her three months after the separation. Experts agree that divorced fathers should establish a new routine with their children as a family before bringing in another member of the special family. This can take at least two if not as long as five years.

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Making it clear to children that you have plenty of love to share and do not plan to reduce the amount of time or effort invested in them goes far in easing their fears that they may somehow lose you. Children may also be concerned that, by accepting your new partner they’re betraying their mother. Let them ask their questions, and gently bring up that you don’t expect them to like your friend any more than their own mom.

Discussing Dating after Divorce: What to Bring Up & When

Too often, children prepare themselves for an outing with dad only to hear that the “new friend, Paula” will be joining them. Counselors encourage parents to discuss their dating lives with their children before dropping the new love in on a family activity this way. Parents who go with the “don’t ask; don’t tell” approach to dating rob children of the important experience of contributing input.

Fathers may try hard to emphasize the “friendship” aspect of the new relationship, but children see through that phrasing in an instant. Therefore, it’s important to let children know that, just as they long for the company of friends their own age, so too do you need adult companionship. Therefore, the first honest talk about dating to have is the “Dad’s been dating here and there” discussion. This allows them to get used to the idea and also come up with and ask the important questions. Discussing the events in your life, even your loneliness and goals, will help them feel important. These honest dialogues will stay with them as they begin dating in their teen years.

One thing some parents do when they start dating is explain that they’d like to meet someone with whom they’d like to spend a lot of time. After they explain the qualities and interests they’re looking for, they ask their children what qualities and interests they’d like to see. If you ask this question, be ready for silly answers from young children. Still, bringing them into the process helps them internalize how important they are to you. That’s a wonderful gift to give your children.

The Introduction Discussion

Once you’ve found someone you think could go long term, share this with your children as well. Tell them your partner’s name, other important facts and some of the things you do together. Sharing these details will create anticipation in your children. Foment curiosity in them so that when you do bring everyone together, they feel they’re joining an important part of your life.

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The timing: divorced fathers often have time to meet with dating prospects or love interests for a long time before choosing one and introducing them to children. The generally accepted advice from divorce coaches and counselors is to wait until the relationship is very serious or moving toward permanency before any introductions take place. That means one or even two years not only after the divorce itself, but after the period in which you grieve the lost relationship and work on yourself to become a better partner. The last thing children need is to bond or form a relationship with someone who may disappear in the next few months.

Still, letting children know that you’ve chosen one woman to date exclusively eases them into the new vision of you with a new partner. Prepare yourself for questions like these:

The kids come first: all divorced parents know this. That’s why they approach dating with an abundance of caution. If you’ve landed on this blog post, you’re doing the responsible thing: discovering what’s at stake for your children once you share your choice to start dating after divorce. Honest discussions may or may not go smoothly. Still, it’s only fair to include your children in your plans for the family structure going forward.

When Children Have Objections to the New Partner

Yet another honest discussion dating dads have with children begins with, “I don’t like it when she . . . “

Getting children to like a new partner can be a struggle. There are far more issues at work than your new friend’s personality, quirks or interests. Children must adjust to new routines, struggle with loyalty to their mothers and fears about sharing their fathers. In other words, lots of subconscious stuff can interfere in the relationship.

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Teens can process change and new identity of their father as a romantic individual better than younger children. Still, keeping young adults in the family-decision-making loop goes far in keeping the peace. Just listening to younger children and repeating their concerns back to them reassures them that their issues matter. Use messages like, “when she laughs really loud, it makes you think she’s fake” or “so you don’t like it when she interrupts you.” Then try to come up with solutions together. Ask, “what do you think we should say to her to get her to cut it out?” or “how can we act to help her talk better to us?”  Even emphasizing with your child on minor points helps. “You’re right. She does ask waiters too many things! I wonder why?” All of these phrases ensure that lines of communication remain open and the child is just as important as ever.

  • Will she be going to my soccer game? Will you be able to watch me if she does?
  • Does she think she can boss me around?
  • When do we meet her?
  • Will she want me to call her mom?
  • Will mom be mad?
  • Should we tell mom? / What do we tell mom?
  • Can I tell mom about your new girlfriend?
  • Is she going to be here all the time?

These questions bring up serious issues regarding the new routine you’ll work out with your new partner. For instance, question number two, “does she think she can boss me?” is critical to children. Experts agree that step-parents do best when they refrain from disciplining each other’s children. The discipline remains in the hands of the biological parents only. Working out these questions with your new girlfriend deepens your relationship and sidesteps problems before they even begin.

