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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 December 14, 2018

14 Helpful Tips for Single Parents: How to Stay Sane While Doing it All

14 Helpful Tips for Single Parents: How to Stay Sane While Doing it All

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 27% of children under the age of 18 are living with a single parent.[1] That’s over 1/4th of the U.S. population.There is a common misconception that children who grow up in single parent homes are not as successful as children living in two-parent homes.

One crucial detail that was often left out of studies when comparing single and two-parent homes was the stability of the household. There is a correlation between family structure and family stability, but this study shows that children who grow up in stable single-parent homes do as well as those in married households in terms of academic abilities and behavior.

But providing stability is easier said than done. With only one adult to act as a parent, some tasks are inherently more challenging. However, there are a few helpful things you can do to make the parenting journey a little easier for yourself and stay sane while doing it.

1. Don’t Neglect Self-Care

Before anything else can be done, you must be caring for your own needs adequately. Only when you are feeling well-rested and healthy can you be at your best for your children.

Many parents tend to put their kids’ needs first and their owns last, but that will result in a never-ending cycle of exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy. Make time to eat regularly and healthfully, get plenty of rest, and squeeze in exercise whenever you can. Even a short walk around the neighborhood will help your body get much-needed movement and fresh air.

Your children depend on you, and it’s up to you to make sure that you are well-equipped and ready to take on that responsibility.

2. Join Forces with Other Single Parents

At times, it may seem like you’re the only person who knows what it’s like to be a single parent. However, the statistics say that there are many others who know exactly what you’re going through.

Find single parents locally, through your kid’s school, extracurricular activities, or even an app. There are also numerous online communities that can offer support and advice, through Facebook or sites like Single Mom Nation.

Although single moms make up the majority of single parents, there are more than 2.6 million single dads in the U.S. A great way to connect is through Meetup. Other single parents will more than happy to arrange babysitting swaps, playdates, and carpools.

Join forces in order to form mutually beneficial relationships.

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3. Build a Community

In addition to finding support with other single parents, also build a community comprised of families of all different types. Rather than focus solely on the single parent aspect of your identity, look for parents and kids who share other things in common.

Join a playgroup, get plugged in at a church, or get to know the parents of the kids involved in the same extracurricular activities. Having a community of a variety of people and families will bring diversity and excitement into your and your kids’ lives.

4. Accept Help

Don’t try to be a superhero and do it all yourself. There are probably people in your life who care about you and your kids and want to help you. Let them know what types of things would be most appreciated, whether it’s bringing meals once a week, helping with rides to school, or giving you time to yourself.

There is no shame in asking for help and accepting assistance from loved ones. You will not be perceived as weak or incompetent. You are being a good parent by being resourceful and allowing others to give you a much-needed break.

5. Get Creative with Childcare

Raising a child on a single income is a challenge, with the high cost of daycares, nannies, and other conventional childcare services. More affordable options are possible if you go a less traditional route.

If you have space and live in a college town, offer a college student housing in exchange for regular childcare. Or swap kids with other single parents so that your kids have friends to play with while the parents get time to themselves.

When I was younger, my parents had a group of five family friends, and all of the children would rotate to a different house each day of the week, during the summer months. The kids would have a great time playing with each other, and the parents’ job becomes a lot easier. That’s what you would call a win-win situation.

6. Plan Ahead for Emergencies

As a single parent, a backup plan or two is a must in emergency situations. Make a list of people you know you can call in a moment’s notice. There will be times in which you need help, and it’s important to know ahead of time who you can rely on.

Look into whether or not your area offers emergency babysitting services or a drop-in daycare. Knowing who will be able to care for your child in the event of an emergency can relieve one potential source of anxiety in stressful situations.

7. Create a Routine

Routines are crucial for young children because knowing what to expect gives them a semblance of control. This is even more important when in a single parent home.

