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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 October 23, 2020

How to Help Your Kids to Deal with Bullies at School

How to Help Your Kids to Deal with Bullies at School

Sara is in her first year of Junior High. Every day, when Sara walks down the school hallway between her mid-morning classes, there is a group of girls who will tease, push her, or dump her books from her arms.

She wonders daily what she did to deserve their meanness. She doesn’t even know these girls as they came from a different primary school than her own. Every evening, she lays in bed and cries just thinking about having to encounter these girls in the hallway the next day.

Jeremy used to be good friends with Bill until Bill started calling Jeremy names. At first, it started as what seemed to be Bill trying to get a laugh from the other boys on his soccer team. He would make fun of Jeremy to get a laugh from the other boys. He has continued with the behavior for weeks, but it has gotten worse and Bill now calls Jeremy hurtful names at their soccer practice every day. Jeremy is thinking about quitting soccer because the situation has become so bad.

Renee was born with a congenital defect. Her arm is malformed and she only has three fingers on one hand. She is in her first year of primary school. There is a little boy in her class who makes fun of her arm and mimics her arm movements and shortened arm effect anytime they are together and a teacher isn’t watching. Renee cries at home after school saying that she doesn’t want to go to school anymore. Her parents are bewildered as she has been begging to go to school for years. Now that she is old enough to be enrolled in primary school, she doesn’t want to attend anymore after just one month of school. Her parents have no idea what is causing her to be upset and not want to go to school.

These are just three examples of bullying. Bullying can vary widely in behavior and context. Parents must know the difference between “kids just being kids” and bullying.

Bullying Defined

Bullying involves repeated behavior that harms another child. For example, the girls who continually pick on Sara in the hallway are bullying her by dumping her books, pushing her, and shoving her every day.

Bullying is not always physical, though. For example, in the situation of Jeremy, his teammate Bill is bullying him by calling him names repeatedly.

StopBullying.gov is a website about bullying that is hosted by the United States government. This website provides a clear definition of bullying as the following:[1]

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include [an imbalance of power and repetition].

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Bullying is aggressive, mean, and/or unwanted behaviors that happen repeatedly to a child.

Intervention

Bullying, especially for kids, requires immediate intervention. If your child suddenly decides that they no longer want to go to school or that they want to quit an activity, then a discussion should occur. Sit down with your child, and ask them what is going on in their life.

Have compassion, understanding, and care in your words and tone of voice so that your child can open up to you. You never know if they are being a victim of bullying unless they open up to you and share what is occurring in their life.

Some children don’t share immediately because they are embarrassed by the bullying. Others don’t tell their parents because they are afraid of the bully. They worry that if they tell, the wrath of the bully may get worse. This should also be a concern for the parents.

Any intervention must be effective in removing the threat of the bully. If reporting the situation makes the bully’s behavior worse, then the intervention has failed.

Talk to School Leadership

Parents should talk to school leadership, such as the teacher, counselor, or principal when a bullying situation is occurring. If the bullying is happening at school, then the staff should be made aware so that they can intervene.

Most schools have policies and protocols in place for handling bullies. Such things may include separating the students so that they aren’t interacting anymore.

For example, with the situation of Renee, the boy who makes fun of her arm may be moved away from the school table they currently share. He would be moved to a separate side of the classroom so that he couldn’t easily communicate or make fun of Renee.

Then, the counselor would talk to the boy about how his actions are hurtful and why he shouldn’t be making fun of anyone. The teacher and principal may have to implement consequences, such as removal from class or suspension, that are made clear to the student and his parent if he continues his behavior.

In many instances, removing the opportunity for the students to interact is the best way for the bullying to stop. If the bully doesn’t have the opportunity to interact or communicate with the victim, their bullying behavior is stopped. This is the reason why in many instances of bullying parents need to involve school staff members (if it is happening at school).

Parents can’t control where the students sit in the classroom. However, the school can change where students sit in the classroom. Parents should speak to the school about the bullying to ensure that appropriate interventions are made, including separating the bully from their victim.

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Parents

Parents are advocates for their children. If parents do not stand up to protect their child, then who will? When a situation of bullying is revealed by a child, the parents need to take the information seriously.

Unfortunately, many parents of bullies don’t want to admit that their child is a bully. It can look and feel like they failed as parents. When a child is being bullied, that parent may reach out to the bully’s parent for intervention only to be put off. The bully’s parent may claim it is the other child’s fault, or they may insist that their child is innocent.

This is why intervention should happen at the school if possible. Parents must advocate protecting their children as bullying can leave mental and emotional scars. The sooner they can get the bullying to cease, the better.

Bullying Can Have Serious Effects

Victims of bullying can develop depression and anxiety. The ongoing bullying can impact a child mentally and emotionally long term. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center cites research that shows that both bullies and their victims are at an increased risk for suicide.[2] In recent years, suicide has been increasing among teens and pre-teens. Bullying, including cyberbullying, is one of the primary causes for the increase in suicide among our youth.