The Event:  Dating and divorce experts agree that the first introduction shouldn’t include a serious sit down dinner where children and your new girlfriend sit face to face asking awkward questions. Instead, meet for a common activity like bowling, mini-golfing or biking outside of the home. Make the date relatively short: no all-day amusement park outings. Ask your children what they would like to do. Offer younger children a choice of three events. Let teens contribute their ideas.

Gradually work up from quick interactions to more in-depth, longer ones. Always make sure to set aside time to spend alone with your children.

When Children Have Objections to the New Partner

Yet another honest discussion dating dads have with children begins with, “I don’t like it when she . . . “

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Getting children to like a new partner can be a struggle. There are far more issues at work than your new friend’s personality, quirks or interests. Children must adjust to new routines, struggle with loyalty to their mothers and fears about sharing their fathers. In other words, lots of subconscious stuff can interfere in the relationship.

Teens can process change and new identity of their father as a romantic individual better than younger children. Still, keeping young adults in the family-decision-making loop goes far in keeping the peace. Just listening to younger children and repeating their concerns back to them reassures them that their issues matter. Use messages like, “when she laughs really loud, it makes you think she’s fake” or “so you don’t like it when she interrupts you.” Then try to come up with solutions together. Ask, “what do you think we should say to her to get her to cut it out?” or “how can we act to help her talk better to us?”  Even emphasizing with your child on minor points helps. “You’re right. She does ask waiters too many things! I wonder why?” All of these phrases ensure that lines of communication remain open and the child is just as important as ever.

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via thumb7.shutterstock.com

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Peter Mueller

Founder of Father's Rights Law Center

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Published on September 10, 2020

How to Be a Better Parent: 11 Things to Remember

How to Be a Better Parent: 11 Things to Remember

Two of the most challenging jobs in the world are raising a human being and being the best parent possible for them. Raising a child without implementing specific rules is not enough, however. The job has to be done in such a way that when you’re “done,” you’ve already created a loving, responsible, self-sufficient, kind-hearted, thoughtful, empathic, and respectful persona. Hence, it is ideal to lower the bar a little and start learning how to be a better parent.

Don’t get me wrong; mistakes will be made along the way. You won’t be perfect, regardless of how hard you try.

And no matter how great a job you do, your child may have issues beyond your control. Remember, they will be born with a will of their own that may conflict with yours. Nevertheless, carrying out the following tips will provide you with the best chance to create a fantastic human being of whom you can be proud.

1. Listen

I knew a couple who had a daughter. She was smart, sweet, and as cute as a button, but her parents were old school. They believed the adage that a child should be seen and not heard. She might as well have been a doll in a curio cabinet. Unfortunately, this little girl had a lot of exciting ideas and things to say. I knew this because she would share them with me on the occasions that we were alone.

Children are interesting, funny, and curious, and they look upon you — their parent — as a hero. They have a wealth of knowledge and a great perspective on life. Listening to your child is one of the greatest gifts you can offer. They will feel valued and grow up knowing that they matter.

It’s not always easy to listen. Sometimes, children will carry on without saying anything profound. But if they believe you’re listening, they will feel important and provide you with amazing nuggets of information.

Note: Make a real and honest effort when you are listening to your children. Don’t listen while multitasking and muttering, “Hmm, that’s nice, dear!”

Sadly, I’ve seen lots of parents on their phones, their heads buried in Facebook or Instagram feed, while their child tries unsuccessfully to get their attention. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, M. D., wrote, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time. True listening, total concentration on the other, is always a manifestation of love.”

2. Provide Unconditional Love

I knew a mother who loved her son so much, but her love came at a high price. When he behaved as she expected him to — getting recognition for being a star athlete or academic achievements — she showered him with love. In truth, she bragged and put up framed newspaper articles of her son’s accomplishments.

That same boy, though, went through a rough patch when he was a senior, becoming unruly and hostile. Down came the framed article, and up came the silent treatment.

Providing unconditional love creates a secure bond and a healthy person. Knowing you have your parent’s love no matter what makes a fantastic anchor for the child. They know they can mess up and still be loved. They know they can come to you with their worst offenses, and while you might get upset, your love will remain intact.

3. Teach by Example

Children watch and listen to you very closely. You may think that they’re not paying attention, that they’re in the other room, playing with their Legos, but they are listening.