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If the child travels between homes or has multiple caretakers, life can seem extremely chaotic and unpredictable. Establish a routine and schedule for your child as much as possible. This can include bedtime, before/after school, chores, meal times, and even a weekend routine.

Having a routine does not mean things cannot change. It is merely a default schedule to fall back on when no additional events or activities are going on. When your children know what to expect, they will be less resistant because they know what to expect, and days will run much more smoothly.

8. Be Consistent with Rules and Discipline

If your child has multiple caretakers, such as another parent, grandparent, or babysitter, communicate clearly on how discipline will be handled. Talk to your ex, if you are sharing custody, as well as any other caretakers about the rules and the agreed-upon approach to discipline.

When a child realizes that certain rules can be bent with certain people, he/she will use it to their advantage, causing additional issues with limits, behavior, and discipline down the road.

This article may help you to discipline your child better:

How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

9. Stay Positive

Everyone has heard the saying, “Mind over matter.” But there really is so much power behind your mentality. It can change your perspective and make a difficult situation so much better.

Your kids will be able to detect even the smallest shift in your attitude. When the responsibilities of motherhood are overwhelming, stay focused on the positive things in your life, such as your friends and family. This will produce a much more stable home environment.

Maintain your sense of humor and don’t be afraid to be silly. Look towards the future and the great things that are still to come for you and your family. Rediscover and redefine your family values.

10. Move Past the Guilt

In a single parent home, it is impossible to act as both parents, regardless of how hard you try. Let go of the things that you cannot do as a single parent, and instead, think of the great things you ARE able to provide for your children.

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Leave behind the notion that life would be easier or better with two parents. This is simply not true. There is a multitude of pros and cons to all family dynamics, and the one you are providing for your kids now is the one that they need.

Don’t get bogged down by guilt or regret. Take control of your life and be the best parent you can by being present and engaged with them on a daily basis.

11. Answer Questions Honestly

Your kids may have questions about why their home situation is different from many of their friends. When asked, don’t sugarcoat the situation or give them an answer that is not accurate.

Depending on their age, take this opportunity to explain the truth of what happened and how the current circumstances came about. Not all families have two parents, whether that is due to divorce, death, or whatever else life brings.

Don’t give more detail than necessary or talk badly about the other parent. But strive to be truthful and honest. Your children will benefit more from your candor than a made-up story.

12. Treat Kids Like Kids

In the absence of a partner, it can be tempting to rely on your children for comfort, companionship, or sympathy. But your kids are not equipped to play this role for you.

There are many details within an adult relationship that children are not able to understand or process, and it will only cause confusion and resentment.

Do not take out your anger on your kids. Separate your emotional needs from your role as a mother. If you find yourself depending on your kids too much, look for adult friends or family members that you can talk to about your issues.

13. Find Role Models

Find positive role models of the opposite sex for your child. It’s crucial that your child does not form negative associations with an entire gender of people.

Find close friends or family members that would be willing to spend one-on-one time with your kids. Encourage them to form meaningful relationships with people that you trust and that they can look up to.

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Role models can make a huge difference in the path that a child decides to take, so be intentional about the ones that you put in your kids’ lives.

14. Be Affectionate and Give Praise

Your children need your affection and praise on a daily basis. Engage with your kids as often as possible by playing with them, going on outings, and encouraging open dialogue.

Affirm them in the things that they are doing well, no matter how small. Praise their efforts, rather than their achievements. This will inspire them to continue to put forth hard work and not give up when success is not achieved.

Rather than spending money on gifts, spend time and effort in making lasting memories.

Final Thoughts

Being a single parent is a challenging responsibility to take on. Without the help of a partner to fall back on, single parents have a lot more to take on.

However, studies show that growing up in a single parent home does not have a negative effect on achievement in school. As long as the family is a stable and safe environment, kids are able to excel and do well in life.

Use these tips in order to be a reliable and capable parent for your kids, while maintaining your own well-being and sanity.

More Resources About Parenting

Featured photo credit: Bruno Nascimento via unsplash.com

Reference

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