The serious—and sometimes even deadly—effects of bullying should be considered by all parents. If a child comes forward to reveal a situation of bullying, affecting either them or someone else, then parents and adults must intervene. Schools are set up to handle these situations, with policies and protocols in place. The consequences of bullying can be quite serious, which is why most schools have taken steps to institute bullying policies.

Signs of Bullying

Not all kids will come forward to tell their parents that they are being bullied. Parents should be aware of behavioral changes in their child, such as depression, anxiety, sadness, loss of interest in activities or school, sleeping issues, not eating, irritability, and moodiness. If your child exhibits any of these behaviors for a period of two weeks or more, then it is time to talk to the child about what is happening in their life.

A parent who suspects bullying may be happening can talk to their child about bullying in general. The parent can explain what bullying can look like, or they can provide an example that has happened in their own life. They can explain that it is not the victim’s fault.

Let the child know that if they see other children being bullied or if they are experiencing bullying, then they need to tell an adult (preferably you as the parent). When the child believes that telling can help the situation, that child is likely to then talk about it.

How to Help Your Kids

If your child is being bullied, you can and should help them. You can do it not only via intervention within the school but also by helping them cope with the situation.

The first step is talking—having the child open up and talk about what is happening so that you can help them with strategies to stop the bullying. You can’t help them unless you know what is actually happening.

Here are some more ways that you can help your child who is dealing with a bully:

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1. Advise Them to Avoid the Bully

If they aren’t exposed to the bully, then the bullying often stops. This is often why school intervention is needed so that the kids are separated and no longer have interactions.

If it is cyberbullying taking place (e.g., your child is being bullied on social media) then they may need to block the person who is bullying them or put their own account on hold.

2. Advise Them to Walk Away and Not Engage

Many bullies thrive on reaction. The reaction from the person being bullied is what fuels their behavior. They may be doing it to make others laugh, or they do it to feel power over another person. If the reaction from the one being bullied goes away, then the bully may become less interested.

You should advise your kids to not engage with a bully. Walking away without reacting is a good way of handling the bully.

3. Let Them Know It Is Okay to Get Help

The child should feel empowered to get help when they need it. For example, if Jeremy stays in soccer and the coach is informed about what is happening and the bullying happens again, Jeremy should tell the coach.

He can do it confidentially after practice, or he can talk to the coach off to the side during practice if possible. If Jeremy needs intervention for Bill to stop, then he needs to ask for help when it happens.

4. Build Their Confidence

Often, a bully chooses to bully someone because they see the person as a weak or easy target. Other times, a child is picked on because there is something about them that is different. Building up your child’s confidence and self-esteem is important to helping them prepare for handling bullying in the future.

For example, if another child makes fun of Renee’s arm next year in her new class, she would be prepared to shut it down by defending herself confidently with calm words that deter the child from making fun of her again.

Every situation is different. But if your child has something that makes them different or stand out from others, then they can be prepared to handle the situation better if they know in advance what they would say to someone who picks on them for this difference.

5. Encourage Them to Have Positive Friendships

Children and youth need peer relationships. This helps them live a balanced and healthy life. A child without peer relationships and friendships is more likely to be a target of bullies.

Encourage your child to make friends with others who are positive and kind. Help your child develop these skills as well. You can’t get friends unless you can be a friend.

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Be There for Your Child

One of the worst things that a parent can do when their child is being bullied is for them to say “tough it out” or “kids will be kids”. Not taking their situation seriously and not helping them is failing them. Parents must be willing to not only listen to their child and allow them to express things openly, but they must also be ready to help their child.

If your child comes to you because they are being bullied, then take the situation seriously. The lasting effects of bullying are not something you will want to deal with in the future. Deal with the situation at hand so that the bullying can cease today.

Be prepared to take serious action. If your school principal is not taking the situation seriously, then take it to the next level. Inform the school board or school administrators about what is happening. Keep the facts, and let them know you want the bullying to stop immediately.

If the school doesn’t take any action and the bully continues to be a threat to your child, then be prepared to remove your child from the situation or the school, so you can protect your child from harm. Above all else, our job as parents is to protect our children.

Bullying is not a one-time instance of someone saying something mean to your child. Bullying is a repeated act, whether physically or verbally, that is harming your child. Don’t allow your child to be repeatedly harmed. Once you know that bullying is happening, it must be stopped immediately through appropriate interventions.

Get Additional Help if Needed

If your child has been bullied and is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other emotional turmoil because of bullying then they should get professional help. You can go to Psychology Today and enter your location to find a qualified therapist near you. This website allows you to search by issue and treatment age as well. This can help you find a therapist near you who can help your child with their specific issues.

Stomp Out Bullying is another website with additional support and information about bullying. They offer a free chat line to teens who are experiencing bullying. If your teen is being bullied and needs additional support check out their website today.

Final Thoughts

Bullying, especially for kids, is a serious matter that should be addressed as soon as possible. It can bring long-term psychological and physical damage to your children if you don’t act on it immediately. Your primary role as a parent is to protect your child from harm. This guide can help you help your kids to deal with bullies to get them out of harm’s way.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] StopBullying.gov: What Is Bullying
[2] Suicide Prevention Resource Center: Suicide and Bullying

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