If you want to teach your child, lead by example.

For instance, if you want them to eat healthy foods, eat healthy foods. If you don’t want them to pick up bad habits, like smoking, don’t smoke. If you don’t want them to be violent, be peaceful. If you wish to raise a trustworthy child, keep your word.[1]

If you want to teach your child how to communicate, speak kindly and listen with an open heart. Whatever you want your child to learn, be willing to do it yourself. You are the best teacher for the job!

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4. Spend Time Together Often

Life is full of work, errands, get-togethers, appointments, etc. It’s easy to get lost in all the hustle and bustle and not leave enough time for your children. I know busy parents who set their children down on the couch to watch TV or play with an iPad while they’re working.

Occasionally, that isn’t a bad thing. But regularly, it can create a gap between you and your child.

You can avoid being an absentee parent by spending time with your children every day. Talk to them about anything; ask about their day. If you can, allow them to help you with household chores. E.g., cleaning, folding laundry or stacking dishes in the dishwasher.

They’ll feel good when they know you need them, and you can use this as a family bonding opportunity.

5. Follow Through

Follow through creates trust in your child. They will believe that what you say you’re going to do will genuinely be done.

Children are very perceptive. Let me reiterate: they are always watching and listening.

For instance, I was on a walk one afternoon with my granddaughter and her parents. The little girl was asked if she wanted to ride the stroller, and she replied, “No, I want to walk.”

My daughter-in-law responded, “Okay, but if you get tired, I’m not carrying you! Understood?”

After about 15 minutes, my granddaughter complained that her legs hurt. She started whining and complaining. When my daughter-in-law picked her up, she commented, “I thought you said you weren’t going to pick me up?”

My daughter-in-law did not follow through, and her daughter knew it. She was only four years old.

You see, when parents say things and end up not doing them, they become empty threats — words without any back-up.

Following through is critical in raising a responsible adult. You need to be kind, clear, and concise.

The child has to know that you mean business. If you tell them they’re not having a sleepover unless their homework is done, then the homework better be done. If it’s not, there will be no sleepover.

It doesn’t matter if you had plans with your friends or a date with your husband. Just make sure that whatever the consequences are for your kids’ bad behavior, you can back it up with action.

6. Focus on Positive Qualities

There is an old American proverb that says, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease/oil.” It is used to communicate the notion that the most clamorous problems are the ones that will more than likely get noticed.

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If your child is well-behaved and minding their own business, you might be tempted to let them be. On the other hand, if they are acting out and making a raucous, they may get a lot of attention.

This sends the message that the kids have to misbehave before you focus on them. Bad attention, after all, is better than no attention.

Positive attention is paramount. If you only pay attention to your child’s negative behavior while ignoring their positive qualities, you are robbing them the chance of being their best selves.

Simply notice all the things you love about your kids and minimize the criticisms. That’s especially essential when you have children between the ages 0 and 5. Since they are impressionable, whatever you say often will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Here are more ideas on how to think positively despite the circumstance: Turn to the Bright Side: 10 Ways to Encourage Post-Incident Positive Thinking

7. Apologize When Necessary

We all make mistakes. There are some parents, however, who don’t apologize no matter how many mistakes they make with their children. They incorrectly assume that apologizing is a sign of weakness.

Well, nothing could be farther from the truth. As we have learned before,[2]

“Apologizing to your child is a sign of respect for the overall relationship you have with him.”

Making mistakes is human. I guarantee you that your child will not think less of you. If you fail to apologize, you miss out on a teachable moment about the importance of taking responsibility. After all, you want your child to apologize when they do something wrong.

If the kids lie, lash out at another child, or break something of value, you want them to own up to it and apologize for what’s happened. It is during these moments that you teach your child that an apology is the right course of action. If you don’t do the same thing, what exactly are you teaching them?

You may find it difficult to apologize because you feel superior or fear losing your authority. In truth, your child will see you as a human, and they may feel closer to you than ever.

Show your kid that no one is perfect, that you all make mistakes in life. Apologies can correct so many wrongs. Just a few simple words can cure the worst transgressions.

A word for the wise: put your ego aside. Say you’re sorry and move on. If you can do that, you will be building a strong relationship — one based on love and respect — with your children.

