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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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Last Updated on August 15, 2018

Entitled Kids Are Parents’ Biggest Enemies

Entitled Kids Are Parents’ Biggest Enemies

An old Proverb says “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathers by labor shall increase.” It is good advice. We probably have applied this to our own lives already. We believe that nothing good or worthwhile comes easily, so we work hard to earn what we want. Unfortunately, kids these days seem to be missing that message. They are growing up feeling and acting as though their mere existence entitles them to money, the newest smart phone, TVs, designer clothes, and more. The entitlement attitude is pervasive in our culture and it starts with what we are teaching our children.

If we don’t want our culture to be entitled, we need to start preventing entitlement in our own homes. That way, 20 years from now, you won’t have a 30 year old living in your guest suite using your credit card for their needs because they have no desire to go out and earn it for themselves.

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How entitlement begins

None of us wants to think that we are making our children feel entitled. However, it happens easily to all of us, especially to good parents. Parents who try hard to give their children a good, happy, and full childhood easily fall into the entitlement parenting trap. It’s because of a parent’s desire to make their child happy that they give too much. Their child grows up without any wanting. Needs and desires are met by the parent and thus the child not only feels, but knows that their parent is there to provide for them.

Needs are essential to be met by parents, but what about all those wants? Is a phone a want or a need? What kind of clothing becomes a want instead of a need? You as a parent need to start differentiating between needs and wants in order to properly parent in a manner that works to diminish entitlement attitudes.

We want our children to feel happy and loved, but our efforts can be undermining them mentally. We may be feeding into the development of their entitlement attitude by doing and giving too much. Psychology Today examines children’s sense of entitlement and states,[1]

Yet, when children receive everything they want, we feed into their sense of entitlement—and feelings of gratitude fall by the wayside. It’s what Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, believes is a “Me, Me, Me” epidemic brought on by parents doing everything they can to insure their children’s happiness.

Good parents who are trying very hard unfortunately are feeding into the entitlement epidemic when they give their kids too much. Wanting your children to be happy is wonderful, but there are ways to help develop their character so that the entitlement attitude does not seep into your household.

How to know if your child is acting entitled

There are some indicators with your child’s behavior that will show you whether or not they have or are developing an attitude of entitlement. These are just some examples:

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  • They do not handle losing well.
  • They do not congratulate winning opponents (whether it be in sports, a board game, or simply a race on the playground).
  • They do not cope well with being told “no”.
  • They do not make an effort to help around the household.
  • When asked to help, they whine and complain, as though they should not be expected to help in the household.
  • They often think the rules apply to other people and not to them.
  • If they have a problem in school or life, they expect you as the parent to take care of the problem for them.
  • They expect to be rewarded for good behavior with toys or treats, rather than good behavior being expected from the parents and does not require rewards. This is especially true in public places such as going to the market.
  • They do not care about the feelings, needs, or desires of others. Act selfish and self centered in general.
  • They do not accept responsibility for the behavior or things that have gone wrong that are their fault. Make excuses or passes the blame to others.
  • Things are never enough for them. They always want more, bigger, or better of whatever it may be that they currently have or are doing.
  • They do not express genuine gratitude when appropriate, such as getting a gift or a compliment. You as a parent are always having to prompt them to say “thank you”.
  • If their friend has something, the expectation is that they should have it too.
  • If they request a list of items for a birthday or holiday, then they expect that they will receive all of the items on their list. If they do not get all of the requested items, they will be disappointed, rather than grateful for what they did get.
  • They always seek to be the first and are upset or greatly disappointed when they are not the first (i.e. first in line, first to get a task completed, first to finish an exercise).

How to prevent entitlement

Preventing entitlement starts with the parent. It can start today. You have the power to say “yes” and to say “no” to your child. You, as parent, are the rule maker and can help pave the way to making your kids grateful rather than entitled. Below are some tips to pave the way with your family to preventing entitlement.

Stop doing

Stop doing everything for your child. Allow them to do things that they can do for themselves. If they are able to handle a complex video game, then they are more than capable of doing the dishes, raking leaves, making their bed, and more.

We don’t give our kids enough credit. They are far more capable then we recognize. Kids at the age of 5 are out on street corners selling candy and goods to tourists in third world countries. They make change for buyers, interact with their buyers, and work all day to help provide income for their family. Therefore, we can certainly expect our own 5 year-olds to make their bed, unload the dishwasher, and clean up their toys.