8. Allow Kids to Be Who They Want to Be

My maternal grandfather, Pánfilo D. Camacho, was a lawyer and author in Havana, Cuba.[3] He expected my uncle, Jorge Camacho, to follow in his footsteps.[4] My uncle, however, wanted to be an artist and fulfill his dreams in Paris, France.

At the time, my grandfather did not see art as a “real job” or something that could provide security. Despite knowing how his father felt, my uncle met with him and explained that his goals. Thankfully, my grandfather thought about it and gave his only son his blessing. He also helped with all the necessary expenses to get my uncle to Paris and study with the best of the best.

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My uncle became a very celebrated artist in France. Jorge Camacho’s amazing surrealist art is still sold today.

This scenario could have played out quite differently if my grandfather dug in his heels. He could have forced my uncle to become a lawyer just like him.

Fortunately, he realized that allowing my uncle to be who he wanted to be was the right thing to do. And it was. My uncle was grateful and made a name for himself. My grandfather was proud, and their relationship grew strong.

Allow your child to be who they want to be, not who you think they should be. After all, it is their life — their journey. You’re just there to watch and provide guidance whenever necessary.

9. Grow Along With Your Children

Children grow and evolve, just like us. It’s important to grow with them and adjust the way you discipline and talk to them.

For example, if your 4-year-old misbehaves by bending the truth or whining, you may ignore their antics and stay calm with regards to the lying. This is common for this age group.

If you’re dealing with an 8-year-old, your child understands the difference between right and wrong and looks to you for guidance.[5]

Meanwhile, teens need to be addressed in another way. That is a difficult and challenging age group — one that deserves great care and attention. You cannot talk to your 16-year-old as if they were still 9!

10. Validate Their Feelings

While growing up, lots of things that generate a multitude of feelings happen. As a parent, you want to take the time to validate your child’s feelings. Don’t be dismissive and act like their feelings are not important.

The other day, my 8.5-year-old granddaughter came over. I could see that she’d been crying. When I asked if she was, she looked at me with sad eyes. My granddaughter informed me that she missed her best friend whom she hadn’t seen for almost six months since the community quarantine began.

I didn’t say, “Don’t worry about it; you’ll see her someday! Now, run along.” Nope. I looked her in the eye and said, “It must be so tough not to see your best friend for such a long time.”

My granddaughter’s eyes welled up with tears as she nodded. I validated her feelings, and she felt heard. As it turned out, her little friend was allowed to visit the next day. She came over to my house again, but this time, she exclaimed, “This is the happiest day of my quarantine!”

If you do not validate your child’s feelings, they will think that their feelings are unimportant and learn not to share them at all. You don’t want that, of course.

You want to have your finger on the pulse of their emotions. You need to make sure they come to you in the future when heavier things come down the pipe.

Here’s an example of WHAT NOT TO SAY: Your teenage daughter comes to you and utters, “Richard broke up with me. I’m devastated!” Then, you reply, “Don’t worry about it! There is plenty of fish in the sea — probably even better ones. You’re too young anyway.” You might as well have stabbed her in the heart.

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Instead of doing that, try saying, “That is heartbreaking. You must really be hurting. If you want to talk, I’m here to listen.”

Listen and communicate with compassion.

11. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Whenever I used to pick up my 16-year-old grandson from school, I’d make the mistake of asking, “How was school today?”

You can probably guess the answer. It was always the same, “Good!” Just one lonely word.

So, I decided on another approach: asking open-ended questions. The next time I picked him up, I asked, “So, what was the best part of your day?”

It was impossible for my grandson to just reply, “Good.” He was forced to stop and think about some incidents that already happened. It doesn’t matter what they tell you; the key is to get them to talk. That’s how you learn what’s going on in their lives.

This not only works with children but also with adults. For example, when you ask someone, “Do you like your job?”, they may answer yes or no. But if you say, “What do you like or dislike about your job?”, you’ll get a lot of information.

Open-ended questions are the key to getting more information than you’ll know what to do with!

Final Thoughts

Being a good and responsible parent can be one of the most rewarding tasks in the world. It is not effortless, however. It takes a lot of work and patience.

Implementing the above-mentioned 11 suggestions won’t guarantee a perfect family, but you will have a solid base to build and grow upon.

Your child is a reflection of you. What do you wish them to reflect?

Learn how to be a better parent and help produce a legacy of outstanding humans.

More on Improving Your Parenting Skills

Featured photo credit: Gabe Pierce via unsplash.com

Reference

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