Children are smart, capable, and hard working when properly motivated. If the expectation is that they can complete a task then they will be able to do it. If the expectation is that they cannot do something, then they won’t be able to do it. You, the parent, are the agent to empower them to do things by asking, providing them with directions, and then setting the expectation that they will complete the task at hand.

Empower your children by doing less for them. If they are capable of doing something, then let them do it!

Teach them to be good losers

Your child will not win at everything. Therefore, they need to learn the art of being a gracious loser. From a young age, they should be taught to congratulate the winner and to shake their opponent’s hand. Talk to your child about winning and losing. Let them know it is ok to lose. It is an opportunity to learn and become better. They should congratulate the winner because someday they may be the winner and it will be nice to have others providing the congratulatory messages to them.

The world is a better place if we can be happy for the successes of others, especially if those people are friends and family. When playing games as a family or with friends, teach them by example. Congratulate the winners whole-heartedly and make the winner feel good about their achievement, even it if is just Chutes and Ladders.

For the losers, you say “better luck next time” and give them a genuine smile. Teach your child that these are the ways we show kindness to others, especially when we lose. This is a harder lesson for younger children to grasp, but be consistent with your own behavior and your insistence that they act the same way when they do not win. Eventually your hard work should pay off and you will have a child who has genuinely learned to be happy for others because they know what it is like to be a winner and a loser and they cannot win at all times.

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Use the opportunity of failure or losing to explain to your child about some of the greats in this world that did not at first succeed. Oprah did not get her first TV job she interviewed for and Tom Hanks dropped out of college and was a bellhop before he became famous. You can also use the opportunity to discuss what they did well in their game or whatever it was that they just lost. Point out the good and then ask them what they think they could improve upon. Let them think introspectively on this, rather than you pointing it out. Otherwise, you will just come across as the critical parent, which is insult to injury following a loss.

Talk about responsibility for their actions

We all have encountered that adult in life who constantly blames other people for the bad things that happen in their life. It is never their own fault. It is always someone else that has caused their demise. These adults were once children. This behavior likely started in childhood and they never overcame this attitude. They don’t know how to accept responsibility for their actions.

Parents must teach their children from a young age to take responsibility for their wrong doings. If they make a mistake they own up to it. Instead of belittling the child for their wrong doing, use it as a learning opportunity. Engage them in a discussion about what happened and why. Allow them to take responsibility and ownership of their role in the situation, yet follow it up with discussion on how it is an opportunity for the child to learn and grow. They can have a different course of action the next time something similar happens. Help them determine a better action for handling the situation, so the next time it arises, they are better equipped mentally and emotionally to take on the event, person, or circumstance.

“I am sorry” is a powerful phrase. Adults that fail to apologize, were not properly taught as kids to use this phrase. Teach your children to use it now and use it often. For the big mistakes and the little mistakes. When they apologize, they should be taught to be specific with their apology. “I am sorry for (fill in the blank)”. Taking responsibility means a heartfelt apology. Often they need to understand how their actions hurt the other person in order to provide a heartfelt apology. If they don’t understand how the other person is feeling, it is hard to feel sorry for the action. Therefore, a parent who can take the time to help the child understand how the hurt party is feeling will better equip your child with empathy and compassion.

For example, if your child stole their best friend’s new ball cap, then sit down and have a conversation with your child before you take them to their friend’s home to return the hat and apologize. You ask your child, “how would you feel if you had the hat stolen and it was something you worked hard for doing chores to raise the money to purchase the hat or it was a gift from a relative you love greatly?” Help them empathize with the loss that their friend may be feeling. Rather than yell at them for their wrong doing, use it as an opportunity to learn from their mistake and become better. Having to return the hat and apologize will be a punishment in itself.

Talk about the value of a dollar

It is important to talk about money from a young age. Children need to learn about the value of money and its essential nature in our lives. Talking about money and cost of living should be an on-going conversation in your household. They need to understand that food, a home, transportation, and clothing all require money. Money comes from working. They should also see that there are times when you too can’t have something you desire. Talk openly about a budget, so that one day when you say “it is not in the budget”, they understand what you mean.

It is difficult for a child to understand the value of a dollar if they have never had to earn one. One of the best ways for a child to learn to appreciate the value of a dollar is for them to earn money. If they are too young to be employed, they can still earn cash in the neighborhood shoveling driveways, babysitting, dog walking, pet sitting, and working for friends and neighbors. They can also begin doing household chores and be provided an allowance for the chores that they complete. If you already have chores and they are required as a part of being a member of the family or household, then provide extra jobs over and above the regular chores that they can then earn money for completing. The point is for them to earn it themselves. They do the work and they earn a fair wage.

Don’t be indulgent and over pay your child for the chores they complete or you are undermining your efforts to teach them the value of a dollar. Make a list of the chores and the amount of money they will earn for completing the jobs. This way they know what is exactly expected and how much money they can earn. Then when it comes time for the next special toy or technology they come asking for, you can help them earn it rather than give it to them.

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Just say no and make them work for it

You are the parent. You can say “no”. You should say “no”. Have you ever met a child who has never been told “no” by their parents? If you have, you know that child is the most spoiled kid in need of a serious attitude adjustment. When parents are quick to say yes all the time, then kids grow up thinking that the world will say “yes” to their every whim and desire. That’s not the real world though.

Our kids will experience rejection, heartache, and being told no many times in the course of their life. If they can experience it in the home and learn how to handle the “no” and deal with it, they are better off in the long run. They will be better equipped to handle a no in the real world, because you have said no enough times that they can emotionally handle the disappointment. They also know the alternatives. For example, if its a new video game that they want, you tell them no, you must earn it. From there the child goes to look at the chart and calculates which and how many of the chores they must complete in order to earn the video game. They will also learn other valuable skills in this process, such as time management, because they will need to set aside time every day for a number of days or weeks to complete all the tasks to earn the amount of money they need.

Saying “no” and providing alternatives for your child to earn what they want is empowering. You are teaching them to fish. An old proverb says,

“if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, if you teach a man to fish he will eat for a lifetime”.

Teach your child how to earn for themselves so they can be better equipped for a lifetime.

Delayed gratification is also powerful. When children learn that they can earn something for themselves that they truly want, then when they do finally earn it they feel empowered. They worked hard and they made their goal happen. They earned it themselves. This is a powerful agent to help increase self esteem. Keep the chore list going, so that your child has the opportunity to grow their self worth by completing tasks and earning the things that they want in life.

Help them find gratitude

Much like teaching your children the art of being a good loser and how to apologize, teaching gratitude is an ongoing lesson. There is a saying,

“Gratitude begins where my sense of entitlement ends.”

Children learn to be grateful first when they do not get everything they desire. What happens when they get everything they want and ask for is that they expect everything they ask for. You set the expectation by saying “yes” too often. Allow for them to want. Not for basic necessities of course, but for things above and beyond the essentials in life. They will become grateful for the things that they do get when they are not handed everything they ask for.

Teach them to say thank you. Talk about how when someone gives them a nice gift that person (or their Mom or Dad) had to go to work to earn the money to buy that gift. Talk about how it is nice to have generous friends and family because not everyone has that in their life. Make them responsible for thanking others, both verbally and in writing. When your child receives a gift have them write a thank you note in return. It does not need to be long and eloquent. Just the practice of taking the time to write thank you and that the gift is appreciated helps them practice gratitude. They can carry this valuable skill into adulthood.

Grateful people are also happier people, so help your child see that they should be grateful for the blessings, big and small, in their life.

Help them practice giving back to other

Find opportunities for you and your child to give back to others. It can be through material things, but even more valuable when your time is given. Giving your time with your child to others is of great value and a great life lesson. Your child being exposed to others less fortunate is helpful in curbing entitlement.

Kids Giving Back supports families getting into their community to give back. They state,

We strongly believe that when young people volunteer they develop respect, resilience, and leadership skills, as well as the ability and opportunity to positively engage in the wider community. Our philosophy embraces volunteering as a two-way street, giving children and their families an opportunity to change lives, including their own.

Teaching your child to give back to others is empowering to them on so many levels from creating leadership skills, problem solving skills, and self esteem from the experience of helping others in need. Teaching kids that there are others in the world that have so much less than them will help them become more grateful. Having them serve others also makes them more service oriented and creates an awareness of the need to help others in this world.

Entitlement attitudes fall by the wayside when a child has learned the value and importance of helping others and giving to others in need.

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